At the beginning of this year a group of musicians, all senior citizens, went to the San Fernando Mission Cemetery to bid farewell to Isabel Mejía, or “Chabelita,” as she was known.
They carried several instruments — guitars, mandolins, and jaranas — and when they arrived at Chabelita’s final resting place they began to play.
This is a tradition for the group named Sueños de Oro (Dreams of Gold); going to their members’ burial to send them off with songs that remind them of the one departed. For Chabelita, they started with “It’s a Small World.”
“They are wonderful!” said Violeta Quintero in Spanish, the teacher who has taught the group since its inception. “You cannot imagine how precious my group is.”
Quintero is the creator and teacher of the senior citizen musical group, which she started in the 1970s. It began as a private guitar class at the home of a student, who to this day still participates in the program.
The class grew to eight members after she invited more people to join, charging them one dollar per person each class. Quintero started giving lessons out of necessity, she said, as she was a student at California State University, Northridge.
Throughout the years she continued teaching the class while earning her degree and gerontology teaching credentials, which allowed her to receive funding from the Los Angeles Unified School District, LA Mission College, and currently the City of San Fernando.
She is a very enthusiastic lady and speaks highly of her students and program. Quintero says that she was born to teach music, but she is not a teacher who merely entertains her students.
“I teach so that they advance. And I correct them, and correct them until they learn, “she said.
Quintero explains that many people think that they cannot learn in their old age, but she disagrees. She said her students want to learn.
“All people can learn. If there is a will, there’s a way,” Quintero said.
She also says the program works as therapy for senior citizens, whether for mental or physical health. She relates a story about a participant’s who would take 30 minutes to get to the class although she lived only half a block away, highlighting that the motivation to get to class kept her physically active.
In fact, Quintero claims that some of her students had been given only two years to live but they extended that time to five years. She also says some students join the program to help them overcome the loss of a spouse.
One student even remarried with another student.
Interestingly, there are students in the class who are children of the group’s first member, as is the case Luis González.
His mother played the mandolin when she was younger and Quintero encouraged her to pick up the instrument again in her senior years. González’s mother taught him to play that instrument and also the guitar, but it was Quintero who helped him perfect his practice.
He entered the class in 2002 and describes his experience as “beautiful.”
“It’s like a family,” the 82-year-old man said. “[There’s] a lot of camaraderie. We just have fun playing music.”
Martha Araceli Garcia, 54, is another participant who joined along with her husband after bringing her father to the class — who is still there.
“Bringing him, we got to listen, and from then, we stayed and are now participating in the group,” Garcia said. “We love the group and we are very happy and very grateful to the teacher because it allows us to have a very nice time, very nice.”
“And we learn from her vitality and energy more than anything,” her husband added.
Felix Diaz, 75, also expressed his satisfaction with the group saying, “I already have, what, like a year and a half here? I also liked it because the teacher has really taught me a lot and I get along very comfortably with everyone.
“We get together and dedicate ourselves. We encourage each other to move forward because I do not think we’re going to continue to reach stardom, I know we’re getting along and enjoying each others presence,” Diaz said
The group, in addition to holding events for Christmas and Thanksgiving at Las Palmas Park, also perform at special events. Most recently, they performed at the LA County Fair.