Monday, May 6, 2013

Brazil: Week 10 - Advanced Students as Teachers, and Special Education

An advanced oboe student giving a lesson outside
I was able to sit down last week with Luis Mauricio Carneiro, who is co-founder of Orquestrando a Vida, and conductor of the top orchestra of the program, the Orquestra Sinfonica Mariuccia Iacovino.  His first contact with El Sistema happened in 1996, when he and a few other Brazilians traveled to Venezuela to be part of the "Orquesta Sinfonica IberoAmericana," joining other young musicians from Portuguese and Spanish-speaking countries in a youth orchestra.  While there, he was able to see some of the nucleos of El Sistema up close and became inspired by what they were doing.  Shortly after this trip, Fiorella Solares reached an agreement with Jose Abreu to bring a delegation of teachers from Venezuela down to Brazil to meet together with dedicated teachers from all over Brazil for two months of intense sessions about the philosophy and principles of El Sistema so that these Brazilian teachers could then return to their own cities and start nucleos for an 'El Sistema Brasil'.  For various reasons, it was difficult to hold this meeting in Rio, so Fiorella asked Jony William, who ran a music school here in Campos, and Mauricio if they would be able to host this meeting, which they gladly accepted.  Unfortunately, after the meeting finished, all the Brazilian teachers went back to their own cities and none of them followed through and created an El Sistema nucleo except for Jony and Mauricio here in Campos.

Violin class outside
Their program started from humble beginnings.  It began as a program within the "Centro Cultural Musical" music school, which Jony had founded in about 1991, and gave scholarships to children that couldn't afford lessons at the school.  At that time, there were no string instruments (outside of guitar) in the city of Campos at all and no string teachers, so they had to bring the kids to Rio to study these instruments initially.  They started off with classes only 3 days a week and created a string orchestra.  Despite many difficulties, they persevered and grew significantly, now holding classes 5 days a week after school with 5 orchestras.  Eventually, the program became so big  that the music school could not financially support them any longer, so they created the non-profit organization "Orquestrando a Vida" (Orchestrating Life) in about 2003 so that they could being seeking support from fiscal sponsors and companies.  They grew more and more to the point where they truly needed their own building and facilities. (I just watched a DVD they lent me of a TV special done by the TV network "Globo" about the program from 2011, and they held rehearsals in truly any free space they had within the music school, even in the bathrooms!) But thankfully, in December 2012 they moved into their new, much roomier, current facility.

I was also able to take a look at archival pictures from the past three years of the project.  In just these past couple of years, the top orchestra sure has given a lot of performances.  They have toured internationally in New York City and Bolivia, nationally in Belo Horizonte and Vitoria, several cities within Rio de Janeiro state, and in squares and several churches here in Campos.  I also just learned that they've just confirmed that in June they will be taking the top orchestra on tour through Portugal and the Azores.

Fabiano teaching his violin class
During last week's concert for the families of the students, which I blogged about, I met and befriended a student named Fabiano.  Beyond having the best grasp of the English language of anyone I have yet met here in Campos (which isn't saying very much!), Fabiano plays violin in the top orchestra.  He entered the program here when he was only 3 years old and began singing in the choir.  Now, 11 years later, 9 or 10 of them playing the violin, he has advanced to be a member of the top orchestra here, which he entered when he was 12 years old.  Beyond this, for the past two years Fabiano has also been a teacher at the program, with his own class of about 8 younger violin students.  Once a student makes it into the top orchestra, they take on teaching responsibilities as well, and from what I have seen, these advanced students really take pride in being teachers and mentors to the younger students, always helping them out during orchestra rehearsals, helping them tune their instrument, etc.  During the day I sat in on his class, I hadn't even seen an adult at the project yet, it seemed it was all being run by the older students!  Fabiano told me that he wants to be a music teacher when he grows up, as he really enjoys it, and I could tell by observing his class that he really has a knack for it as well.  Beyond going to a private school for about 4 hours Monday through Friday, he tells me that he generally spends 5 or 6 hours here at the program Monday through Saturday (more than 30 hours a week!)

4 years ago, Fabiano and his family were in a serious car accident (on the "Highway of Death" that I talked about in a previous blog post) in which the car he was in was hit by a truck.  His aunt was killed and he suffered a gash on his left hand, which caused the doctor to tell him that he would never be able to play the violin again.  After a week of being absolutely devastated, he went to his teacher who told him that he couldn't not play the violin and predicted that he absolutely would be able to play again.  After a while of rehabilitation and playing through pain, he was eventually able to fully recover.  So for Fabiano, music has done amazing things in his life.

Class in session even during a holiday!
May 1st was a holiday here in Brazil, and I was told that, for the most part, classes and rehearsals were cancelled for the day, but you really wouldn't have guessed that based on the amount of kids who were at the program this day.  Everywhere I looked, kids were practicing or doing something musical. It was less so than on a normal day, but still much more than I was expecting.

The day before, I'd met another older student named Antonio.  He heard that I was a composer, so he wanted to show me some pieces that he had written, as he'd never had a composition lesson.  I offered to give him a little informal composition lesson, although it was difficult because I am still learning the words for a lot of the musical jargon and terminology in Portuguese.  I suggested that he gather a few violin friends together so that we could read through a piece for several violins that he is working on and I'd be willing to conduct it.

Students in the top orchestra are all teachers as well
On Thursday, I was at the project just wandering around looking for something interesting, when I was approached by a man named Reginaldo, who I realized was the man who gave the presentation on people with disabilities and led the sign-language choir during last Friday's concert (which I mentioned in my blog post from last week.)  He told me that he has worked with Jony William, the director here, for a long time and together they are planning to create a Special Education program within the project here and create an orchestra comprised of children with disabilities.  He asked me if I knew of any programs like this in the US that has done something similar, but I haven't heard of any, only that El Sistema in Venezuela does have an extensive special education program.  He then invited me to go with him to a nearby SESC center (which I think is kind of like a club or community center that has sports and cultural activities) to see a talk given by a Brazilian Reggae band who was in town to play a concert.  The reason he brought me to see it was because 4 of the 5 members of the band are blind.  The talk was somewhat interesting, although much of it I didn't understand.  I was given a free ticket to the concert afterwards, but didn't stay long as it really wasn't my kind of scene.

Coming up at the end of this week and into the next is a little festival being held at the project.  They are bringing in 3 teachers from El Sistema in Venezuela and several teachers from Sao Paulo to work with the kids, plus several concerts which should be great!

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