Friday, April 19, 2013

Brazil: Week 6 - Last week in Rio

I've fallen behind on my goal to put up a new blog post each week, thanks to difficulties finding an apartment and getting internet access in it here in Campos, but I'll save the whole story for another post.  Time to catch up, starting with my last week in Rio!

I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures of the
interviews I did, and I didn't want to make
a picture-less blog post, so here are some
other pictures I took this week.  These
are the famous Selaron Steps
I left Rio for Campos on April 6th, but two days before I was able to meet and have a brief interview with Fiorella Solares, who is the founder and director of Ação Social pela Música (ASM).  She did not have much time to talk, as she was having a very busy week, especially as the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, the top orchestra of El Sistema, was touring Brazil, performing two concerts in São Paulo and one in Brasilia (I couldn't go, and I haven't heard them in person yet, but I heard the concerts were fantastic).  Before we actually began the interview, she told me she had to take a minute to try and call Jose Antonio Abreu, the legendary founder of El Sistema, who was currently in the country with the orchestra!  

Fiorella is the widow of David Machado, who was a very well-known and well-respected Brazilian conductor who studied with Wolfgang Sawallisch, the famous conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Machado led orchestras in Italy for 15 years before returning to Brazil to lead several orchestras here.  During his travels, he met and because great friends with Abreu and they collaborated over 20 years, and Machado conducted the Simon Bolivar orchestra performing the symphonies of Mahler and works of Richard Strauss for the first time, well before the orchestra became famous.  Abreu also invited Machado to teach a conducting class in El Sistema because they didn't have enough conductors to lead all the orchestras that they were creating.  Abreu was keen on expanding the program throughout Latin and South America, and he convinced Machado that he could bring it to Brazil.  Machado loved the program, and in 1994 "Ação Social pela Música" was founded, although it began simply as an office.  Then 18 years ago after several attempts, they finally found their first sponsor and now had the funds to start an El Sistema program here in Brazil.  But this sponsor wanted the first program to be started in the interior of the state, not in a huge coastal city like Rio de Janeiro.  So that is how Orquestrando a Vida, the program I am currently visiting and working with in Campos dos Goytacazes, began, as Fiorella and David were introduced to Jony William, who founded and leads this program.  Fiorella said that, in her opinion, the program in Campos is the best El Sistema program in Brazil and the most authentic and similar to how they do it in Venezuela (I'm sure I'll learn much more about this during my time here in Campos too.)  It was also, according to her, the first program of El Sistema and the first one that Abreu worked with outside of Venezuela.
Monkey! (or Lemur?)

Not long after the organization was founded, David Machado died suddenly in 1995.  Soon after, Fiorella, who is a cellist and was a member of the Petrobras Symphony Orchestra (along with my host father, Marcelo, who is a good friend of hers,) got a phone call from Abreu where he told her that she was now the one who now had to carry on this work, even though she was still grieving and had a young girl to take care of.  In the following years, launched some attempts at starting nucleos in several favelas, but they all closed after threats from the drug traffickers, and it was simply too dangerous to carry on.  It wasn't until 2009, after the first favela in Rio had been pacified, the Dona Marta favela, could they start a nucleo that could be more permanent.  This has been their strategy with the other nucleos in Rio as well.

So what else was ASM doing in the other 14 years in between its founding and the opening of the Dona Marta nucleo?  Beyond the failed attempts at starting nucleos in other favelas, Fiorella has been helping other projects around all of Brazil, such as NEOJIBA in Salvador, Bahia, which I will be visiting in a couple months.  NEOJIBA was actually formed out of the ruins of a project she started in Bahia called "Juventude de Salvador" (Youth of Salvador) which folded.  ASM actually has two focuses: social education projects, which mostly consists of the nucleos in the favelas of Rio which I have been visiting, and cultural projects.  The cultural projects are primarily comprised of two orchestras which they created, the Mercosur Symphony Orchestra, and the Youth Orchestra of Brazil, which brought together the best young musicians around the country to represent Brazil as a whole, just like the Simon Bolivar Orchestra represents Venezuela.
View from Sugarloaf mountain over Rio

Fiorella said that one of the biggest differences between El Sistema here and in Venezuela is cultural, that people in Hispanic countries tend to be more disciplined, while those in Brazil are more laid back.  She chalked up the biggest difference though to the fact that Abreu was born and raised in Venezuela, that this visionary and extraordinary person has single-handedly created and driven the growth of this program (suggesting that if he was Brazilian, he could have done the same thing here with the same success.)  And of course it was through him that El Sistema gained governmental help, which is another big difference between here and there.  Brazil, being a huge country with about 8 times the population of Venezuela and several times larger in area, is also a big factor, as a governmental budget for an "El Sistema Brasil" to achieve the same kind of success in Brazil would take enormously big decisions from the top, which would be very hard to achieve (this goes for the US as well, being even bigger than Brazil in population and area.) 

The fact that there is no one single leader in "El Sistema Brasil" but many different people starting many different programs is a double-edged sword.  Fiorella is glad to see all these different people with different approaches and goals all doing great work, as her programs in Rio focus mainly on the getting the children off the street through music while also providing school tutoring and help with things like brushing their teeth, and so the quality of the musicianship is not as high as some of the other programs around Brazil.  This is because they are dealing with the poorest of the poor in the most difficult situations, kids with parents missing, victims of sexual assault and drug-related violence, and hence the kids enter the program usually with very difficult behavioral problems.  On the other hand, she tells me that other programs are structured very differently, like Ricardo Castro, the director of NEOJIBA, who decided to create the best youth orchestra he could, and that essentially the social side of things would follow naturally through the success of this top orchestra (and I'm sure I'll learn more about this when I visit them too).  

But with all these different programs, there have been many stumbling blocks to creating a unified "El Sistema Brasil."  She warned me that, while of course there are many good-hearted leaders out there starting social programs, proportionally probably even more so in the field of music than in others, there are many who are starting programs like this with the goal of making money and satisfying their ego, rather than helping the most kids possible (and I've hear from some friends outside of music here in Brazil that this tends to be the story with all non-profit social projects, that they disappear as quickly as they began and many don't make any lasting impact.)  This has definitely stunted the growth of "El Sistema Brasil" as a whole and probably will so in the future.  She was very frank about this and didn't mention names, but I wonder to what extent this is also true in the US (as surely we have plenty of people with ego problems as well.)  I did tell her about initiatives such as the Rep+Resource Project and the National Alliance of El Sistema Inspired Programs (of which I am a founding member,) so while we too have a situation where lots of different people have started lots of different programs around the country, it appears that we are doing a better job of putting our egos aside and working towards how to best help as many children as possible.  
View of Copacabana from Sugarloaf mountain
While she is realistic and believes that Brazil will never be able to achieve something like Venezuela has (which she described as "a miracle,") she does believe that things will continue to get better and grow in Brazil, that the programs that are led by people who are genuinely in it for helping the kids will survive and grow, while the others will fold and disappear.  There are lots of people doing great, but different, work through music in Brazil like this, but it will only ever become something similar to what Venezuela has, and we do have Abreu himself to thank for the great help he has given to the programs here.
View from Leme Fort

It was fascinating to talk with Fiorella, and I hope I will have more time to ask her more questions when I return to Rio later in the year.  Right after I met with her on the same night, I was lucky to be able to meet and talk with another very knowledgeable and important person involved with El Sistema programs in Brazil, the conductor Diogo Pereira.  Diogo, who is a native of Rio, just finished his tenure as a Sistema Fellow in Boston, which is the El Sistema training program started by Jose Abreu's after winning the TED prize a few years ago (which I applied to a couple years ago and was rejected by, but this rejection gave me the idea to study El Sistema myself through a Fulbright grant.)  When I met up with him, he was talking to a musician, Felipe Radicetti, who not long ago led a commission in Brasilia (the capital of Brazil) which successfully passed a law making music teaching mandatory in all public schools in Brazil.  If you remember from my post last week, I had just learned about how Villa-Lobos had introduced mandatory music classes more than half a century ago here in Brazil, but this has completely disappeared and the state of public schools in Brazil is very low with little or no music or arts.  So this was big news to me!  The problem though, is that it has hardly been implemented mainly due to a lack of music teachers in the country fit to teach in the schools. 
View from Leme Fort of Copacabana beach.  Apparently
Usain Bolt ran (and won, of course) a race on this track  just
 a couple of hours before I took this picture.

Before becoming a Sistema Fellow, Diogo worked at Projeto Música nas Escolas (Project Music in the Schools) in Barra Mansa, which, like Campos, is a smaller city in the state of Rio de Janeiro.  He told me this is also an El Sistema-inspired program and he could get me in touch with the directors there if I would like to visit, so I may do that for a week or two soon.  He told me that there was also a very fine social music project called Projecto Espiral (Project Spiral) that began around the same time as Abreu's El Sistema, in 1975 or 76, in the city of Fortaleza, the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará.  It was run by a a very fine teacher named Alberto Jaffe, who created his own method of string pedagogy and passed away last year after years of teaching at Pensacola Christian College in Florida.  This project was also notable as the first project in Brazil to gain governmental support, from FunArte, and the person who was able to secure this funding was Marlos Nobre, perhaps Brazil's greatest living composer and a mentor of Diogo's.  But unfortunately they lost funding in 1979 and the program ceased.

I spent some of Good Friday helping to paint a wall
in the Dona Marta favela.  Here I am in my painting
 outfit during a break.
Diogo also told me of another program called "Vale Musica," which also started more than 30 years ago and is still going strong today in the city of Belém in the far northern Brazilian state of Pará.  This program has not grown in numbers in all these years, but they prefer to have less students with high quality rather than have many students at a low quality.  I may make a trip to spent a week with this program as well.

Diogo told me that there is actually a list published in VivaMusica, a classical music guide and directory for Brazil, of all the social music programs in Brazil, which comes to 92.  You can view the list here, and the list begins on page 94.

Diogo's dream is that all kids in Brazil will one day play an instrument.  He is trying to connect people and teachers to help make this more of a reality, from within and outside Brazil.  There are lots of things that he has learned in the US which can help Brazil in this respect, but central to all this is Venezuela, who's collective music making is the opposite of our traditional idea of the practice room, where one creates music as a solitary pursuit.

The next day, my final one in Rio, I gave a mini-piano recital for the youngest kids at the Dona Marta nucleo.  It's certainly an experience I'll never forget, playing a little bit of Guarnieri, Couperin, and even some Carter Pann and some of my own pieces, while being able to look out the window over all of Rio.  After I was done, we had plenty of time left, so I fielded questions from the kids, and even took some requests, making my way through "The Girl from Ipanema" and "Asa Branca."  I hope I will be able to visit them again when I return to Rio later in the year.

More monkey!

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