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Interview with De La Buena’s Julio Pabon

This interview with Julio Pabon of De La Buena originally appeared in the March 20, 2016 Footlights program. Executive Director Linda Jones interviewed the award-winning percussionist, singer, educator, and music administrator when he joined the Festival City Symphony Board of Directors. His musical talents will delight attendees of our final Pajama Jamboree of the season, “I’ve Got Rhythm,” on May 17, 2017.

What was your experience with FCS before you were approached to be on its board of directors?
“I fell in love with the Pajama Jamborees, how exquisite the music was and how engaging the program.”

Julio commented on the experience of taking his then five-year-old daughter to her first Pajama Jamboree. His other experiences were in hearing about the orchestra and its projects from colleagues at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music who also happen to be musicians in Festival City Symphony.

Tell us something about your background in arts administration and what you hope to do as a board member for FCS.
“As an FCS board member, I want to work on engaging new audiences throughout the Milwaukee metropolitan area — the whole spectrum, from those who appreciate classical music but don’t know about FCS to those who have never experienced classical music… I want to do my part to support the highly talented musicians in Festival City Symphony.”

As well as being on the faculty of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music (WCM) Julio has gained administrative experience being a coordinator for the Conservatory’s community outreach “Connections” program, which serves public and private schools in the greater Milwaukee area.  He also worked in development for WCM as Manager of Individual Giving and Community Event Planning.
Tell us about your eclectic music performance background.
“I grew up playing the trumpet. By the time I reached New Berlin West High School I was playing in orchestra, band, jazz band, marching band and pep band. I was also active in theater, dance, sports, and visual arts.”

Julio started in Milwaukee’s professional music scene in 1997 in the award-winning One Drum World Music Ensemble, performing African/Latin percussion, trumpet, vocals, and dance. By 1998 he was also Musical Director, percussionist, singer, and dancer for Milwaukee Public Theater. He has performed with Present Music, First Stage, Danceworks, and Sindoola African Band. Other professional ensembles he currently participates in, in addition to Milwaukee Public Theater, are Painted Caves, De La Buena Latin Jazz Ensemble, and Klezmer Libre. Of De La Buena (three-time WAMI award-winning Afro-Latino jazz group) he says, “It is the most fulfilling group I have been a part of and it connects deeply to my family’s roots in Puerto Rico.” Of Klezmer Libre he says, “…This fusion of Jewish and Latin music exemplifies my love for cross-cultural connections.”

Special Note: Two of the musicians in Klezmer Libre are also musicians in Festival City Symphony: Julie Roubik, violin & viola, and Linda Jones, clarinet.

Part of FCS’s mission is education. What is your educational background and your background in teaching?
“Everything in life has a rhythm and that rhythm crosses all boundaries.”

Mr. Pabon holds a Bachelor of Inter-Arts in Music/Art from UW-Milwaukee and a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Drawing/Painting from UW-Eau Claire. His principal courses in percussion included tympani, orchestral, and world percussion, Latin Percussion, West African Percussion, Indian Tabla, and more.

“I woke up in 1995 and decided I am going to get as many drums into as many hands as possible for the rest of my life, because the drum is one of the instruments that bridges all gaps, regardless of background, age, or ability level.”

On teaching percussion instruments:
“It’s alive and connects everyone on a deep level without words being spoken.”

Julio’s employment history in education is extensive and varied but includes teaching at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Tamarack Waldorf School, and Milwaukee Montessori School with subject matter including music, woodworking, and Spanish language. In the area of music he has taught Orff-Schulwerk method, general music, private lessons, ensemble percussion, and instrument building.

Julio Pabon
Julio Pabon

Julio’s awards that combine efforts in performance and education:

  • WAMI, World Category: De La Buena (2009, 2012, 2015)
  • Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship Award (2007)
  • WAMI, One Drum world music ensemble (2006)
  • Wisconsin Arts Board – Artist and Community Collaborations Grant (2004)
  • Best of Milwaukee, One Drum, (2003)

Tell us something about you and your family.
“I grew up in a musical family where at every gathering there was music and dance!”

Born in Puerto Rico, Julio’s parents are both musical. His father, Cesar Pabon, played bongos and marimbula (plucked box musical instrument of the Caribbean Islands) in his youth. His mother, Alba, participated in “La Tuna de Milwaukee,” and other Puerto Rican folkloric music groups. Julio is the proud father of two children involved in music. Fourteen-year-old son, Javier, plays drum set and has played violin and piano. Seven-year-old Gloria plays piano and percussion, sings, and would love to learn the violin.

“I was born in Milwaukee and grew up in New Berlin. My father was recruited by an agency in Milwaukee to work with troubled youth and keep them off the streets. He was one of four original founders of the United Community Center. I think that was an influence in my desire to teach and work with young people.”