UNT student wins nationally competitive scholarship, plans to return to Peru to expand nonprofit music organization
DENTON (UNT), Texas -- University of North Texas graduate student Monica Gastelumendi is focused on building bridges through music in her native Peru. Through music, she said, she hopes people can learn to be better human beings.
Gastelumendi, who is pursuing a master of music degree in jazz studies at the University of North Texas, has recently been awarded a $10,000 P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization) International Peace Scholarship.
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 started a female choir at her high school in Lima, Peru, at age 16. Today, the Arpegio choir has performed across Peru and in New York and Washington, D.C., and released two CDs. At age 19, she formed a big band – now a nonprofit music organization called Jazz Jaus (pronounced House).
Earning the scholarship "gives me energy to do what I was doing," she said. "It really puts me in a position where it becomes a reality."
With a staff of 10, Jazz Jaus offers six vocal ensembles and five instrumental ensembles for 80 children and adults. The nonprofit opens its doors to children and adults interested in learning about music and offers music workshops throughout Peru. After earning her master's degree from UNT, Gastelumendi plans to return to Peru to train music teachers and to provide a better music education for children through Jazz Jaus. She runs the nonprofit organization with UNT alumnus Carolina Araoz.
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 UNT, she has studied vocal jazz with faculty members Jennifer Barnes and Rosana Eckert and plans to explore arranging Peruvian music with jazz.
"Right now I feel like I'm opening a bag and getting all these tools," she said, 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, said James Duban, director of the Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships at UNT.
"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 said. "Moreover, she wishes to use music to engender broader social change and, to that end, has formally studied leadership at UNT. Monica is clearly a person who will make a significant difference in her profession and in Peruvian and global society."