Dr. Juan Carlos Ureña is a Spanish professor at SFA, but he is not the typical professor. Ureña is also an accomplished singer and songwriter of popular Spanish songs and has even gone on tours around the world. Ureña describes music as his first career and something he had been drawn to since he was a child in Costa Rica.
“I started singing since I was a very little kid in church, then in school,” Ureña said. “I had to be singing in every single assembly and activity that the school did.”
Ureña continued singing throughout high school and into his college years. He studied music education at the University of Costa Rica. By the time he was 17 in 1978, he had gone on his first international tour.
“It was very interesting because I had to get special permission [from my parents] because I was underage,” Ureña said.
According to Ureña, touring and going to school was not easy but it was made possible by having special arrangements with his professors. Ureña often found himself having to make up class work, and sometimes even having to drop the class.
“It took me a little bit longer than normal students to finish the bachelor’s degree because of that,” Ureña said.
At the beginning of his career, Ureña was known for being a solo artist who wrote songs about political and social issues. The content of his music is what made Ureña stand out from others, though sometimes he explained that the contents of his songs could also cause him problems.
“It was good because it made me different, [but] it was bad because sometimes it could get you in trouble,” Ureña said. “I didn’t care. I wanted to do it that way, and I still continue in the same line.”
Ureña takes inspiration from Costa Rica and its traditional music when he is writing his own songs. Though some of his songs may have a newer sound, he says that all of his music is built from traditional roots.
“A lot of traditional music is the root of my music composition in my songs, so even when I am playing a song that sounds contemporary, the roots [and] the musical styles of that song come from traditional music,” Ureña said.
In the 1990s, Ureña’s life took an interesting turn when he met his wife Jeana Paul- Ureña in a popular venue in Costa Rica. Ureña was performing with a popular Nicaraguan singer Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy and describes the encounter as “love at first sight.”
“She was very close to the stage [when] we started playing,” Ureña said. “I kicked the microphone accidentally, and the mic went straight to her. She [caught] it, and she put it in front of me again. I said, ‘Thank you,’ and I kept playing [while] looking at her.”
Jeana Paul-Ureña, the chair of Languages, Cultures and Communications at SFA is from the United States originally; but at the time, she was traveling with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest in Costa Rica.
They were introduced to each other by a mutual friend at another one of Ureña’s performances and after that they started dating almost immediately.
Much like Ureña, Paul- Ureña played music in college. She played in Texas at her school, Texas Tech University, and she focused mostly on country and rock songs. The Ureñas started performing in Spanish together by the 1990s.
“She was interested in the music because she liked music, so I started teaching her some songs,” Ureña said. “She was learning very fast and was very good at learning different styles.”
The Ureñas moved to the U.S. and started working at SFA as professors. They decided to step back from music to pursue their academic careers, but they are still performing.
“We wanted to get married and start a new life,” Ureña said. “We had more opportunities in terms of jobs, but that also distanced me from the music career. It’s like giving up something for another thing.”