The Children’s Orchestra
Update: September 2020
Ron has fully retired from his job to work full time teaching in Tijuana. Sarah Livia Szekely Brightwood, the President of Rancho La Puerta, has also recognized the great gifts and selfless service Ron brings to the children of Mexico and has built him a beautiful casita on the ranch property where he lives and restores himself each day. During the COVID crisis, Ron works individually with each of the children in the orchestra, a time-consuming and very rewarding project.
Update: June 2020
Ron Wakefield, who retired after 30 years as a Los Angeles-based music teacher, has moved full time to Tijuana to support the children through the gift of music. Many of you are particularly interested in Ron’s work and have been able to hear the orchestra play in Tijuana. Last month, his music room was burglarized. Although some of the instruments were in the children’s homes, some cellos, replacement strings, bows, and other instruments were taken—a blow to a community already going through so many losses.
Many family therapists use music with clients suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and/or depression because it has been scientifically proven to have a special and positive effect on the brain by offering comfort and encouraging resilience in times of turmoil and stress. We will continue to support Ron in his work, which has changed from working with the orchestra to working 60 hours/week offering individual sessions with each child and their instrument.
We have long known about the power of music to help people during the times of their greatest trouble and loss. We recently learned of a musician who willingly makes the long trip from Los Angeles to Tijuana every weekend to teach children to play musical instruments. His students are not ordinary children for they carry burdens of grief and trauma that most of us cannot even begin to fathom. With the help of their teacher, they have begun to heal through the power of music—the universal language that we all understand. So far, 50 of these children have learned to play an instrument.
Ron Wakefield has worked seven days a week for the last five years, while commuting 175 miles each way from Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico every weekend, where he has developed a children’s orchestra in an underserved housing project.
The small, isolated community of Villa Del Campo rests on a suburban mountainside of Tijuana. For five years he has taught a clarinet orchestra and in the last year he has developed a string orchestra that includes children ranging in ages 6-15 years old. Members of the clarinet orchestra have performed in Arizona, California, Hawaii and New York City’s Carnegie Hall. In the summer of 2018 the clarinet orchestra performed in Mexico City.
All of the instruments and travel expenses have been funded by Mr. Wakefield, who sold his home and sacrifices his salary in order to help young people. Currently the group is made up of a 10 member clarinet orchestra and a 40 member string orchestra. The clarinet orchestra performs at a mature level, while the string orchestra is new and plays at a beginning level. The orchestras enjoy performing at local orphanages, homeless shelters, and senior assisted living homes. In December, 2019 they will perform in a home for children with cancer. In addition to teaching the children music, Mr. Wakefield sends some of the children to private “safe” schools and at times has paid medical and dental expenses.
Mr. Wakefield supports his Mexican orchestra program by working full time in a Los Angeles County public middle school, where he teaches band, orchestra, and classical guitar. His school band has been nationally acclaimed as it has performed in Carnegie Hall 5 times, the Rose Parade 2 times, and has performed in Florida, Hawaii, Canada, England and China. Whenever it is possible, some of the children from Mexico are included in performances with the school band.
I was able to see Ron teaching several kids the violin; they were concentrating on and wonderous of the music they were making. I met a Mexican mother who had made her way 1,800 miles to the border with her daughters, determined to give them a different, safer, better life. She had taken a job in a factory near the small village where Ron teaches, and where her family discovered that they all had a gift for the violin. One day, the youngest girl, Gabriella, was hit by a car. She died in front of her two sisters and mother. Utterly bereft, all three embraced their music. I met them five years after the tragedy. They had become so good that they were now music teachers themselves. Ron is paying for Gabriella’s two sisters to attend a private school.
Recently, he took the clarinet players to Ensenada to perform at a retirement home. Later they went to the beach, and for some of the children, it was their first experience seeing the ocean. Ron brings a world of possibilities to these kids.
We have been able to purchase enough cellos and violins for Ron to start a brand-new orchestra with the children. In a very poor part of Tijuana, children are playing violins and cellos.