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Born to Play: Student Spotlight on Samuel Gaytan

It took Samuel Gaytan’s mom a while to figure it out. Her son, only a toddler at the time, had watched the Nuttin’ But Stringz song, “Thunder” on Nickelodeon about a million times. Nuttin’ But Stringz were a violin-rocking duo who played their own unique blend of music, and “Thunder” was their biggest hit. Three-year-old Sam would point at the screen and proclaim, “I want that!” Finally one day, his mom realized what he wanted: to play the violin.

By age six, Sam had a violin in his hands—and he still does. The music education and performance major, who’ll graduate in the spring of 2026, is as passionate about music as he ever was, and this summer, he’s been accepted into the prestigious Green Mountain Music Festival, hosted by Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. The festival is a month-long intensive study program for college, graduate, and high school students who play the violin, viola, or cello. To be accepted, applicants must prepare an audition recording of two contrasting works.

Gaytan chose the first movement of the “Barber Violin Concerto” and Bach’s “Sonata in G minor, Adagio.”

“Before I made the recordings, I was really tired of playing those pieces,” says Gaytan. He’d been practicing both since summer and wasn’t at all happy with the Bach. The day before he was to do the recordings, he was hanging out at a friend’s house. He told his friend how tired he was of the pieces—and that he wasn’t going to be able to give the recording his all as a result. “I'm gonna take a maximum of three takes tomorrow and be done with this," he said to the friend, who replied, "Samuel!"

“That's all I needed to hear,” says Gaytan. “The next day I recorded for about three hours until I was satisfied. I submitted the application and was accepted.” So this summer, he’ll be escaping the Texas heat and heading north. “I'm looking forward to being able to practice my instrument without any distractions for a month, which will be a stark contrast to my current schedule in which I'm juggling many music education classes, my own private lesson teaching, and observation hours, on top of trying to get better at my instrument.”

The busy sophomore has, in fact, become quite adept at juggling in his two years of college, but it’s always a challenge. “I am very busy, and honestly, I am still working on managing it all,” he admits. “I still get stressed out and burdened by the work I have to do and worry if I am doing a good enough job.” But he turns to his faith to help him reestablish balance and peace in his life. “Whenever I try to manage my life on my own, I start to get stressed, unbalanced,” he explains. “But when I let Jesus rule my life, time, and mind, I find myself centered regardless of how much is going on because I know he is with me in the eye of the storm.”

Storms notwithstanding, Gaytan is quick to count his blessings—blessings like “being accepted into Mid-Texas Symphony, becoming the concert-maestro of the TLU orchestra, starting a bible study with some friends who truly desire to draw close to God, and being accepted in the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival.”

One of the secrets of his success: the TLU School of Music. “If I met someone who wanted to join the TLU music department, I would tell them the best part is that they will be taught privately by professors who have taught their instrument, voice method, etc., and some of them have been teaching for a decade or more,” he says. “It’s rare in many state schools to have private lessons given by a professor instead of a graduate student who is on their way to achieving their doctorate.”

What does the future hold for the man who knew he wanted to play the violin at age three? He’s hoping to attend UT Austin’s Butler School of Music to pursue a master’s in music performance and pedagogy—or he might go straight into teaching as an orchestra director upon graduating from TLU. “I haven’t decided which route I will take just yet,” he says—which if fine, because he’s got time. Time, and music, and faith.