Alumnus’s passion leads to successful music career


Kevin Arellano plays guitar on Sept. 29 during a recital series concert at Eastfield. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera

Jordan Lackey, Opinion Editor

Six years ago, freelance Dallas musician Kevin Arellano was pursuing a degree in computer science when he came to a realization.

“I was trying to chase a safe degree,” Arellano said. “A semester into it I was like, ‘man, I don’t want to do that.’’

At the time of his epiphany, it was already too late for Arellano to audition for many music schools, so he decided to enroll at Eastfield.

“Eastfield really helped me fill in the holes in my playing because I was self-taught for the most part,” Arellano said. “My two years here really helped me prepare for a higher university setting and it worked out because when I auditioned for schools after [Eastfield] I got scholarships.”

One of those scholarships Arellano received was to attend the University of Texas at Arlington. Later he was one of only five guitarists selected to study at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden. Established in 1771, it’s the oldest musical institution for higher learning in the country.

Arellano is now a full-time musician in the Dallas area, and he even has some experience playing in other countries like Sweden and Spain.

“I think not having to get another job is probably my biggest accomplishment,” Arellano said. “Just relying only on my guitar. And it started at Eastfield. Honestly, they really set a foundation that led me to success.”

Arellano’s journey to success wasn’t one without obstacles. When he started, he was a self-taught guitarist with an interest in metal music. Looking back, he said there was a lot he needed to learn and credits the “tough love” he received from music instructors like Oscar Passley for his success.

“He didn’t know anything,” Passley said while laughing. “And that’s OK. That’s why we’re here. And that’s why you go to school so you can learn a lot of this stuff.”

Passley said Arellano would sometimes become “dark” or sullen after hearing criticisms. However, that only seems to have emboldened him to work even harder.

“He was just that guy,” Passley said. “He was always in the practice rooms. He was always stopping by my office. He was always looking for information, always trying to figure stuff out.”

Passley believes Arellano’s drive and work ethic are what allowed him to achieve musically.

“He wasn’t necessarily my most talented kid,” Passley said. “But he was the one that just won’t let go. There’s a lot to be said about that.”

Years after graduating from Eastfield, Arellano was asked to return to campus in October to play a jazz set for Passley’s current students alongside fellow musicians Anthony Cappeto, Christian Levens, Christian Valdes and Andrew Garfias.

Before the performance began, the all-familiar ‘tuning song’ of each musician overlapped one another to become a cacophony of gentle yet unorganized notes.

The snare hit while the saxophone sang and technical jargon echoed throughout the room from one bandmate to another.

Within moments, the first song was underway—“Caravan,” by Duke Ellington.

The song started off with a subdued guitar line. Arellano seemed content to gently carry the song as he tried to blend into the background. However, it didn’t take long for the music to build.

Even though faces were masked, noticeable smiles could be seen throughout the room.

The bass drum slapped reverb across the large image of a cartoon panda printed on its front as a subtle guitar solo started to emerge. The strings twanged within the confines of the song, building slowly into an ever-increasing display of complexity and ability.

At the height of his solo, Arellano’s guitar harshly glistened in the reflected light, contrasting the soothing and effortless sound it was creating.

The quintette seemed to have a language all their own. With the smallest facial expressions and eye movements they could communicate with precision while never having to speak an actual word.

Arellano says this form of communication wouldn’t be possible without the close relationship him and his bandmates share.

Longtime friend of Arellano’s and drummer for the quintette, Christen Levens, said he couldn’t agree more.

“When you’re playing with your friends, there is no wrong answer,” Levens said.