When professor Juan Álamo went to Mexico for the first time, he looked out at the audience as he performed in his last recital. As he played a Puerto Rican tune — something he tried to do whenever he visited a new country as a way to share a piece from his homeland — he noticed a Puerto Rican flag flying in the crowd.
“You can probably imagine the emotions that I felt at the time,” Álamo said. “I’m in this remote town in Mexico, and the last thing I would ever imagine is that there'd be someone from Puerto Rico there.”
For Álamo, this is only one example of the important relationship between his Latin heritage and his music, two passions he studies as a composer, performer and a recently appointed distinguished term associate professor in Latin American studies.
Distinguished professorships — like the William Wilson Brown Jr. professorship in Latin American studies that Álamo was appointed to — are considered one of the highest levels of recognition for faculty in both teaching and research, Department of Music Chairperson David Garcia said.
Garcia and Álamo share research interests in Latin American music and culture, teach some of the same courses, such as Introduction to Latin American Music, and direct UNC’s Cuban music ensemble, Charanga Carolina, together.
Álamo will serve in the distinguished professorship for the next three years. It is administered through UNC’s Institute for the Study of the Americas.
“He’s just a really wonderful person," Garcia said. "He’s humble but also intelligent and extremely talented as an artist. He carries a lot of knowledge with him and is always willing and happy to share that knowledge, not only with his students of course, but also with his colleagues.”
Junior Vanessa Chazal, a public policy and peace, war and defense major with a minor in music, first met Álamo the summer before her first year at UNC, when she reached out to him as a fellow percussionist.
“My first impressions of him were someone who cared that you played music well, but more importantly, he cared that you cared about playing music,” Chazal said.