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Payoff for Patience Is the World at His Fingertips

Music: Carlos Murillas started on classical guitar and now coaxes sweet, tender tones from the Paraguayan harp.

March 22, 1997|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Carlos Murillas plays the Paraguayan harp--an instrument that, as he puts it, "creates beautiful music that is intricate, touching and soothing. But it's not accessible to a very wide audience. With the explosion of computers, videos and such in today's culture, I guess the attention span just isn't there."

So Murillas finds that his audience is limited to those attending art festivals, weddings and parties. Tonight, he and his partner of 11 years, singer-guitarist Jose Ivan Quiceno, will play at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library.

Patient listeners will be rewarded with sweet, tender tones from the harp, a diatonically tuned, 36-string instrument strummed with the fingernails. Murillas, 43, has been playing 16 years.

It didn't take him long to realize that "with the style of music I play, you need to supplement your income with another job or career." With a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a bilingual teaching credential from San Diego State, he now lives in Chula Vista and pays his bills by teaching science at a nearby high school.

He recalls his first earful of the harp with fondness: He was 15, still living in his native Colombia and was headed to a soccer match with some friends when unfamiliar sounds drew him instead to a concert.

"I was learning to play the classical guitar at the time, and the sounds of the harp were so different than anything that I'd ever heard. Hearing so many strings for the first time . . . it made me stay and listen for a couple of hours. I remember thinking that night about how challenging it would be to learn to play the harp."

But it took another 13 years--and a move to the United States--before he got serious. In the summer of 1981, at Cal State L.A., Murillas heard Alfredo Rolando Ortiz of Corona, one of the great Paraguayan harpists.

"Mr. Ortiz was so amazing to see and hear," he remembers. "After his program, I met his wife at a concession stand and asked her if he gave any lessons. When she said he did, I was elated."

Murillas says that Ortiz's patience, encouragement and vision over the course of 21 lessons provided the foundation for his own career. "What I tell my harp students now is the same thing Mr. Ortiz taught me: 'Don't rush the music. Be comfortable, play firmly but slowly. Don't speed up until you're ready to, and you'll know when that time comes.' "

*

Murillas and Quiceno met when "we were both playing at a Peruvian restaurant in Pacific Beach, but at different times," the harpist says. "One night the owner came up to me and told me that this guitar player named Jose was also an excellent singer, and he thought the two of us would sound very good working as a duet. So we hooked up, and it's clicked for the last 11 years."

Playing originals and traditional songs from Venezuela, Columbia, Argentina, Peru and Paraguay, Murillas and Quiceno have collaborated on two CDs, "A World of Music" in 1993 and "Arpa Romantica" in 1994.

"I'd be happier if we sold a million records," Murillas says with a laugh. "But my life is good. Teaching and playing music is very rewarding for me. I think a big part of success comes from accomplishing things that you enjoy . . . to work hard and see a final product that you're proud of.

"I try to teach people through music about the richness of Hispanic culture, of what it means to be from South America. I try to transport their minds and souls of our audience into our culture, at least for an evening."

* Carlos Murillas and Jose Ivan Quiceno play tonight in the La Sala Auditorium at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, 31495 El Camino Real. 7 and 9 p.m. $3-$6. (714) 248-7469.

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