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Music is the heartbeat of Max Ronquillo

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We're exactly one week out from the season premier of  Rise on NBC. From the producers of Hamilton and Friday Night Lights, Rise is a heartening new musical drama - inspired by a true story - about finding inspiration in unexpected places. To promote the upcoming series, we sit down with the public school performing arts teachers, the talents, and the trailblazers here at home.

What we found is truly inspirational.

Once the student, Max Ronquillo is now the teacher. "I think I wasn't  living until I was around music," he recalled. The proud public school product and Okkodo High School band teacher is the founder of the Tumon Bay Music Festival, the biggest showcase of talent in the region now 14 years running. "I knew what music did to me and how it changed my life positively," he shared. "And I wanted to make that same experience possible for as many people as possible."

Over 1,000 musicians - from concert bands, rock bands, orchestras, choirs, symphonies, solo acts, and small ensembles - have participated in the Tumon Bay Music Festival to date. "The festival has become bigger than me, definitely, exponentially. And it is what I envisioned it to be," said Ronquillo.

For those who say music doesn't take you places, Ronquillo disagrees. It's allowed him to travel the globe - three quarters of it, he says matter of factly. His clarinet and baton giving him the opportunity to perform in the world's most prestigious venues.

"The Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Town Hall, Carnegie Hall, performing on the Great Wall of China," he said about his favorite accomplishments. Here at home, however, it's an endless struggle to secure a stage. The topic chokes him up, as he said, "We don't have a decent concert hall. I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me with the Tumon Bay Festival, opening up their ballrooms. Their performance spaces. Just to give these young students a place to show their art."

"If we look at it from a sports perspective, it's the same thing. How do you get those soccer players to FIFA level? We have to build the facilities. It's not that we don't' have the soccer players, but if we want them to train as they fight, as we say in the Army, we need to give them the right environment, the same environment people elsewhere around the world have."

The arts, he argues, is an investment worth making as it will help sustain Guam's number one industry. "The demand is here and our tourism industry relies on the arts. 2236 because the tourism industry needs those entertainers," Ronquillo said. "We've always had talent. The island is full of natural talent."

While all the other school subjects are just as important, the arts, he says, teaches something that can't be taught in a classroom. "Where do we teach students how to feel? For me, the fine arts not only provides that easy avenue for students to put everything they learned in all the other classes together, but really teaches them how to be human. They need to know how to handle anger, adversity. They need to learn how to channel it in such a way that's creative," he said.

The season premier for RISE airs on Wednesday, March 14 at 9pm on KUAM-TV8 and at 8pm every Wednesday after.

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