Thursday, May 30, 2024

UTSA grad Antonio Zubillaga overcomes addiction and finds his voice

UTSA grad Antonio Zubillaga overcomes addiction and finds his voice

MAY 7, 2024 — Music major Antonio Zubillaga will cross one of the most significant stages in his life this month to receive his Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. The baritone vocalist is capping off a final year that includes highlights such as being cast in multiple UTSA Lyric Theatre opera productions and performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Up ahead is graduate school. Zubillaga will return to UTSA this fall to begin his master’s in music, as part of the university’s “Keep Running With Us” program.

As monumental as his achievements have been, they required a tremendous amount of effort on this graduate’s part.  

Zubillaga, now 37 years old, has always been passionate about music. However, he initially enrolled at UTSA in 2005 as an anthropology major. At the time, substance abuse and addiction took their toll on his life, and he dropped out of college due to academic issues.

“Things led to other things, and I ended up in a really bad place with addiction,” Zubillaga admitted. During his long battle, Antonio abandoned music entirely.

“One of the things that helped me with my recovery was being in a choir. A choir of people going through the same issues can be a very good support system.”

Life changed, though, when he achieved sobriety in 2017. He decided it was time to dedicate himself to his passions and aspirations by pursuing a degree in music. 

“When I decided to get sober, I was going to come back to UTSA. But my GPA was way too low, so I went to Alamo Colleges to pick it up,” Zubillaga said.

He began taking music courses and improving his GPA at Northwest Vista College, where he had his first college-level voice lesson. Despite his major recovery, he faced an uphill battle to get his voice back into shape for auditions and to meet the demands of being a music major.

“It does feel like I’m trying to play catch-up, especially when I go to competitions and see kids who’ve been in voice lessons longer than I have,” Zubillaga said.

But the support of faculty members has kept him going.

The UTSA student says life drastically improved upon re-admittance to UTSA. He completely transformed his voice under the tutelage of Crystal Jarrell Johnson, assistant professor of practice for voice in the UTSA College of Music.

“She’s been amazing at pushing me to do better but also very understanding since my situation is a little bit different from everyone else’s,” Zubillaga remarked. “She’s been very emotionally intelligent.”

Under Johnson’s direction, Zubillaga has delivered compelling performances at recitals, concerts and musical productions. Those who have seen him perform say that he demonstrates poise, mature musicianship, and impressive tonal qualities in his voice.

As part of his efforts to pay it forward, Zubillaga works with students as an administrative assistant in the UTSA Honors College.

“It’s been a big inspiration working with students who have done so much when they’re so young,” Zubillaga said. “It’s helped me gain a new appreciation for what the university does to give students what they need to succeed.”

Though balancing his studies while maintaining multiple jobs, bills and family has been challenging, Zubillaga encountered a supportive atmosphere among his peers that helped him succeed.

“It’s always been a very supportive culture. There is constructive criticism, but we always want to see each other succeed and it has allowed me to grow as an artist. That’s why I’m staying for my master’s,” said Zubillaga, who will pursue his master’s in choral conducting.

“I want to be the best musician that I can be, and I think conducting is the next challenge for me,” he said.

Learn more about the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts.
Graduates, guests, faculty: Get the information you need about the Spring 2024 Commencement ceremonies.
Be prepared: Check out UTSA’s Commencement FAQ page.
⇒ Contact the UTSA Center for Collegiate Recovery for more information about the institution’s recovery services.

After undergoing hardship and excelling through grit and determination, Zubillaga aspires to establish a Recovery Choir where people battling substance addiction can rehabilitate and bond through music.

Zubillaga also strives to be the best version of himself as an artist and a person.

“One of the things that helped me with my recovery was being in a choir,” Zubillaga said. “A choir of people going through the same issues can be a very good support system.”

Rolando Ramon

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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