Pamela Arellano Gonzalez, young classical guitarist, scheduled to headline a concert in November at Idyllwild Arts, was denied a visa in Guadalajara at the U.S. Consulate ostensibly because she failed to prove that she would return to her home country, even though her family, educational and professional bases are in Mexico. Photo courtesy Dave Pelham

Visa denial for featured guitarist threatened concert cancellation

As a teacher and guitar builder, David Pelham’s visit to Paracho, Michoacán, Mexico, in 2002 changed his life and inspired a new personal mission.

He heard great music and was struck by the talent of many young Paracho guitarists. Internationally famous for the quality of the guitars built in this city of 37,000, children in Paracho begin studying guitar as soon as they can hold one — at 4 or 5.

Abel Garcia Ayala, accomplished classical guitarist, will headline a Nov. 4 program at Idyllwild Arts. Also featured is Jaime Soria.
Photo courtesy Dave Pelham

For Pelham, an Idyllwild resident, promoting the careers of these talented young guitarists has become a personal goal. He attends the annual guitar festival in Paracho, the Feria de La Guitarra, and scouts for young talent he can bring to concerts at Idyllwild Arts Academy.

After months of preparation, the artist he had planned to bring to Idyllwild for a November concert was denied a U.S. visa at the consulate in Guadalajara. That denial nearly derailed the planned concert date.

This year he had selected music student Pamela Arellano Gonzalez, 19, as the featured artist for a Sunday, Nov. 4, concert at Idyllwild Arts. Gonzalez applied for a visitor visa at the American consulate in Guadalajara on Sept. 14 and was denied, even though her parents are established professionals in Mexico — her father a professor of music and guitar instructor, and her mother an English teacher. Also, Gonzalez currently is enrolled in a Bachelor of Music program with emphasis in guitar, and is a member of an established professional quartet, Tierra Mestiza, and a rock group, Artefacto Live.

For a visitor visa, an applicant must prove, by family, educational and work connections that they will return to their home county after their U.S. visit. Notwithstanding the above, Gonzalez was denied.

After much research and because of his many ties to the Paracho guitar culture, Pelham was able to find a gifted young guitarist, Abel Garcia Ayala, for the Nov. 4 date. “I’ve known Abel since he was 4 years old,” said Pelham. 

Garcia Ayala had already toured internationally and, in doing so, overcame the presumption of immigrant intent and was able to easily get a U.S. visa.

“Abel won the advanced category in Paracho in 2016 at age 18,” said Pelham, “even though the category is usually for those from ages 23 to 30. He has won 16 national awards [in Mexico] and three international awards, including the Antonio de Torres Award in Almeria, Spain, in 2009.

Featured with Garcia Ayala is Maestro Jaime Soria Porto, one of the most prominent Mexican guitarists of his generation. Pelham had selected Soria Porto to perform with Gonzalez as her mentor at the Idyllwild performance. He will act in that same role for Garcia Ayala, as well as performing his own program.

Soria Porto has won awards in international competitions in Spain and the United States, and multiple awards in Mexico. He currently teaches guitar chamber music, and guitar literature at the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica in Mexico City and at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Toluca. Soria Porto has released six recordings to date.

Pelham funds all travel and incidental expenses of the of the young artists he selects to bring to Idyllwild. “I spend many hours sitting in competitions and performances, and in discussion with others before making a decision,” said Pelham. “For me, this is an effort of passion for the music and the extraordinary young musicians who produce it.” Pelham said he selects gifted young guitarists who need wider professional exposure to help launch their careers.

Throughout his life, the guitar has occupied a central and centering place for Pelham. In his annual visits to Paracho, he has been warmly welcomed for his love of the guitar and of Paracho’s gifted young guitarists.

“I’ve been going to Paracho since 2002,” said Pelham. “The people have treated me wonderfully. I’ve heard amazing music that has triggered a passion in me. These concerts are something I can do to pay back all I have been given.”   

“The Art of the Guitar in Mexico,” a classical guitar concert, takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, in Lowman Concert Hall on the IAA campus. Admission is free. Last year was a standing-room-only success. This year will likely be the same. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.