It was late July 2016 in Philadelphia when Kelvin Diaz Inoa made his decision. He packed his red 1999 Ford Focus with a few small personal belongings and his cello and hit the road. He didn’t have much because he had just arrived in the mainland United States from Puerto Rico a couple of years before. He didn’t know much about where he was going either. All he knew was after instruction from top musicians in Philadelphia and around the east coast, he had finally found the teacher and mentor he had been searching for — Dr. Thomas Loewenheim, professor of music and conductor of the University Orchestra at Fresno State.
“There’s a lot of emotion going on when you’re doing a trip like that — first because I don’t know where I’m going. I didn’t know anything about Fresno, and the little I could find online was that — really little,” said Diaz Inoa. “That whole trip, it’s a lot of things going in your head, which is… kind-of human.”
The route Diaz Inoa choose was indirect which allowed him to visit friends in Florida, Texas and New Mexico. It also added hundreds of miles to the thousands of miles he would already be traveling over the next four days.
“It was really unique. It was a different experience. From Puerto Rico, every time I come to the states, I have to take an airplane,” said Diaz Inoa. “But driving and actually seeing all the land and everything. It was actually really a different experience — a completely different experience.”
Diaz Inoa’s love for music started as a 7-year-old boy in Puerto Rico. After attending a music program at his school, young Kelvin told his mom that he wanted to play an instrument. His mother refused because she was too busy to take him to practice. So, he did what any child would do. He kept asking — for months — until she finally relented and enrolled him in classes.
The cello’s warm oscillation soothed his core and was his immediate choice of instrument.
“I always feel the cello speaks to me — like a human voice,” said Diaz Inoa. “Without knowing that, being too small, I actually felt that. I actually felt that there was a connection with the voice.”
It’s in that connection that he found his love for music. For him, it is a way to communicate in a human way — beyond the constraints of his own voice — beyond his physical being.
“Playing cello, I don’t have to say too many things. Just by playing, by doing a different vibrato, doing a different expression, I can communicate something to the next musician; and that’s really amazing.”
As he grew, Diaz Inoa was able to take advantage of the rich musical community in Puerto Rico. He played for the symphony orchestra and was able to develop under some of the top musicians on the island. He also started teaching cello.
Around five years ago Diaz Inoa followed musician and mentor Jesus Morales, who was playing in the Dali Quartet, to Philadelphia to study under him. He also sought out other top cello musicians around the East Coast to teach him. It was at the end of his time in Philadelphia when Diaz Inoa made his fateful trip on a full scholarship to the Unbound Chamber Music Festival in Mammoth Lakes, California.
“I went to study with him in Philadelphia, and everything was going great there, but then I met Dr. Lowenheim in Mammoth Lakes at a festival, and I fell in love with his teaching. And I was like, ‘I need to go to study with this guy,'” said Diaz Inoa.
Diaz Inoa says it was Lowenheim’s direct approach that hooked him.
“Then I played for [Lowenheim] in a master class. He would go in the master class, and he would literally be like, ‘your so talented, but you lack this, this, and this. You need to have more discipline with this, and this, and this,'” said Diaz Inoa. “So I asked him more about where he was teaching and everything in his career, and he told me that if I want to study at Fresno State, then I could move immediately, that he could make it work. So that’s what I did. I just went back to Philadelphia, grabbed a little car that I had — and it’s still the one that I have today — and came all the way driving, all the way to Fresno.”
Lowenheim recalled a young man who was talented, but who was rebellious and needed discipline to reach his full potential.
“When I first met Kelvin in Mammoth Lakes, he played for me in a master class. All I could think is what a huge talent I’m seeing in front of me, raw talent, but how undisciplined that talent was,” said Lowenheim. “Coming from the teacher that I studied with, Mr. János Starker, who was known as one of the most disciplined… cellist in the history of classical music. I played for Mr. Starker when I was 16 and he has a similar comment when he heard me play, so I could relate to it very much.”
A week later Diaz Inoa left Philadelphia for Fresno. A friend he had met in Mammoth heard he was coming to Fresno State to study and offered him a place to stay. The next day he met with Loewenheim who helped him navigate the admissions office and with the help of several scholarships, he was able to enroll through the Open University program. That program allowed him to start at Fresno State immediately rather than wait a semester to be formally admitted.
“A teacher recognizes a talent, but then if the student also demonstrates the extreme want to learn, I think that’s a great combination of having a phenominal student — a phenomenal experience for both the student and the teacher,” said Loewenheim.
Three years later, Diaz Inoa is still excited to be studying at Fresno State. In that time he has won the Fresno State Concerto competition, the local and state ASTA competitions, he is now planning to attend national competitions as a string player, he is on the sub-list for the Fresno Philharmonic and he has played with several other local professional groups.
Through Loewenheim’s approach of creating disciplined musicians who excel in all aspects of life, Diaz Inoa has not only improved his musicianship but also in more personal aspects of his life — such as his grades — which he didn’t pay much attention to before coming to Fresno State.
“I think that if he keeps growing in the direction that he willed, then it’s going to be up to him to decide which direction his career is — rather than being limited by the options that he had in the past,” said Loewenheim.
He works two jobs and has received several scholarships including the Waterford Orchestra and Strings Scholarship, Dr. Phyllis Irwin Orchestral Strings Scholarship, Margaret and Jacob Kavoian Scholarship, and the Anne Elizabeth Fisher Scholarship. His appreciation for those scholarships and those who have contributed to those funds runs deep.
“Your contribution is making a huge change in my life. Your contribution is helping me to develop my goals and to become what I want to become which is many things in the music environment — music educator, chamber music musician, orchestral musician — a little bit of everything. Thank you.”
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It has been a long journey for Kelvin Diaz Inoa, but in it he found his way forward — his inspiration for life at the Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities.