Esteban González eats, sleeps and breathes music, with his trumpet by his side. At only 25, this Desamparados-born musician has played with a wide range of ensembles including orchestras, salsa groups and popular bands – from the National Symphony Orchestra, to salsa groups Sol Mayor and La Sonorísima, to bands Fuerza Dread, Ojo de Buey, Un Rojo Reggae Band, Cocofunka and Entrelíneas. He is juggling two university degree programs: music with an emphasis on trumpet at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and Industrial Engineering at the Latin American University of Science and Technology (ULACIT).
On a rainy Friday afternoon The Tico Times sat down with González to discuss his almost accidental choice of instrument and his joyfully intense approach to his craft.
TT: At what age did you decide to become a musician?
I always loved music. It happened organically; I did not look for it, but being a musician is the best job in the world. I don’t work. It’s amazing! I am doing what I like, what I love, what I am passionate about!
How did you come to play the trumpet?
I played the bass drum in my school’s band, but one day a friend of mine lent me a trumpet and I started playing a scale. My friend asked me if I had played the trumpet before and I told him I hadn’t. That year, my grandfather gave me a trumpet for Christmas.
I was fourteen years old when I began playing the trumpet at the University of Costa Rica (UCR). My teachers included Bary Chaves and then Luis Miguel Araya, who was like a second father to me. I don’t have friends from high school because after class and during vacation I spent all my time at the UCR, playing the trumpet. My father would drop me off at 7 a.m. at the UCR on his way to work and pick me up at 7 p.m., so I practiced trumpet about 11 hours daily.
The first time I began performing in concerts, I was paid ₡3500 (about $7) an hour. I was seventeen years old, but I had to say I was eighteen because it was a bar and I was an underage worker. We played boleros all night on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Have you ever second-guessed your choice of career?
We artists are very sensitive. In mid-2014 I decided I was leaving all this behind. I was sick of everything, sick of having no money, and I dropped out. I sold all my trumpets except for one and I then started working at a call center. Then my teacher wrote to me and asked if I was interested in playing with the National Symphony Orchestra. In the end I was fired from the call center, but by that time I already knew I was going to play with the orchestra.
In this orchestra you have to play well. It’s a lot of pressure. Musically, you have to be in good shape.
How do you approach a popular music concert?
In salsa groups, the job is to play together [as a unit]. When you play with bands such as Cocofunka and Ojo de Buey, the job is to play, but besides that there’s a visual show going on. You can’t stay still. You have to be moving, maybe dance; be active.
When you play, what do you feel?
It depends. During the last National Symphony Orchestra season I had a solo and I felt stressed; my hands were sweating, and I was worried while playing, but when you dominate a musical piece, it is fascinating. When I’m playing with Ojo de Buey and the brass is in tune and the trumpet sounds astonishing, it’s such a thrill!
How would you describe Costa Rica’s music scene?
It’s very secluded. The music scene here is too small. In less than two kilometers you have all the venues. Starting here in Barrio Amón, you start with El Sótano, continue on to El Observatorio and then Jazz Café, and that’s it. You have to seek out places to play. The musicians are always the same; we are few, so it’s very competitive. Also, people from all over Central America come to Costa Rica to study music.
Which are your aspirations for the future?
Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up as an industrial engineer or as a musician – except I think I’m already a musician. What I really want is to be happy, do what I love and contribute to life. One gets too much out from life, so you always have to give back.
What does music mean to you?
My life revolves around music. I wake up, brush my teeth and play the trumpet. Only after playing do I have breakfast. I go to bed and I’m thinking about music. I get into the car and I’m listening to music. When I’m not listening to it or playing it, I’m humming some rhythm or I’m thinking about some melody or I’m singing. My life condenses into music. Music has given me work, education, travel, and I’ve met people. It has given me everything I know.