Thursday, July 11, 2013

Brazil: Week 17 - Back to Rio and a trip to Projeto Musica nas Escolas in Barra Mansa

View of Rio from Corcovado Mountain

In Rio: "We have frog meat." 
First time I've ever seen a shadow on a cloud, cast
by Corcovado Mountain
I arrived back in Rio the day after the first large protest spending a week there before moving on to Salvador.  With regards to the protests, I have not taken part or seen anything in person.  A native Caricoa friend of mine who went to the first night of protests told me that it was very beautiful and peaceful for most of the night with 100,000 people filling the streets downtown, but near the end of the protest late at night is when about 1,000 people started vandalizing things, getting violent, and ruining it for everyone else (and of course this part is what makes the news and everyone hears about, and I have been a little bugged that most people back home who have asked me have referred to them as "riots.") Then a few days later, while I was still in the city, there was another night of protests with about 300,000 people participating, along with millions of others in more than 80 cities around the country, making it the largest protests in the country in several decades.  Again, I didn't go, but my same friend did and told me that now, as the protests had already accomplished their first goal of reversing the rise in bus fares, they have become unfocused with everyone protesting whatever they want.  In this way, it sounds to me a lot like the Occupy Wall Street protests, except that there is no continuing presence between the protests, as the day of the larger protest I walked around the center of the city on the same streets where the protests would be, yet everything seemed normal. By any means, this is certainly an interesting time to be here in Brazil!

I don't know what this animal is, but there were tons of these
little guys running around the Praça da Republica in Rio
But the main reason I was in Rio was to do a few interviews.  While I wasn't able to meet or do an interview with Marlos Nobre as I had planned, I was able to make a visit to Projeto Musica nas Escolas (Music in the Schools Project) and interview its founder and director Vantoil de Souza.  This project is in the small city of Barra Mansa, which lies in Rio de Janeiro state close to the border with Sao Paulo state, about about a 2 hour drive northeast from the city of Rio de Janeiro.  I first heard about this program through Diogo Pereira, a Brazilian conductor who worked as a conductor at this project before heading to the USA this last year to be a Sistema Fellow.  I met Diogo in Rio in April (a meeting which I talked about in a previous blog post) and I met up with him again this week and we traveled to Barra Mansa together.

A beginning-level orchestra in rehearsal in Barra Mansa
We took the bus which wound up through the mountains and down into the small city.  It was a Saturday morning, so they only had rehearsals and activities in the morning (but I was told that on weekdays they go from 8am-10pm!)  Vantoil grew up here in Barra Mansa, but left to go study both music and law in Rio, Brasilia, and Goiania.  He returned to his home city in the early 2000s after taking a job as a lawyer.  He led an orchestra at his church, but otherwise noticed that there was very little classical music education, ensembles, and performances in the city.  Around that time, the city government was interested in the possibility of creating a system of music education and they asked Vantoil if he could draw up a proposal for such an endeavour.  In studying the current conditions of the city, he noticed that while the Brazilian government, from the federal level to the local level, only spends about 1% of their funds on culture, most cities spend at least 25% of their budgets on education and Barra Mansa has a local law that devotes 30% to education.  So the city has all these resources, yet still the educational result is still very poor.  There was a large opportunity to use these funds in a better way, and Vantoil thought they could be used towards music.  Combining this with the fact that the schools already serve as a gathering place for children, he thought this would be the most effective way to bring music to the largest amount of children.

A beginning-level orchestra in rehearsal
In 2003, he formally founded Projeto Musica nas Escolas and designed the program to have two different parts: the first is obligatory and consists of basic music education, including rhythm and singing, for all students in the public schools, and the second is optional where kids can learn to play an instrument and continue with classes and lessons all the way up to a professional level.  The project started small, but in ten years it has grown to 72 public schools within the city limits and serves about 28,100 students.  As 87% of the schools are a considerable distance from the city center, they sent out teachers to each school teaching either just violins and violas, just cellos and basses, or just winds and percussion.  Then the best students from all the schools come to the main headquarters in the center of the city to continue their education and are put into ensembles.  In their current headquarters, they have 3 rehearsal halls but they still lack a proper theatre or concert hall in the city to host orchestral concerts.  The project currently boasts 4 symphonic bands, 4 orchestras, 1 jazz band, a percussion ensemble, and various chamber music groups.  Their first orchestra was formed in 2005 and has since grown to become the professional municipal orchestra of the city, which gives 30 concerts a year, plays the complete orchestral repertoire, and accompanies internationally-known soloists.  So in 10 years, they have transformed the city from a place with virtually no classical music concerts and ensembles into a city hosts around 140 concerts per year and provides every child in the public school system with at least a basic music education.  Vantoil's goal is to eventually have all of the schools with their own orchestra and band.

The headquarters of Projeto Musica nas Escolas
While nothing on their website or any materials mentions anything about El Sistema, Diogo had told me that it is definitely an El Sistema-inspired program, so I asked Vantoil about what their connection to El Sistema is and to what extent he was inspired by their model.  He said that he was certainly aware of El Sistema when starting the project and thinks that it is a marvelous model, but believes that it wouldn't work if it was taken and implanted in Brazil in exactly the same way as in Venezuela.  What can be imported from them is their philosophy, he said, but it must be adapted to the reality of a specific city and region, and in their situation this was done by going through the public school system.  Their goal is to give access to music education to all who wouldn't have access to it otherwise, and for it to be an instrument to change their lives and keep them away from drugs, violence, and other social problems, which as a philosophy certainly lines up well with El Sistema.

Symphonic Band in rehearsal
Vantoil is also responsible for a new social music project of ambitious proportions in Brasilia that is just starting.  He is friends with a conductor there who, when Vantoil was visiting last year, asked him if he could create a proposal for a music education project for the city and present it to the ministry of culture.  Vantoil knew that, just as his project in Barra Mansa does not simply copy El Sistema exactly, he didn't want to try and copy Barra Mansa's project in Brasilia.  He looked at the layout of Brasilia and noticed that it is a very small area but is home to about 2.5 million people.  The city center, which was designed like the layout of an airplane, is completely developed and modern, yet outside of this but still nearby are regions of the city that are extremely underdeveloped and poor where the levels of violence are some of the worst in the entire country.  In these poor neighborhoods, the public schools serve about 560,000 students who currently don't have any access to music education, and each neighborhood is very densely populated with up to 70,000 residents.  So his idea was to treat each neighborhood kind of like its own smaller version of Barra Mansa (whose total population is 170,000.)  Each neighborhood will have 4 schools, 2 of string instruments and 2 of winds and percussion, that will serve 44,000 children and will bring the best students together to a main center to create an orchestra, symphonic band, and jazz band.  Currently, they are creating these systems in 2 neighborhoods and will expand to 2 or 3 more every few months until they ultimately plan to have about 200 music schools serving all 560,000 students.

In September, I will be heading to Brasilia for a conference of all the current Fulbrighters in Brazil, and I plan on spending some extra days there in order to visit some of these young music projects and learn more about them.  But now I am off to Salvador for the next 2 months!

No comments: