By Greg Saldate
Having traveled around the world lecturing, performing and hosting educational assemblies for hundreds of kids for the past 30 years, Alfredo Rolando Ortiz made his latest stop on his journey at the East Los Angeles Library on May 9.
He’s internationally acclaimed by music critics along with being a composer, doctor, lecturer, author and an award-winning recording artist. Ortiz has performed in front of a thousand filled seats, yet says his most rewarding and favorite thing to do is to perform and educate youth with his harp.
Ortiz held an hour-long performance infused with charismatic storytelling of his life in front of 30 young children and adults. Ortiz unveiled his majestic Paraguayan harp in front of the audience to educate and lecture to those watching.
Ortiz not only strummed some of his own compositions, but also provided popular classics for the young kids such as “La Cucaracha,” “Happy Birthday,” “Yankee Doodle” and at the request of an audience member, he flawlessly played the Beatles “Let It Be.” Ortiz said, “My music is originally centered around love, love for my family and love for nature. You know when it comes to performing for kids, it’s really fun to throw in some songs that they can associate with. It’s always good to see them smile.”
Ortiz was born in Cuba and at the age of 11 moved to the Valenzuela where he grew interested in the harp from a childhood friend. Coming from a family with a poor background his parents were not approving or supportive of his interest in playing the harp, let alone able to afford one.
After a family friend lent his old harp to Ortiz, he soon learned to play. At his very first gig for a neighbor’s wedding reception, his talent caught the ears of a record company executive. “Talk about being at the right place at the right time. I was very blessed because right after that I auditioned for the company and my career as a musician took off. Since then I have recorded over forty albums and ended up winning a Gold in South America,” Ortiz said.
During the latter part of the showcase, Ortiz filled the room with mesmerizing sounds from the countries of Chile, to the exotic upbeat tempo tunes from Brazil, to the dreamy-rhythmic syncopations from Cuba and Columbia. Ortiz alternated between playing and speaking to the audience of his life, stressing the notion that even with the struggles that his low-income family faced growing up. His escape was music.
But as time passed, he no longer could escape the financial burden that his first true calling placed on him, medical school to be a general practitioner. Ortiz said, “ It wasn’t easy to get where I am today. I emphasize all the time to kids as you seen today that work and practice in anything you do will pay off. My parents couldn’t afford to send me money and I was eating really bad food. I was working five nights for school and seven nights a week playing the harp for side cash. Even my friends took notice and would invite me over for meals.”
Ortiz now much older and accomplished with a family, looks forward to the educational assemblies and lectures like he provided at East Los Angeles Library. “This is what I love to do. Coming to the Los Angeles community where people struggle daily, I can encourage them to better themselves or even just relax and ease their day with my music. Its funny, people ask me all the time what has been my greatest achievement, and I tell them playing the harp in the delivery room during the birth of my daughter. But what I did here today, and what I do at plenty of schools, comes close. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity,” Ortiz said.