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Meet Nelson Galarraga '99: GAC’s Orchestra Director

Nelson Galarraga picked up his first violin at age 5. His parents made a large financial sacrifice in Venezuela to enroll him and his siblings in a private Conservatory of Music, Colegio Emil Friedman. In order to continue a ministry with the Hispanic community, the Galarraga family relocated to Atlanta and the children found themselves at GAC.

As an 8th grader, Nelson did not have a strong understanding of the English language and he attended a school without a dedicated string program. Through the help ESL teachers, Nelson quickly became a part of the GAC family and, at school, poured his efforts into advancing as a soccer player.

Nelson continued to study under the tutelage of Atlanta Symphony violinist and his biggest musical influence, Juan Ramirez, for years, but his friends and teachers at school had no idea he was such a skilled musician. Nelson’s soccer coach vividly remembers sitting in a school talent show one year and the MC announced, “Now, Nelson Galarraga will play Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor on the violin.” He laughs and says he sat up in his chair and looked around as if it were a joke. “I just knew it was going to be bad. But to my surprise, Nelson made such incredible music with his violin the entire crowd went silent. Who knew that this kid I had coached for years on the soccer field had an incredible hidden talent!” The word was out – Nelson was gifted.

Fast forward to Nelson’s junior year at GAC when administrators started a 12-member string ensemble. He shakes his head with disbelief at being the Orchestra Director in 2014. “It really is quite surreal. I came to GAC, didn’t know English, and didn’t have an in-school music outlet. To see the string program start with such humble beginnings, and now to be directing the firmly established program is incredible. Who has this kind of opportunity?”

The student becomes the teacher. Director Galarraga desires to teach his students that all talent comes directly from God. He prays daily for wisdom on how to direct them, mentor them, and encourage them to be advocates for the arts. Every now and again, Nelson still kicks the soccer ball around.