Rice senior combines love of music with social distancing

Cesar Zapata


Rice senior Cesar Zapata loves making music. It’s his favorite pastime. And when the coronavirus pandemic forced Rice to close the campus and finish the spring semester online, he suddenly had plenty of free time to devote to his art.

“Whether it be singing, playing guitar, guitarrón (a large, six-string acoustic bass guitar), piano or a combination of the four, music is an outlet of expression that allows me to connect with my inner self and the world around me,” said Zapata, who has been president of Rice’s Mariachi Luna Llena for the past two years.

When Zapata’s friends started leaving campus two weeks ago to go home, he hunkered down at his Baker College room and began playing music. He spent hours every day looking up chords and lyrics to new music. But sharing his music live with others was a problem, so to conform to social distancing guidelines, he went up to the fourth-floor balcony of his dorm, which faces Houston’s Medical Center, and with his guitar in hand belted out tunes to whomever was passing by.

“It felt good to release music into an open space even though I did not know who was listening,” he said.

To assure that someone out there was listening, he recorded musical videos of himself to share with his family and friends on social media.

“Making music is a perfect way of practicing social distancing,” he quipped.

During his free time, Zapata also did a cover version of the Mexican song “Perdon” by Alejandro and Vicente Fernandez. The three-minute song is sad and mournful, and Zapata sings it with a voice that conveys a lover’s hope of winning his girlfriend back. He recorded the song and posted it on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, where viewers can see Zapata in a double screen, playing a guitarrón and a guitar simultaneously. Zapata said it took him a full day to learn how to use the software to put the audio and video together and balance the musical parts.

Creating the video was a bittersweet experience for Zapata. Every spring, Mariachi Luna Llena conducts a concert in Hamman Hall. But because of COVID-19, this year’s concert had to be canceled.

“This cancellation meant that I was not going to be able to perform a series of vocal pieces that I had been preparing as a sort of ‘senior send-off’ performance,” he said. “Creating this musical cover was a way for me to get to share my ‘senior song’ with an audience.”

As president of the mariachi group, Zapata has arranged for the group to perform the national anthem at Houston Rockets and Houston Astros games, organized and led the fundraising for the group to perform at a music festival in Peru and wrote the lyrics to a remix of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in honor of the Astros’ 2019 World Series appearance that was featured in a broadcast by Houston television station KTRK.

A biochemistry and cell biology major, Zapata will be attending the UTHealth School of Dentistry at Houston. But music will still be a major part of his life.

“I will definitely continue singing and playing instruments in my free time,” he said. “In fact, I plan on being a part-time member of the Rice Mariachi Luna Llena.”

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