Teaching the ‘universal language’ ... in two tongues: Holyoke musician creates music academy

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  • Julio Argelis instructs Dalializ Santos, 9, of Chicopee, during her weekly class Monday at Draglio Music Academia on High Street in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Teacher Julio Argelis plays a Puerto Rican cuatro for an interested student at Draglio Music Academia. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

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    Julio Argelis offers some tips to Hector Irizarry, 13, of East Longmeadow as he practices "When the Saints Go Marching In" during a weekly class at Draglio Music Academia in Holyoke on Monday, June 6, 2022. Behind them, practicing violin, is Dylan Trowell, 12, of Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

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    Dalializ Santos, 9, of Chicopee gets instruction from Julio Argelis as she learns "Cambiare Mis Tristezas" by Israel Houghton during her weekly class at Draglio Music Academia in Holyoke on Monday, June 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hector Irizarry, left, 13, of East Longmeadow and Judith Negron, 7, of Springfield trade licks on a set of bongos during a class at Draglio Music Academia in Holyoke on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dylan Trowell, 12, of Holyoke practices his violin during a weekly class at Draglio Music Academia in Holyoke on Monday, June 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • One room at Draglio Music Academia in Holyoke is dedicated as a studio. Photographed on Monday, June 6, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hector Irizarry, 13, of East Longmeadow, practices “When the Saints Go Marching In” at Draglio Music Academia. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2022 3:58:07 PM

High Street in Holyoke was quiet Wednesday evening, when only a few pedestrians mingled about and even the PVTA bus — an electric model — seemed to tiptoe down the street as the sun began to dip below the street’s taller buildings.

But above the street level, on the second floor of CML Iglesia at 217 High St., it was rock ‘n’ roll time.

“One, two, three, four!” counted off Julio Argelis, kicking off an energetic song played by an unlikely three-piece band: two adults on bass and electric guitar, and a 6-year-old drummer hitting perfectly timed fills. “¡Exacto! Yes sir!” Argelis encouraged them, switching between Spanish and English with ease and singing out the root notes of chords when somebody got lost.

The jam session was part of lessons Argelis gives in his newly created Draglio Music Academia — a business he officially opened in January after several months of planning. And unlike many music teachers in the area, he teaches in either English or Spanish. Or, in many cases, code-switching between the two.

“I had some friends in my past job, I told them I was a teacher in Puerto Rico and they said, ‘Oh my God, you have to do that here,’” he recalled. “‘There’s nobody to teach in Spanish and the kids don’t know English, some of them.’”

A native of Puerto Rico who moved to the area more than two years ago, Argelis has been singing ever since he was a child. He gradually picked up more and more instruments, studying cello and classical guitar in college. He taught music for more than a decade on the island before coming to the mainland.

“The music turned me into a teacher,” Argelis explained. He initially mastered the guitar and played for himself. He joked that he first learned music to impress girls, but then quickly realized his true passion: “I learned that what I really love is teaching.”

Argelis has a particular knack for teaching music to children, though he also gives lessons to adults, too. The upstairs space has several rooms for people to learn, including one with an electric drum kit and another with a recording studio setup complete with effects pedals and amplifiers for electric instruments.

That’s where Jose Rosario of Granby was sitting on Wednesday evening, jamming along to a minor-key backing track on the electric guitar. Rosario and his wife moved to the area from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. When asked how he met Argelis, he said he was “looking for community” and found a place where he could bond with others over their shared love of music.

“I started playing in September,” said Efrain Crespo, of Springfield, who was in the adjoining room playing bass guitar. He said he met Argelis at the church downstairs, where Argelis directs music. Soon, Argelis had him playing well enough to join the church band. “I went from not knowing anything to now playing in church … It feels awesome!”

Argelis’ energy and love of music is infectious. He bounced between rooms on Wednesday, teaching new concepts and then building up to more difficult variations of the same songs. And when the 6-year-old drum student showed up, Argelis quickly brought them all together in a room to combine what they were all learning into one jam session.

Argelis jumped back and forth between Spanish and English with the group, keeping the players in time while showing each musician something new to try as they continued playing. A smile never left his face.

So far, Argelis is the only teacher at the school, giving lessons to kids as young as 5 to adults on a wide variety of instruments: guitar, piano, violin, bass, cello and ukulele. He said he was nervous to open his own business, but that he loves connecting with people and working with them. So he decided to take the leap.

“I did it because it’s my dream,” he said. “I think it’s good for the community. Music heals.”

Argelis said he takes students regardless of their previous music background or any disabilities that they may have. As somebody who has worked in schools and was once even in a children’s “clown band,” complete with costumes and all, he said his teaching style has evolved to keep students engaged and excited.

“I learned to work with kids and to be very entertaining,” Argelis said. Or, as Crespo put it: “He’s really good. He uses a language that allows you to learn music really well.”

And there are more plans on the horizon for Argelis. Sitting in the corner of his music space was the Puerto Rican cuatro — a stringed instrument with 10 strings tuned in five courses. He said he plants to begin cuatro lessons at the academy, offering them to children under 12 for free with adults paying.

“I want to pass on the culture and everything that Puerto Rico has in that history,” he said.

Those looking for lessons can find Draglio Music Academia on social media or email at draglioacademiamusic@gmail.com.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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