|Photo by Jason Behnken/The Tampa Tribune|
Having four brothers in the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra (PCYO) program is unusual in itself. But the story of how these brothers became a family of musicians is even more striking.
Born in Guatemala, Luis Quixtan, 19 of Brandon, thought early on that he’d become a doctor like his parents.
“We lived in a small village, my parents were both doctors and my house was like a clinic,” said Luis, the oldest of five children in his family.
In a country of political unrest and violence, the Quixtan family became a target. “People thought we had money because they were doctors,” Luis said.
His parents began receiving death threats. They were assaulted and told to pay or their children would be kidnapped or killed.
“They told my dad to pay them $5,000 a month or one of us [kids] would die,” said Luis.
When parents Sandra and Ángel went to police, nothing was done. Quite sure that the police were receiving cuts from blackmail, they had no recourse against their assailants. They didn’t know who was behind the threats and didn’t know where to turn.
In one incident, Luis was walking down the street when a car with armed men began following him. Then only 12 years old, he ran home and reported it to his mother.
His father had been beaten on more than one occasion and the attempts to kidnap the children became more frequent. The situation continued to escalate.
“No one would help them,” said Luis, “They decided it wasn’t safe to stay...it was either live or die.”
Leaving everything behind, they came to Florida in 2004 on tourist visas. Soon after, they came to Brandon, where they were taken in by an elderly man, Ismael Ramos, who became like a grandfather to the children. It was Ramos who bought Luis his first instrument, a clarinet.
At that time, living in Ramos’ home, the family was still fearful to go out or trust anyone. They didn't speak the language and didn't have friends. "It was all overwhelming and strange," said Luis.
Luis taught himself how to play the clarinet, and soon his brother Francisco began to play. They added saxophone and flute. His brothers Christian and Kevin picked up instruments as well. Music became the family’s only outlet.
“We really didn’t have anything else to do,” said Luis, “Music brought us together.”
When they heard about the Patel Conservatory through a friend, it “opened doors for us,” said Luis, “we didn’t imagine we’d be in a place like this.”
For most kids, music lessons are an after-school activity, but for the Quixtan boys, the youth orchestra become a safe and welcoming home.
Today, Luis and his brothers and sister all play more than one instrument. Luis and his brothers, Francisco, 18, Christian, 16, and Kevin, 15, play with PCYO, and Sandra, 13, has taken up drums.
In addition to PCYO, Luis, Francisco and Christian play together every Friday night at Sips Cafe in Brandon.
“Mr. [Stephen] Brown is one of the best conductors we’ve ever had,” said Luis. “I’ve been in other orchestras and it’s usually very serious. But [Brown] says, ‘if you’re going to play music, it should be fun.’ He’s taught us how to express ourselves through music.”