All paths lead back to Oakland for native son Julio Reyes ’19, a degree-completion student majoring in music and religious studies. Before enrolling at Holy Names University in his 50s, however, Reyes’s musical calling took him around the world and back again.
It’s a calling he hopes to pass on to a new generation of students when, upon his HNU graduation in December, he will take up the baton as an instrumental music instructor at Holy Names High School in the Oakland Hills. “We’re losing a part of our culture by not teaching music in the schools,” Reyes observes. “Music is the mortar of humanity.”
Reyes, 54, spent his childhood mastering the classical guitar, followed by cello and piano as a teen. By age 19, he earned his first conducting credits with the Oakland Youth Symphony and was coached by conductors with the Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco Ballet symphonies.
Reyes’ father, a prominent Paraguay-born professional musician, insisted Reyes and his two brothers practice five hours daily. “As a kid, I missed out on a lot of my childhood,” he said. “They wanted me to practice, and practice I did.”
So when an invitation arrived from the Paraguayan government to perform in an Independence Day concert before a crowd of 80,000 South Americans, then-14-year-old Reyes was prepared.
After graduating from Skyline High School, Reyes earned a scholarship to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, but within a year needed to quit college to help support his mother. To earn money, he became a freelance musician, performing recitals, conducting and lecturing in venues from the Bay Area to Spain. In 2010, he released an album, “Heart Strings,” that Amazon featured as a No. 1 pick. Reyes relished experiences conducting orchestras but worried that his lack of a degree meant many opportunities were inaccessible.
While conducting an opera in Monaco, he met vacationing HNU trustee Ann S. Reynolds. The chance meeting resulted in an invitation to meet with faculty on campus and a scholarship offer.
Today, his degree nearly in hand, Reyes is eager to give back to his hometown by educating future students in his preferred universal language: music.
“I want to teach them in a way that’s fun for them,” he said. “I tell children that, as a musician, they now have a best friend who will never leave them.”