Dr. Luis Zuniga poses at the piano.

Lilly Montero

Music director talks life and hard work

"Education was more like a religion," says Dr. Luis Zuniga.

September 20, 2018

Los Medanos College music director, Dr. Luis Zuniga, grew up in a no-nonsense kind of home when it came to education.

“Education was more like a religion,” said Zuniga about the atmosphere in his family home in Panama.

To be educated was the standard, his parents dogma ultimately helped shape the director’s world view. Though his grandparents hadn’t gone to college, his parents had and it was from their efforts that he saw the benefits of working hard.

In his early childhood, Zuniga, his younger sister and both of his parents had been living in a single room in his grandmother’s house. However, as his parents continued their education to receive their doctorates, he began to see the physical manifestations of his parent’s hard work.  

“As a kid I saw how our lives changed because of our education… I saw how we went from living with my grandmother in a room in her house, to living in our own home,” said Zuniga.

Though these were material comforts, Zuniga acknowledged, they symbolized his parents efforts to provide a comfortable home in which their children could thrive and of course, be educated.

“There was always money for education, even though my parents never necessarily had all the money in the world,” the music director said.

His parents were always open to anything related to school — be it master classes, seminars, or field trips. And when, at the age of 13 Zuniga decided to pursue a career in music, it was their support and work ethic they had instilled in him that led him to study at the National Conservatory in Panama while still going to school.

Between the ages of 13 until his early high school graduation at 17, the young musician endured 13 hour school days. He woke up at 7 a.m., finished his classes at the Catholic school he was going to at 2 p.m. and then studied at the conservatory until 8 o’clock at night.

His hobby was his passion, his passion an obsession and it is this kind of dedication he believes has gotten him to where he is today.

When it comes to challenges, the world is black and white and that makes people uncomfortable, Zuniga says.

“You’re either doing something or you’re not,” he insists.

For artists in particular this is especially true. Their work is their identity.

“When you’re a musician or an artist you are what you do. You can’t change who you are,” said Zuniga.

Zuniga believes in the kind of work driven by passion. Without it, what’s the point? Without passion you can’t get out of bed and you definitely don’t want to go to work. And where’s the satisfaction in doing a job you hate all day long, only to use your spare hours doing what you really like?

“For me it is very difficult to give you career advice because I’ve never gone to work… My hobby is my job. I don’t go to a nine-to-five and then do music. I do music all day,” Zuniga said.

The advice he does have is simplistic. Find what you’re passionate about and work every day with that specific goal mind. A lot of people go to college with the intention of easily finding a job with good pay, but how does one “easily” find a job Zuniga asks.

“There is no such degree as ‘Easily Find a Job.’ That doesn’t exist. All the fields are competitive,” he said.

And he would know. After obtaining his doctorate after approximately nine years of college, he found himself living from paycheck-to-paycheck. There were days when he wondered if he would ever do what he loved as a stable job, but kept his passion at the forefront of his mind.

“[Passion] is going to get you back up when you fail. Because you’re going to fail and failing is ok,” Zuniga said about the journey.

It took him five years to land his dream job and since then the music director has done what he loves consistently every day since. When he’s not teaching music or directing the orchestra on campus, he’s directing an event elsewhere or crafting music for another. Zuniga studies music with the same passion his parents had for education.

“I wish I had an elaborated sexy explanation [for my success], but I remember locking myself in a room to practice for 10 hours a day.” said Zuniga. “It’s a part of crafting who you are as an individual.”

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