Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brazil: Week 21 - First Full Week at Neojiba

Now that the honeymoon is over, it's back to work on my research.  I met back up with Eduardo Torres and sat in on the conducting class that he teaches every Friday.  He told me that sometimes he gets 10 students, sometime just a couple, and some weeks nobody shows up.  Today there were three students in the class, which was held in one of the dressing rooms of the theatre and started at least an hour later than Eduardo had originally told me it would (things are certainly more laid back here!)  The class was very informal and they worked on baton technique, keeping a steady beat, and practiced an exercise in changing beat patterns through an accelerando (speeding up) and then a ritardando (slowing down).  For this last exercise, Eduardo let me participate as a student as well.

Azevedo leading the Neojiba Choir and combined OCA (Castro Alves Orchestra)
and OPE (Experimental Pedagogical Orchestra)
Afterwards, I was able to do my first interview at the project and sat down with Eduardo to learn more about the program.  Eduardo is a pianist and conductor and has worked at Neojiba since 2008, shortly after the program started, teaching conducting and then in 2010 he took on the role of pedagogical coordinator, a position that he now splits with another staff member as the amount of responsibilities under that role has increased significantly with the growth of the program itself.  Neojiba is a program of the state government and receives most of its funding that way, although it is managed administratively through a non-profit/non-governmental organization that has a contract with the state, giving it much more flexibility and avoiding much of the bureaucracy.

OCA and OPE in rehearsal
The central nucleo and main headquarters, which they call the "Núcleo de Gestão e Formação Profissional" ("Center for Management and Professional Development"), is housed here at the Castro Alves Theatre, the hub for the performing arts in Bahia.  All the students at this central nucleo are accepted into the program through an audition.  They have three orchestras here: the Orquestra Sinfonica Juvenil 2 de Julho (July 2nd Symphonic Youth Orchestra - which is the independence day of the state of Bahia) which is the most advanced and is comprised of members up age 28, the Orquestra Castro Alves (Castro Alves Orchestra or OCA, named after a famous Brazilian poet, for whom the theatre is also named) which is the 2nd most advanced orchestra with members up to age 24, and the Orquestra Pedagogica Experimental (the Experimental Pedagogical Orchestra or OPE,) which is the lowest level orchestra here with members up to the age of 11.  There is another orchestra, the Youth Orchestra of Bahia (YOBA,) but this is made up of the most advanced members of both the 2 de Julho and Castro Alves orchestras who are selected through internal auditions to represent Neojiba in public concerts and tours.  Additionally, the Neojiba choir is also here in this central nucleo.  It was started in 2010 and is certainly not yet up to the same level of quality as the top orchestras are.

All of the students here at the central nucleo participate in the program for free and receive classes in theory and solfege, plus those in the top two orchestras receive scholarships and many also teach or have further responsibilities.  However, as everybody here who enters the program must pass a competitive audition, nobody enters without having at least some prior musical training and abilities.  This at first seems to be antithetical to the philosophy of El Sistema, and I am still trying to understand exactly why they do it this way.  From the beginning, the approach the program has taken was to first create the best youth orchestra possible, and then once having built up visibility and a reputation locally, within the country, and even abroad, then they could begin to offer opportunities for beginning students in poorer neighborhoods.  This is the opposite of how many El Sistema-inspired programs begin, like Orquestrando a Vida in Campos, which start with complete beginners and gradually grow a better and better youth orchestra that is "home grown."  I think, though I'm not sure, that the reasons Neojiba has taken this approach are partly that this visibility will allow them to maintain strong support from the public and from the government that funds them.  As Eduardo told me directly, government programs can and often are easily and quickly ended if they aren't wanted or needed anymore.  Additionally, I think it is inspired by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela's model of touring and the visibility and support it has created for El Sistema around the world.

After already having existed for 4 years, the project then started to open up satellite nucleos, called "Núcleos de Prática Orquestral e Coral" (Orchestral and Choral Practice Centers) around Bahia that are placed in poor communities and accept all children without auditions or any prior musical training, as is traditional in El Sistema.  Currently there are 4 of these nucleos.  The first one was created in the town of Simões Filho, just outside of Salvador, in 2011 with activities twice a week, but since 2012 they moved to holding activities on all weekdays with a string orchestra.  There are two other nucleos opened in other neighborhoods of Salvador, one in the neighborhood of Itapagipe in 2011 where they have a complete orchestra and a children's choir, and most recently one in the neighborhood of Bairro da Paz.  There is also a nucleo in the town of Trancoso, which is in the extreme south of Bahia, which houses a string orchestra.  This project is within a private school, but they have the support of a sponsor, so about 60% of the students have full scholarships and the rest pay a little to attend.  (I would like to visit this nucleo, but I've been told it is a 12 hours bus ride to get there.  I didn't realize it at first, but the state of Bahia is larger in area than California!)  When Neojiba began, as one of their goals is to create a statewide system of youth orchestras and choirs ("Neojiba" is an acronym standing for "Núcleos Estaduais de Orquestras Juvenis e Infantis da Bahia" meaning "The State Youth and Children's Orchestra Centers of Bahia") they surveyed all the existing similar projects throughout Bahia and created partnerships with each, providing them with occasional training and professional development activities.  These 23 partners are also potential sites for future satellite nucleos, as each of the current ones were created through these partnership initiatives.  In total, the entire project currently serves about 650 students in its 5 nucleos.    

Combined orchestras and the choir (in the back right in grey shirts)
On Sunday, I went to a concert at the project called "Musica para Brincar" (Music for playing/joking) but I don't really know why it had this title.  Anyways, first came out the OPE first to perform by themselves.  This orchestra, like all the others here at the central nucleo of Neojiba, is selected through audition.  The kids are no older than 11 years of age when they enter, and they must have at least had some rudimentary music education and beginning facility on their instrument.  They make up a chamber orchestra of strings, winds, a few horns and percussion.  First they played an arrangement of Chopin's Etude No. 3 in E major, Op. 10 no. 3 except arranged to be in F major, then an arrangement of John Williams theme from the movie "Harry Potter" and finally a fun Brazilian tune I couldn't identify (they didn't have programs for this concert.)  This orchestra is approximately at the same ability level as the Infanto-Juvenil Orchestra in Campos, and did some of the same choreographed movements during the Brazilian tune as the kids in Campos do as well.

OPE in concert
Next the OCA played a few works by themselves conducted by Yuri Azevedo, the 21 year-old student.  They certainly looked older than the previous orchestra, some could easily be the same age as me.  They played the "Grand March" from Verdi's Opera Aida, Wagner's Overture from Tannhauser, and an "arrangement" for the final movement of Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony (it was announced as an arrangement, but I don't know how it was any different than the original.)  This orchestra seems to be at a level in between the David Machado and Mariuccia Iacovino Orchestras in Campos.

OCA in concert

The Neojiba choir, about 40 people, then joined the combined orchestras for three final numbers: an arrangement of "Berimbau" which is a bossanova song, the gospel song "Oh Happy Day," and a song that seems to have been written specifically about Neojiba.  I believe the "Berimbau" arrangement and the Neojiba song were created by someone within the organization, I don't know who, but they were very enjoyable.  I was quite disappointed in "Oh Happy Day," especially after hearing a very fine gospel concert from the BBC proms a few days earlier online.  They have a long way to go, especially the choir, in order to be able to do gospel well, but still overall it was a fine concert.

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