Diego de Jesus Mondragon didn’t choose to become a violinist. “Music was a requirement for the children.” His father played violin in the San Diego Symphony for 23 years. He and his two older sisters endured a regimen of violin, chess, reading, drawing and painting before school, after school and every weekend. “That was it every day.” The children weren’t allowed to play. Diego would watch longingly as his friends played outside. Sports were absolutely forbidden because of the risk of an injury to his hands.
When he was seven, he found a red and white record player in his dad’s closet along with a stack of Herb Alpert albums. He picked up his violin and began playing along, realizing he had an “ear” for music. He first began wanting to play after his first concert at age 10 when he performed a violin concerto by Vivaldi at Southwestern College. At the time, children were to be “seen and not heard.” It was then he realized the violin was his voice.
All three children home early and Diego ran away from home at age 15. He put down the violin, eventually joining the Marine Corps for eight years. He returned home after his stint in the Marines and got back on good terms with his father. It was when he first heard Jean-Luc Ponty play the electric violin that he realized there was no limit to what he could do with his instrument. Another influence was violin virtuoso Stephan Grapelli.
Although his father hoped he would follow in his footsteps, Diego decided to go in a different direction and got his master’s degree in school counseling and psychology. His first position was in the Ontario Montclair school district and he would travel every weekend to see his children. In between San Diego and Ontario he discovered Temecula. In 1993 he purchased a home there and brought his son to live with him.
He found himself disappointed initially by the lack of musical entertainment in the valley. Today he loves living here and watching it grow. He calls his style a mixture of Latin, Gypsy, jazz and Flamenco. He released a CD of his original music nine years ago including a piece called Temecula Mist, which he hopes, will someday be the city’s official song. Last year he released a Christmas CD called Latin Beat Christmas. Both are available on his website, www.diegomondragon.com.
He plays most Friday evenings at Bamboo House in Temecula, Sunday afternoons at Carter Estate Winery and Resort as well as Fazeli Cellars and other venues throughout the valley.
He told me he has “another life” in Mexico. He has a place outside of Puerto Vallarta and he is involved with CK Productions, working with staging and lighting and hiring local musicians, Flamenco and belly dancers and putting on what he calls “grand” shows. He realizes there’s a very small niche for violin in Temecula, but says it’s “my therapy. I enjoy bringing pleasure to people with my music.”