Dreaming from Bolivia to BYU-I: The story of Junior Tovar

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On a stage full of musicians in Bolivia, Carlos Buono, a well-known Argentinian composer, suddenly stood up to give a message to the audience. Normally, special guests of the Orchestra of Santa Cruz have a space to share a few words about themselves, but Buono did the exact opposite when he pointed at the orchestra and asked, “Do you know the most important thing these people behind me are doing?”

A strong silence took over the room as he proceeded.

“Sleep. And do you know why? Because when kids sleep, they dream.”

Little did he know that his words would mark 12-year-old orchestra member, Junior Tovar, for life.

Tovar’s first steps with instruments have a story that some might consider atypical, or as his mother Claudia Quispe describes it, a miracle.

“Junior was hyperactive. Nothing would make him tired,” said Quispe. “He would go to soccer, karate and swimming lessons and still come home with a full tank.”

Tovar’s parents had no other choice than to consult with a pediatrician about their kid’s extreme amount of energy. That’s when their doctor recommended music lessons; the complication of music would wear his young mind out quickly.

The Tovars left in search of a teacher. Quispe asked a member of their local church, who was a piano teacher, if he would be able to give little Junior lessons. However, because of Tovar’s young age, he could not. They resolved that his mother would take the piano lessons and she would teach Tovar simultaneously.

Tovar began to learn songs before his mom did, to the point that it surprised his parents.

One time Quispe showed a video of her child playing the piano to the same teacher from the local church. He was so impressed that he offered to continue teaching Tovar himself.

“It all happened as if it was meant to be,” concluded Quispe, with a smile.

Photo credit: Junior Tovar

By age 8, Tovar was already playing pieces from Beethoven, Chopin and many more renowned figures of classical music. This led him to audition for the county’s choir, where he got accepted but due to a confusion didn’t attend. Tovar thought his name wasn’t called out during the audition and left the building filled with tears.

“Because we didn’t know he actually made it to the choir, we told him to try violin lessons to replace his choir hours,” Quispe said.

Tovar attended violin lessons at a local school in front of his house.

“I remember being told by one teacher that I wasn’t too good and that maybe I should stay with the piano,” Tovar said. “I don’t have resentment against this teacher, in fact, I am grateful she said that because it made me push myself even harder.”

He didn’t care about the diminishing comments he received. His love for the violin was strong enough to make him stay focused on becoming not only a good violinist, but the best.

Photo credit: junior tovar

As Tovar grew up, he wanted to move abroad to continue his music education, and his parents were very supportive of his dream. Initially he aimed for Europe, the home of classical music, but at age 15 he discovered a new talent when he started playing modern music with his violin.

Although financial statements showed how unlikely Tovar would be to achieve his dream, he never gave up. He explained that the biggest barrier he faced in his journey to the United States was always the economic factor.

“My family isn’t poor,” Tovar said, “but we don’t have enough money to get a visa, or even crazier, afford American education.”

Photo credit: Junior Tovar

By 2017, he had already contacted several people at the Music Department of BYU-Idaho to create awareness of his case. After his two-year mission, he learned about The Hall Foundation and applied with faith, knowing that the chances of being selected were very few and that normally an answer would take at least 6 months.

Hoping for his dream to come true, Tovar prayed intensely and focused on his music full-time, waiting for the email that would change his life.

Then, one day, it arrived.

“They were so fast to reply to me,” Tovar said. “They gave me the scholarship for my first year, then I received help from BYU-I grant and on top of that the Music Department gave me a 50% tuition scholarship. It was miracle after miracle.”

Tovar is now a freshman at BYU-I, majoring in music arts with a minor in marketing. He continues to play his violin for friends and hopes to one day work for a big label to learn as much as possible and then return to his home. He wants to create awareness of art in Bolivia, and give opportunities to kids like him who have the talent to succeed but not the resources or the support.

Photo credit: Junior Tovar

Tona Gonzalez, a freshman studying electrical engineering, met Tovar in January 2021 and was impressed by Tovar’s talent with the violin.

“In our first semester, Junior asked me to play the piano while he played the violin for a hymn,” Gonzalez said. “I remember I thought I was hearing many violins at the same time, but when I turned around it was just him. He played so smoothly and with such a passion, I could really tell he was enjoying what he was doing.”

Tovar is admired by several local church members in Bolivia. Popular artists like Bonny Lovy have shared his music on social media helping him reach more than 20 thousand views on some of his covers.

The violin gave Tovar’s life an unexpected twist, a twist that many hope for. Ultimately, all it takes to make a dream come true is a good night’s sleep.

“The way I was raised was unique, and the family where I was born is also unique, so for that reason I am unique too!”
“The way I was raised was unique, and the family where I was born is also unique, so for that reason I am unique too!” Photo credit: Junior Tovar