In Session: Kiana Burciaga

Kiana with her cello at Anthem School of Music.

When did your love for cello begin?

I first became inspired by my cousin, Erica, who [is] 5 years older than me. She was playing cello in high school and I had seen her play in concerts; so I just felt really called to do [the same]. I started off in 5th grade strings like a lot of students in San Antonio. I’ve been playing for 13 years. I learned classical, throughout school and through college. In college, I met people who worked in a coffee shop that were very humble and sweet to me. They had [invited me to join] a band that they were starting, and it was an indie-folk band. I was scared because I never thought about improv – sprouting from my creativity, I always followed the pieces of paper in front of me that had the articulation and dynamics written down. I had never gone out of the realm of the sheet music. So them asking me to improv with their original music, I was terrified! They were so kind [though]. I still play in that band (Winter Fires), 4 years later, and it has now evolved to more progressive rock.

Do you ever compose on your own?

I definitely have the desire to do so. I’ve experimented with different kinds of pedals and phasing and things like that. So bringing another side to it – it’s been hard to set time aside for myself to express myself that way. It’s definitely something I want to delve into because I also really love to sing! I once saw this band that was touring from Ohio and their front woman was a cellist and she sang at the same time – I was start struck, head over heels, I thought she was incredible! If I find the time, I want to see if I could pull that off and make my own music.

Kiana at Matador Recording Studios.

What inspires you?

There are a few bands that inspire me. One of them has to be Modest Mouse. They just have so much going on – live on stage and in studio. They incorporate orchestral instruments and rock band instruments. The energy they have on stage is electrifying. So usually, when I’m heading out to gigs, I find myself listening to them heavily and jam out to them in my car. It’s really just the energy that captures me and makes me want to showcase that same kind of level on stage. Because gigging and playing for people can’t just be a personal experience – you really have to show emotion to the crowd, because if you’re not into it, it will be lackluster. There would be nothing for them to grab on to other than what they can hear orally. In terms of melody, and layering, and harmonies, – I look to Foxing. Their music just really pulls at my heartstrings and has made me more in tune to myself and my instrument. The imagery they create, not only with the lyrics, but with different unorthodox sounds and strings and brass [instruments] is just beautiful.

Kiana with her cello at Anthem School of Music.

Do you have any other creative outlets besides music?

Music has been such a large part of my life, but if I had to choose something – I really like to bullet journal. It’s basically like graphing; there’s no structure to it – it leaves the writer up to doing whatever they want with it. So I bullet journal about my day-to-day plans, monthly goals, track things like my water intake per day. It’s very mundane, but I use the spreadsheets to get out my doodles too and things that are on my mind and add quotes and pictures.

Are there any particular rituals you do before you gig?

The only thing I do before I gig is I stretch a lot. I don’t play on a daily basis because I have a lot of things going on, but stretching is super important. It gets me warmed up – as musicians we use small muscles and [stretching] can really make or break my gig if I’m not ready for it.

Kiana playing a gig with her band Winter Fires.

What other bands do you play for besides Winter Fires?

Deer Vibes – the front man, Mikey, has partnered with YOSA [Youth Orchestra of San Antonio] before and put on a really big concert with the students in YOSA which is incredible. They’ve really branched out. The Freebies – which is very contemporary and incorporate a lot of unconventional instruments within the band as well. They’re very fun to play with, it’s not a typical set up. Harvey McLaughlin – this is a recent band I’ve been playing with and have been fortunate to record with them and [I’ll] be on their next album.

Who are your biggest supporters?

Definitely my parents. I’m very fortunate to have a good relationship with them and have them in my corner. There are some parents who aren’t entirely supportive in their child pursuing this kind of style, playing in bands, and [mostly] for free. But, my parents believe strongly in the bands I’m in and for a long time, they were at every gig I had – so they came to coffee shops and bars to make sure I knew they cared. It really means a lot.

Kiana playing a gig with Deer Vibes.

In Session: Nathaniel Villarreal

Nathaniel in his solo session at The Living Room Inc. recording studio

How long have you been writing music?

“I started writing music when I was around 7 or 8 [years old]. Started fiddling with the guitar around 6. I went to my grandma’s house and my uncle, Art, lent me one of his acoustics and I knew 3 or 4 chords, and I just wrote some tune: D, A, E major, G, C, and he said ‘Hey you should record this.’ I said ‘I don’t know how to do any of that stuff.’ He’s like ‘Yeah, you’re ready for it.’ So I went to his home studio and laid down 2 tracks and he added his stuff over it, then he gave me a cassette of me playing. And it sounded pretty cool. I was in lessons, but this was more folk-driven. I enjoyed working on something that was my own, as opposed to interpreting something that someone has already done. I enjoyed taking the simplistic aspect of being able to play for enjoyment. I don’t like being confined to one ideology of classical notation. I found it more fun to play folk rhythm and put cool leads behind it.”

So, are you a metal musician?

“I’m a musician. I wouldn’t say I’m a metal musician or classical or folk I’m a musician. I think putting labels on music is what a lot of kids coming out of college do. Classifying your music or your style, limits you as an artist. Do I pull inspiration from metal music? Absolutely. I pull from multiple genres of music; I play funk, jazz, rock-n-roll, bluegrass, one of my guilty pleasures. I can shred on a banjo! Not too many people know that because it’s not dominant in my music, but I pull from multiple genres to create a sound. I think that’s what’s missing today in contemporary music and a lot of music in general.”

Nathaniel in his solo session at The Living Room Inc. recording studio

You recently produced 2 singles: Chasing the Sun and Arise, can you tell us the inspiration behind those?

“Well, Chasing the Sun is an instrumental, I was just [playing] around on a chord and I thought it sounded really cool. I got this 4-track recorder, that I haven’t had since I was a teenager in high school, and that’s how I used to do all my demos; you didn’t have the accessibility to the technology like you do now. I got the 4-track for my birthday – listened to old tapes, reflect[ed] on what it felt like to get something like that; what it was like to have [a] memory, reminded me of how good of a day it was; seeing the sun set, [it] kinda made me a little sad because I did not want that [particular] day to end because it felt so good. [I was] grabbing onto that feeling and running with it. And it all came together! I brought a violinist in here, Fred, and he played in F sharp. I recorded a solo over it. Went to the studio, laid it down in The Living Room [recording studio]. The engineer was great, submitted it to [the] label and they loved it. They picked it up and released it.

Arise – was something more intimate. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have, the more fun you have, the more challenges you face. The single is not out YET: we have 2 versions of it – one for the kids [Artist Series Program], and one that will be released later in the month. The first line is ‘7 o clock top of the day, gotta get up, got bills to play’ – [this] melody is different. The song Arise is a compliment to Chasing the Sun: Face whatever you have to face, to find that feeling, growing through it. [Confronting] something that’s stopping you from getting where you want to go, or feeling how you want to feel in that day, and having that fortitude to handle it. [This is] one of my favorite tunes I’ve ever written. It’s more traditional.”

Going to the recording studio is nothing new for you. Is there any particular ritual you have before you go or something you do for good luck?

“The fact in just going into the studio – reflecting on knowing musicians, owning a music school, opening Anthem Shred Academy, doing something big with MI [Musicians Institute]..just knowing that I’m doing something with my talent, I’m taking my idea, a thought, gathering the best musicians I can find and including them in the process and knowing I have the ability to do this and be sincere with it, be legitimate about it. I’ve always had the appreciation when coming into the [recording studio], I’m learning something I don’t know [everything] about. That I don’t know as much as I thought.

I want to take my art to the next level. I don’t want it to be confined to just a classroom or just be a lecturer or instructor. All those things go through my head before a take. I’m giving thanks, I was taught to go for it. If you have the ability, then don’t look back. [I’m] grateful I have the opportunity. One of the greatest engineers, Michael Esparza – He’s doing the engineering for Arise. He’s has won a Grammy [for his work]. We want to submit the song to the Academy and see if we can win with it! It’s that good. So, the ritual is just giving thanks, getting it down as few mistakes as possible, and saying thanks to everyone that’s involved.”

Nathaniel going over the sound with Michael Esparza, Head Recording Engineer, at The Living Room Inc. recording studio

Can you tell us what’s next in pursuing your art?

“There’s a lot involved. I’ve been invited to play Coachella [music festival]. I’ve been invited with my extreme band, Repenasence, to go jam with Metallica. I don’t talk about all the opportunities I get because I have other obligations. I’m very involved with my son’s Little League – I’m a die-hard baseball guy. I’m a hands-on owner, with Anthem School of Music, Anthem Shred Academy. There are opportunities out there for me as a musician, to go off and go experience that lifestyle. I did that many yeas ago. Right now, I want to focus on signing up as much talent as I possibly can. Kaitlin Solis is one of the first finds we have singing the tunes for. A few other hard hitters we’ll be bringing to the studio for. We’ve got country labels, Nashville, Los Angeles/Hollywood – I wish I could tell you what we have working on in those places, but I promised I would not.

We’re going to change the game when it comes to the standard of music education. I’ll keep writing music; I’m [also] recording an LP for Repenasence. You can find it on Spotify [along with Chasing the Sun]. We’re going to do 3 more songs for producers out in LA. People are excited about what we’re doing. [In the music industry] it’s about who you know. As long as [I] still have an opportunity and keep relationships open with Michael, producers, Academy, artist industry, recording studio – Richard who is the owner at the Living Room [recording studio], sat me down a couple months ago and said ‘Man you need to be creating, you’re an artist.’ [So] as long as we keep that relationship going, I’m going to continue write music, have a good time doing it, and try to learn as much as I can.”

Nathaniel in his solo session at The Living Room Inc. recording studio

Anthem receives recognition 4th year in a row!

2016, 2017, 2018, 2019

San Antonio, TX – March 26, 2019 San Antonio’s Anthem School of Music LLC has been honored with the SupportMusic Merit Award from The NAMM Foundation for its outstanding commitment to music education.  

The SupportMusic Merit Award recognizes individual schools that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students.

You can view all of Anthem’s awards on our website

To qualify for the SupportMusic Merit Award, Anthem answered detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music-making programs, Responses were verified with school officials and reviewed by The Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.

“Anthem is unique in our music education approach. We not only value the individualized curriculum we provide, but also and importantly, each student’s success in personal development.” said Molly, General Manager

This award recognizes that Anthem is leading the way with learning opportunities as outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The legislation guides policy implementation in the states and replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) which was often criticized for an overemphasis on testing-while leaving behind subjects such as music. ESSA recommends music and the arts as important elements of a well-rounded education for all children.  

Research into music education continues to demonstrate educational/cognitive and social skill benefits for children who make music. After two years of music education, research found that participants showed more substantial improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores that their less-involved peers and that students who are involved in music are not only more likely to graduate high school, but also to attend college as well. Everyday listening skills are stronger in musically-trained children that in those without music training. Significantly, listening skills are closely tied to the ability to: perceive speech in a noisy background, pay attention, and keep sounds in memory. Later in life, individuals who took music lessons as children show stronger neural processing of sound; young adults and even older adults who have not played an instrument for up to 50 years show enhanced neural processing compared to their peers. Not to mention, social benefits include conflict resolution, teamwork skills, and how to give and receive constructive criticism.

A 2015 study supported by The NAMM Foundation, “Striking A Chord,” also outlines the overwhelming desire by teachers and parents for music education opportunities for all children as part of the school curriculum.

About The NAMM Foundation

The NAMM Foundation is a nonprofit supported in part by the National Association of Music Merchants and its approximately 10,400 members around the world. The foundation advances active participation in music making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving, and public service programs. For more information about the NAMM Foundation, please visit

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