Graduate student Monica Gastelumendi is focused on building bridges through music in her native Peru. Through music, she hopes people can learn to be better human beings.
Gastelumendi, who is pursuing a master’s degree in jazz studies, and graduate student Hagar Abdo each have been awarded a $10,000 International Peace Scholarship from the Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O). Abdo is pursuing a master’s degree in women’s studies with an emphasis on women’s health.
P.E.O. has offered the scholarship since 1949 to provide financial support for international women to complete graduate degree programs in the U.S. and Canada. The organization recognizes a student's capacity to contribute to humanity in significant ways.
Gastelumendi became hooked on jazz as a small child when she and her father listened to smooth jazz on the radio every Sunday. She began singing at age 3 and studied classical music for her bachelor's degree at Kenyon College in Ohio. At age 16, Gastelumendi started a female choir at her high school in Lima, Peru. Today, the Arpegio choir has performed across Peru and in New York and Washington, D.C. The choir also has released two CDs.
When she was 19 years old, Gastelumendi formed a big band -- now a nonprofit music organization called Jazz Jaus (pronounced House). She runs the nonprofit organization with UNT alumnus Carolina Araoz.
At UNT, Gastelumendi has studied vocal jazz with faculty members Jennifer Barnes, assistant professor of jazz studies, and Rosana Eckert, an adjunct faculty member in jazz studies, and plans to explore arranging Peruvian music with jazz.
Earning the scholarship "gives me energy to do what I was doing," she says. "It really puts me in a position where it becomes a reality."
After earning her master's degree, Gastelumendi plans to return to Peru to train music teachers and to provide a better music education for children through Jazz Jaus.
"Right now I feel like I'm opening a bag and getting all these tools," she says, scooping her hands through the air. "I won't use them all right away. I'm soaking it up, and they'll come out in the next five years."
UNT has a history of winners of the International Peace Scholarship, says James Duban, director of UNT's Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships.
"Having already established a glowing track record of personal performance and transformative pedagogy, Monica will eventually return to Peru to nurture her artistry and to inspire Peruvian children to develop their musical acumen," Duban says. "Moreover, she wishes to use music to engender broader social change and, to that end, has formally studied leadership.
Ellen Rossetti with UNT News Service can be reached at Ellen.Rossetti@unt.edu.