Monday, October 7, 2013

Brazil: Week 31 - Trips to Recife and Campina Grande

The PRIMA logo
I got back into the swing of things this week with a bunch of trips.  On Monday, I tagged along with Alex Klein, the director of PRIMA, and his wife Catalina, who is the head of teacher training, and visited three different PRIMA centers.  First we went the Alto do Mateus center in Joao Pessoa, where I visited a few weeks before.  They have received a bunch more of their instruments now, but are still waiting to receive the full complement.  

Clarinet students at Tibiri
Next we headed off to Santa Rita, a city of about 50,000 which lies just beyond the airport that serves Joao Pessoa.  The PRIMA center is located in a neighborhood called Tibiri, and they had only started activities a few weeks ago, so Alex and Catalina had not yet visited it while it was operational.  On the way there, Alex told me that they had received a few instruments already but only had about 15-20 students.  When we arrived, however, Alex was stunned when he found 60 students and many more instruments!  The coordinator of the center had already recruited more kids and took the initiative to ask the local municipal band if they could borrow some instruments.  Alex was also blown away by good behavior of the kids, which is in stark contrast to some of the other centers (or perhaps all of them!) 

Alex Klein addressing the crowd
We visited each sectional class that was in progress, winds, brass, and strings, and Alex gave a short speech to each group telling them that when they see videos of great world-class musicians playing on youtube to realize that there are only two things that separate themselves from these players: experience and knowledge, and that they could one day do that too.  He also explained to them that he was there to serve them, and not the other way around.  He introduced me, saying that they must be very important because a foundation in the US gave me a lot of money to come all the way to Brazil to study them! (I doubt many of them have ever seen an American in person before either.)  This psychological barrier is perhaps the most important thing that we can break through this work we are doing; helping a child realize that they are important, they are worthy, they are valuable, and that they can achieve anything.  Once that obstacle is destroyed and they believe in themselves, then the sky is the limit.

To end the day, we briefly visited Jacare, one of the sub-centers in Cabedelo.  This is certainly the roughest neighborhood I visited in Paraiba so far.  As we drove in, we saw a donkey laying on the ground that must have died earlier that day.  When we left, we drove past a police raid taking place, and we were told that a young girl had been killed that week when she was hit by a train coming through.  This is definitely a neighborhood that needs a lot of help.

Last minute rehearsing at the international school in Recife
The next day, I got to tag along as the kids from the Cabedelo centers made their first trip across state borders to perform, heading down to the city of Recife, the capital of neighboring Pernambuco.  I imagine many of these kids have never been outside of their home state, so this trip was a big deal for most of them.  We arrived to perform first at an international school on the outskirts of Recife.  The choir of about 50 kids performed first, accompanied by a few soloists and two guitarists, followed by the orchestra.  The presentation ended with the choir and orchestra combining for "Asa Branca."  The kids performed well, but what I was annoyed at was how inattentive and disrespectful the children of the international school were during the performance, as many of them were shouting and talking loudly and not paying any attention to the PRIMA kids performing.  It was even more pronounced afterwards when some music students of their school performed several popular songs, and their students went wild with enjoyment and enthusiasm.  As this was at a private school and all PRIMA students attend public schools, this may be due to the different social classes.  Afterwards, the kids all ran around during recess and there was some mixing in between the two groups of children, which was a positive sign.

The kids from PRIMA Cabedelo performing at the Ricardo
Brennard Institute
After lunch, we went to a museum, the Ricardo Brennard Institute, an art museum located in a kind of castle.  Alex never wants the kids to go on a trip just to perform, but use it also as a chance to bring them to cultural places like this that they would not have had the chance to otherwise.  After having a tour around the museum (which the kids seemed to really enjoy), the kids performed again on the steps of the museum (to a much better behaved audience) before hopping on the bus to go back home.  Overall, the trip was definitely a success.

The PRIMA kids of Campina Grande performing
Two days later, we did it all again, this time heading into the interior of Paraiba to the city of Campina Grande, the second largest city in the state behind Joao Pessoa with about 385,000 inhabitants.  After first heading to the Cabo Branco lighthouse in Joao Pessoa at the easternmost point of the Americas, we started the 2-hour trip to Campina Grande.  The city reminded me a bit of Campos dos Goytacazes, where I spent a couple months earlier this year with Orquestrando a Vida.  We first went to the local university and had dinner, meeting up with the PRIMA kids from the Campina Grande center and the center located in the nearby city of Guarabira, all of whom would be performing as well.  The concert was held in the city's municipal theater, which also reminded me of the theater in Campos (yet wasn't quite as nice,) and was part of the First State Conference of Sociology in Basic Education in Paraiba.  The Cabedelo kids performed the same repertoire as in Recife, while I heard the kids from Guarabira and Campina Grande for the first time.  Both these centers don't have instruments yet, so they have been working as choirs with these young children, and they each performed a song or two.  Both choirs were filled with joy and enthusiasm when they sang, despite having only about 20-25 kids each.  To end the concert, the combined choirs and orchestra performed "Asa Branca" (again, of course.)  After getting back home, I felt like I had my fair share of travelling with kids for the week!

The combined choirs of PRIMA Cabedelo, Guarabira,
and Campina Grande with the Youth Orchestra of Cabedelo
Alex and a team of teachers are currently developing their own curriculum, which they call the PRIMA method.  The plan is to create a series of short method books for each instrument that progress through 10 levels.  Instead of having them printed out, the state government will be purchasing tablet computers for the children and the books will be distributed electronically through those.  This also facilities easy updating and changing of the method as it evolves, instead of having to print a whole new set of books every time they revise something.  Level I, for example, begins with how to care for the instrument, how to hold it, prepare it for use and clean it.  Just as the Suzuki method uses "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" as its basis, the PRIMA method will use "Asa Branca," which every Brazilian child knows, especially here in the Northeast.  In Level I, the child will learn to accompany the tune with just a single repeated note, and each level of the method introduces another element to the complexity of playing the song.  What is also included in each level of the method will be different parts of other subjects that are not covered in the public schools, including music history, art history, world history, and philosophy.  The idea is to have a page on, for example, showing a famous painting and a short paragraph talking about "why it is cool" (as Alex put it.)  Then, they will provide links below it to wikipedia and other sites where the kids can go to learn more about the topic.  Alex is banking on the kids curiosity and their own drive to learn more about things they find interesting for this to work, precisely as this is not a formal education they receive through PRIMA, but non-formal education.  Beyond this method, and even within it, the teachers are encouraged to be creative and add their own twists and ideas.  With the exception of "Asa Branca" and a couple other common songs, each center has the power to choose their own repertoire.

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