Monday, June 10, 2013

Brazil: Week 15 - Youth Orchestra Concert in Rio and Baleeira Nucleo Visit

The David Machado Orchestra in the Teatro Joao Caetano in
Rio during the first half of the concert
On Tuesday, I tagged along on a day-trip down to Rio de Janeiro where the David Machado Orchestra, the second most advanced orchestra of the project, was giving a concert at the Teatro Joao Caetano.  We left Campos at 6am (ugh!) as it's at least a 4-hour drive on the bus each way.  There were two buses, one for the girls and one for the boys.  I was assuming that this early in the morning I could get some sleep on the bus, but boy I was wrong!  I don't know where they found all the energy for this, but most of the boys were singing, shouting, laughing, and fooling around the entire trip!  In this respect, Brazilian teenage boys are just the same as American teenage boys!  Needless to say, I was a bit peeved by the time we arrived at the theater.

The orchestra during the second half of the concert
But my mood soon changed while witnessing a very fine and enjoyable concert.  It was conceived essentially as an educational concert, with students from a handful of schools around the city in attendance so that the kids were playing in front of their peers of the same age.  The first half of the concert consisted of "serious" works: Sibelius's "Finlandia," Brahms's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5" and Saint-Saens' (funny how all three composer's names end in 's' and are awkward to make possessive) "Danse Macabre,"  all 3 works they have performed in concerts during my stay already.  But the second half switched gears.  The orchestra began playing a tune from the Brazilian popular music world, Chico Buarque's "Piruetas" but it was soon interrupted by an actor playing a disgruntled conductor who storms in from the back of the auditorium.  The orchestra then dons colorful clown wigs and rubber noses as the comedic hilarity unfolds, interspersed with lighter classical music: Offenbach's "Can-Can" from Orpheus in the Underworld, Bizet's Overture from Carmen, and Pixinguinha's "Carinhoso," a very popular Brazilian tune, as an encore.

Marcos, the real conductor of the orchestra 
During the dress rehearsal, I was sitting a few rows back in the audience when the second half, the "fun" half, of the program was being run through.  The actor was speaking in very fast Portuguese that I wasn't really following very well, so I stopped paying attention and was lost in thought writing notes when he suddenly called me up on the stage to join him!  I was a bit caught off guard, but I went up anyways.  I realized that this was a part of the act with audience participation, and as there was hardly anyone in the audience for the dress rehearsal, he called me up.  For this part of the show, the "internationally known conductor" "demonstrates" to a young person from the audience how easy it is to conduct.  He flails his hands about, but the orchestra plays whatever random notes and things they want making it sound "bad" (it actually sounded pretty cool to my ears!) But next the kid takes the baton and wields it as the orchestra plays its piece just fine.  As I was approaching the stage, I didn't know what was going to or was supposed to happen, and I felt the nerves coming on.  Firstly, as I said before, I was having trouble understanding his rapid Portuguese, so I was afraid I wouldn't understand what he was saying and somehow ruin everything.  Then when I got up there and realized that I was supposed to be someone who didn't have any musical, not to mention conducting, experience, I really began to think that I would mess it all up!

As I was about to drop the baton (which was actually a snare drum stick) for the downbeat, I didn't know what the orchestra was going to do!  But I soon realized that they were playing the Bizet, but very slowly.  So me, being the musician that I am, led them through a big accelerando to get them up to a faster tempo!  I remember vividly looking over to one of the cellists who had the biggest grin on his face as he realized what I was doing!  I guess that now I can say that I have actually conducted an orchestra in Brazil, and now hold international conducting credentials, although I wish I had had more time to practice beforehand and study the repertoire!  (And for those musical nerds out there, I was beating a 4-pattern as I had no score to follow, but afterwards I realized by watching Marcos, the real conductor of the orchestra, that it was actually in 2.  Oops, but how was I supposed to know?)

The Baleeira Nucleo

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit one of the other nucleos of Orquestrando a Vida, this one in the Baleeira favela.  The community is not very far from the main headquarters, perhaps a 15 minute walk, but it seemed like a completely different world.

Cargo trains still run through the neighborhood

The nucleo now serves 40 kids, but all of them are currently going to the main site 3 times a week until August, when they will return to this building and resume classes here.  The space is fairly small, with just a medium-sized classroom upstairs and a larger hall in the back, which looks like it was and maybe still is used as a dance club, as there was a whole wall covered by giant racks of speakers.
Jony (far left) telling some street kids that they should come learn music

We then took a walk around this extremely poor community, led by a lady who lives there (as this is not somewhere you would want to wander into as an outsider, and especially not alone.)  As we passed by small shacks, she pointed out all the homes of the current music students.  Many stray dogs and chickens were running around, litter was everywhere, shirtless and barefoot kids were playing and flying kites even in the huge town cemetery which borders the neighborhood.  Jony and Mariana, the social worker, would approach the kids, and the parents if they were around, and ask them if they would like to join the project and study music.  Jony told me that many of these kids don't even attend school and the parents do not seem to care about it.  It was certainly humbling to see where these kids live, yet know what amazing music they can create and how it has changed their lives.  

In Baleeira, a dog's got the couch all to himself

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