8/22/2022 Peter Durantine

Overcoming Challenges, He Realized His Dream

Despite the challenges life has thrown his way, Franklin & Marshall student Cristian Toro Meza pursues his dreams undaunted. 

He and his family fled their Central American home when he was a teenager, but after graduating high school in the United States, immigration snafus made him ineligible to attend college.

“I wasn’t even eligible to go to community college; my whole immigration situation was a disaster for me,” Toro Meza says.

Against the odds, he started his musical trajectory, working various jobs including driving for  Uber while taking theory, voice and piano lessons until his citizenship status was resolved.

  • Junior Cristian Toro Meza's music research took him to the Royal College of Music in London. Junior Cristian Toro Meza's music research took him to the Royal College of Music in London.

“I was always interested in music since I was in Honduras, but down there, it was a luxury that I couldn’t have access to,” he says. “It was simply too much for a hardworking family like mine, and it wasn’t socially acceptable for a man to dedicate to music.”

But his informal music training was sporadic, once a month or once every two months.

“I wouldn’t practice because I was working; I was driving 12 hours a day transporting passengers,” he says.

“Almost no schools in the U.S. offered me a chance to pursue music because I didn’t have formal training in the subject. That’s how I found F&M.”
Cristian Toro Meza researching at the Royal College of Music in London.
Junior Cristian Toro Meza

When he finally became eligible for financial aid and college, at age 23, he questioned whether he was too old to attend a four-year residential school. 

“But then music was so demanding that I thought, ‘If I want to pursue this for real, I need to go back to school,’” Toro Meza says. “Almost no schools in the U.S. offered me a chance to pursue music because I didn’t have formal training in the subject. That’s how I found F&M.”

Now 26, the junior music major from Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., has proven to have natural academic and musical skills, recently having a research paper published in MUSE, the undergraduate research journal published by UCLA’s Department of Musicology.

“He’s such an inspiring story of what it is possible to do once you get here,” says Associate Professor of Music Karen Leistra-Jones, chair of F&M’s Department of Music

Toro Meza says his first academic year was hard because, unlike the private coaching he received, music performance training at F&M was highly formal and demanding.

“My voice teacher is Gwynne Geyer, a [Metropolitan]Opera soprano of international renown with a long list of critically acclaimed performances. It was this level of professionalism that I wasn’t used to;  the master classes, vocal exercises, and musical jargon were foreign to me, but I adapted,” he says. 

Toro Meza says he dove into “theory and the complexities of the music language” and started taking piano lessons with Rosemary Blessing, instructor of piano. 

In his sophomore studies, he discovered the Alexander Technique, a psychosomatic method to improve posture for better health, developed by performer Frederick Matthias Alexander in the late 19th century.

Conservatories such as The Juilliard School and England’s Royal College of Music have Alexander Technique faculty.  

“There's a pretty strong consensus among musicians that using this helps to avoid performance injuries. With the voice, so much of how you're standing and holding yourself has so much to do with the sound that you make,” Leistra-Jones says.

Among other research grants he has received, Toro Meza received an F&M Nissley grant to pay for 12 lessons with a certified Alexander Technique instructor who came to campus every week.

“The method helped me to correct my postural problems, improve my breathing, and release my physical tensions while performing,” he says. “The technique is vital to produce the sound that is expected from expert judges.”

His MUSE article is about the technique, which opened another door that took him to the Royal College of Music in London this summer to research how scientific discourse has historically been employed to regulate musical practice and pedagogy.

“I’ve been looking at records in the 20th and 21st centuries of musicians who sought to prove that music was a science in order to establish its legitimacy as an academic subject and obtain funding,” he says. “That’s what I find interesting.”

Reflecting on the journey that brought him to F&M, Toro Meza expresses confidence in himself and his plans to seek a doctoral degree and become a musicologist.

“Now, I feel like I’m in the right place,” he says, during a call from London. “I just had a one-on-one meeting with a musicologist; I can speak to a music historian and understand the terminology of the field.”

“He’s such an inspiring story of what is possible to do once you get here,”
"Music as a secular art-religion has been well documented, but I want to show how the Brahms circle redefined performance in terms of contemporary religious concepts," Leistra-Jones said.
Associate Professor of Music Karen Leistra-Jones.
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