Fernando Meza is the former principal percussionist of the Costa Rica National Symphony Orchestra and currently serves as Associate Professor and Chair of Percussion studies at the University of Minnesota School of Music. He has toured and recorded in Japan, the USA, and Costa Rica with marimba virtuoso Keiko Abe, and throughout Latin America, Europe, Lithuania, Cuba, and South Africa with other artists and organizations. Meza was one of the original percussionists for the award-winning Broadway production of Disney’s The Lion King,was the organizer of the Marimba 2010 International Festival and Conference, and is on the faculty for the Orchestra of the Americas during the summers.
Rhythm! Scene: What other jobs, music or otherwise, did you have prior to your current university position?
Fernando Meza: I have been very fortunate in that I have always been able to make a living as a musician. Prior to my appointment at the University of Minnesota in 1993, I taught at The Ohio State University, and in Costa Rica at the National Center for Music and the University of Costa Rica, where I started the percussion program in 1989. I also held the positions of Principal Percussion/Assistant Timpani with the National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica from 1989 to 1991.
R!S: What's one thing in your institution or city/town (other than your school of music or music department) that you are proud to tell people about?
FM: The cultural richness of the Twin Cities is simply outstanding. There are amazing contemporary art galleries such as the Walker Art Center and the Weisman Art Museum; world-class theater institutions such as the Guthrie Theater; not one, but two top-tier professional orchestras, Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; amazing works of architecture throughout; and presenters of all kinds of music, art, ballet, dance, jazz, world-music, opera, etc. It is certainly a very active cultural scene full of wonderful, creative, and audacious artists, making it one of the most vibrant environments in which to live and work.
R!S: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
FM: Most people don’t know that I love languages. Besides my native language of Spanish, I also speak English and Portuguese, and I have been studying Italian and French lately to become more proficient at them. I believe that languages are important doors for cultural understanding, and being able to communicate in someone else’s native language only gives credibility about your own passion for that level of communication. I encourage all of my students to pursue the study of at least one foreign language while in college.
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
FM: My absolutely favorite percussion instrument is the one I have in front of me at the moment because that is where my joy is coming from at the time. To me, that is the true beauty of percussion: the variety of instruments we get to play and the wide range of mental, physical, and emotional paths we get to travel with each of them. That is what keeps everything fresh for me and why I feel so incredibly blessed to do what I do.
R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?
FM: I grew up in Costa Rica. My father was a veterinarian and my mother an accountant. I am the youngest of three. My oldest brother is a doctor and my sister is a psychologist. Growing up, I was very fortunate to be part of the first generation of musicians in the Youth Program of the National Symphony Orchestra, a group that would eventually change the entire musical landscape of the country. As a result, I had some incredible experiences in music from a very early age, such as performing with the National Symphony Orchestra starting when I was 12. The triangle part from Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9”was the very first part I played professionally, but many others followed around that time: a single timpano part in Berlioz’s “Benvenuto Cellini,”the tambourine part for Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances,” “Carmina Burana,” and others. Even a performance of “Ionisation”by Edgar Varèse when I was 14 or 15 and continuing from there until I was 17, which is when I first came to the USA to attend school. For a young musician, all of those experiences proved to be invaluable later in my career, and I will forever hold them in my heart.