For Christian Fernandez, joy is making music and ‘paying it forward’
His late father’s treasured saxophone was a constant in Christian Fernandez’s life at Yale. Paying forward the support of the people who helped him succeed was another.
The instrument, a tenor saxophone that he played often, brought him joy and reminded him of his family in New Orleans.
“It’s always been really important to me,” said Fernandez, who was 12 when his father, Camerino Randy Fernandez, a musician, passed away.
Over the past four years, Fernandez has been a saxophonist or clarinetist in the Yale Precision Marching Band, Yale Concert Band, Yale Jazz Ensemble, and Tertulia — the first and only campus salsa band — among other groups.
His favorite experiences have included performing with Tertulia at last year’s Spring Fling and festivities like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in New Haven.
“I love performing and sharing music with others, especially music that is very danceable, like salsa,” said the ethnicity, race, & migration major, who concentrated in Latinx ethnomusicology.
Strong mentors, a supportive family, and the university’s generous financial aid made his Yale experience possible, he said.
To help with expenses, Fernandez balanced his academic work and his musical activities with campus jobs. He worked in the buttery of his residential college, Benjamin Franklin; served as a college aide; handled tasks for Yale University Bands; and translated into English accounts of French-speaking Holocaust survivors for the Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies. (He’s fluent in French, having studied it in high school, when he also took part in a summer language-immersion program in Nova Scotia funded by a fellowship from his home state.)
To support fellow students, he spent a summer as a counselor in the First-Year Scholars Program at Yale (FSY), a program that helps first-generation and lower-income students adjust to college life. That experience inspired him to become a first-year counselor in his residential college this year.
“When I was in FSY, my counselor helped me calm down about the stress of coming to Yale generally, but also reassured me about the financial aspects,” he said. “I was happy to give back and pay it forward by supporting first-year students.”
Fernandez encourages younger Yale students to explore New Haven beyond the university, noting that a special pleasure for him has been performing with Tertulia for the social justice organization La Unidad Latina en Acción in the Fair Haven neighborhood.
“I advise them to become a part of and be good residents of New Haven,” he said.
Fernandez is still not sure what his plans will be after graduation, but he hopes to be able to work to support others in the way that he has been supported.
Wherever he goes, he said, his saxophone will join him.
“Music connects people,” Fernandez said.