Sunday, November 24, 2013

Brazil: Weeks 37 and 38 - Brazil Strings and Goodbye to Brazil

Travelling the old Incan road in Cusco, Peru
I had a few vacation days left to use from Fulbright, so I decided to take a trip for a couple days to visit a friend in Cusco, Peru, my first time outside of Brazil in South America, although my attempts to revive my Spanish skills turned into Portañol.  I had a great time and I returned to Brazil with just a week remaining in my visit.
Cusco, Peru
A part of Rocinha, Rio's largest favela, from above
In that final week I did the last of my interviews and visits to Brazilian El Sistema-inspired projects, with Vanessa Rodrigues and her program Brazil Strings. Vanessa is a Canadian musician who has been living in Rio for the past two years.  She grew up in Edmonton and went through a youth orchestra program there that changed her life. After learning about El Sistema a couple of years ago, she realized how similar its philosophy was to the project she grew up in and realized she wanted to get involved.  She played double bass and viola in this program as a kid, but after college she pursued mainly jazz and Latin music as a jazz organist and salsa pianist, so she was unsure of how to get involved in the El Sistema world.  She first came to Brazil in 2011 to participate in the Carnaval parade when she learned about a community music school just across the street serving the Rocinha favela community and volunteered to help teach music while she was there.  She soon discovered that even though they were not teaching string instruments, the school had a bunch of string instruments just sitting in storage not being used.  Being a former string player herself, she volunteered to start a string program at the school and began a small orchestra as well as a string quartet while deciding to stay in Brazil permanently.

But this small string program is just the beginning of what she has created.  Vanessa started the NGO "Brazil Strings" whose mission is to bring volunteer music teachers from abroad to teach in the social music projects in Brazil.  She created the organization in her native Canada where there are more opportunities for funding and where she is more familiar with the bureaucracy of setting such an organization up.  She is still working on getting it off the ground, but in the future she hopes to bring in volunteers for 3-6 months at a time and place them at social music projects around Brazil to wherever there is a need for such teachers, thus helping out the projects with free international teachers while giving the volunteer an enriching intercultural teaching experience.  This is a way to help strengthen those that already exist in Brazil  instead of creating just another social music project competing for limited resources and funding,  

Orchestra rehearsal with Vanessa's students
And now it is with bittersweet feelings that I come to the end of this incredible 9-month adventure in Brazil, although the adventure really began over 2.5 years ago when I first had this project idea and gathered my Fulbright application materials.  I have been to so many places (see the map below), met so many friends, discovered so much great music (Brazilian music is really a world unto itself), and learned so many things about this culture and myself.

Just about all the places I've been to in Brazil during this adventure, it's been exhausting!

I am so grateful for this experience, even with the many ups and downs along the way.  Now I will finally get to truly understand what it is like to have "saudades" for Brazil and I will really miss many things, but I am sure that I will be returning many times in the future (I've made too many friends not to) and that there will be a strong Brazilian influence in my upcoming compositions, projects, and collaborations.  I will also be working on publishing an article or two in order to conclude what I have learned through my research and to share it with the larger El Sistema community around the world, a kind of condensed version of what I have shared through this blog over the last 9 months.  I am also really excited to share the Brazilian classical music and composers that I have discovered and explored extensively here, and want to put together a piano recital program of all Brazilian music.  On the other hand, I am exhausted from all this traveling and I'm happy to be returning to my homeland and culture, even with all of its many faults, and to my dear wife who has put up with me being in another country this whole time (which is never easy, I'm glad that's over!)  Thank you to Fulbright for granting me this great gift of 9 months where I didn't have to worry about money, but just about pursuing what I am passionate about, and to the many, many others who have helped me along the way, from teachers reading my application essays to strangers helping me find a place to live in a new and unfamiliar city.  I leave the country filled with joy and gratitude today.  Então, tchau Brasil! Vou ter saudades de você!  On to the next adventure (which I will have news about soon!)

I am going to miss seeing views like this on a daily basis.

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