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Reportages Children's Symphonic Center of Old Havana. Photo: Néstor Martí. Children's Symphonic Center of Old Havana. Photo: Néstor Martí.

An orchestra with the neighborhood's children

At about 1:30 in the afternoon, they begin to arrive: by pedicab, motorcycle, walking. Still with the backpack and the uniform or PE clothes. "Until 5:00, dad," they say from the reception. "Give me a kiss," says a grandmother. The scene takes place Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Children's Symphonic Center in Old Havana. In the Casa Prat-Puig, children from the community, specially selected for this initiative, receive solfege, choir, biomusic classes, and the assigned instrument. 

Upon crossing the door, a phrase from Martí welcomes: 

"Music is the most beautiful form of beauty."

“No hay mejor manera de aprender a apreciar la música de concierto que cuando de verdad tú la practicas”, dice el maestro Ulises Hernández, director del Lyceum Mozartiano. Esta institución acoge al Centro Sinfónico en una especie de continuidad del proyecto La música clásica europea en el entorno de La Habana Vieja, finalizado hace tres años. A su vez, el Centro está inspirado en una idea similar del historiador de la ciudad, Eusebio Leal. 

Through a unique talent mining, teachers visited all the second grade classrooms in the municipality, and listened to around 260 children. After tests of rhythm, intonation and auditory recognition, there were finally around 50. They worked with them between April and June 2019, and began the course last October. In early December, a final eliminator left in the final 35 members of the program. From third to sixth grade this miniature orchestra will be configured. 

However, something that distinguishes the project is that it does not intend to train professional instrumentalists. "It can happen (nobody knows that), but it is not the intention," says Hernández. We simply want it to be part of their lives, knowing, of course, that this practice ennobles the spirit, makes them better human beings; They will be public in our halls in the future… ”. 

Everywhere you look, there are gains: music represents discipline, perseverance, creativity, a sense of team. Furthermore, children become messengers; they radiate that which they receive. "Approaching them is essential, because then the family, the neighbors, the friends, the teachers from the schools come ... Many more people are gathering around the project," says the director of the Mozartian Lyceum.

Children's Symphonic Center of Old Havana. Photo: Néstor Martí.

Children's Symphonic Center of Old Havana. Photo: Néstor Martí.

Xavier, Lucas, Chamelis, Brianna and Yadir are only eight years old, so a good way to teach them is to play with them. "Sometimes we make stories together, we improvise, they propose the songs themselves ...", explains Sunlay Almeida, pianist and choir teacher. 

Esta asignatura brinda mayor espacio para el componente lúdico, puede incluir desde dibujos hasta globos de colores. La maestra también les habla sobre historia de la música, sobre la vida de los compositores. “No es un coro regio, son clases divertidas, aunque al mismo tiempo existe el peligro de que se me desborden”. Cuando eso ocurre, unos acordes fuertes en el piano bastan para que los niños enderecen. 

Although if the issue is to stand up straight, there is the Biomusic course, which seeks to work with the body, relaxation, and concentration. It is a pioneering discipline, which in a certain way prepares them also to guard against blows and falls (which could damage their hands or elbows and thus prevent them from playing). 

Biomusic and Solfege are the classes that Diego López likes the most. He is the only one who plays with an instrument for adults, because they could not find a small double bass. He says he used to prefer the piano, but didn't know what the double bass sounded like, and later he liked it a lot.

Children's Symphonic Center of Old Havana. Photo: Néstor Martí.

Children's Symphonic Center of Old Havana. Photo: Néstor Martí.

¿Es muy difícil ese instrumento tan grande?

No… Ya me quedo con ese. 

Víctor Núñez plays violin, although he also wanted something else: the xylophone. "But that was when I was little." And Cecilia Canosa is clear: neither a dancer, nor a doctor; when he grows up he wants to be a violinist. 

Chelo y viola completan las cuerdas que emplean hasta ahora, si bien más adelante podría incorporarse la línea de vientos. La mayoría de los instrumentos han llegado mediante donaciones de personas e instituciones amigas, como la Fundación Mozarteum, de Salzburgo; el Conservatorio de La Haya, en Holanda; Pastores por la Paz, y músicos participantes en festivales realizados en Cuba. Algunas convocatorias para donar se mueven desde la página en Facebook del Centro Sinfónico. Ahí es posible encontrar publicaciones como esta: 

"Soon these instruments will leave Amsterdam for Havana. Contact us if you have an instrument or accessory that you want to add to this delegation! ”.

It has only been a few months since the Children's Symphonic Center was launched, and it may be too soon to talk about results. However, the teacher Hernández indicates two facts that seem undeniable: the children love it, and the parents are very happy. “That is essential to start; because, no matter how many ideas you have, without it you can't get anywhere. " 

Por otra parte, la sola presencia del proyecto plantea una interesante conversación sobre la enseñanza de música en el país. “Ellos vienen a pasar un rato, a aprender. No existe esa tensión de tener que hacerlo súper bien, o sacar 100 puntos en una prueba”, explica Yisel Amorós, directora del Centro. Las distinciones se notan más en el método, y no tanto en la materia. “Los procesos de selección en las escuelas de música resultan más rigurosos apunta Lourdes Rodríguez, profesora de Solfeo. Pero, realmente, no existe diferencia entre los que más condiciones poseen de los que están aquí y cualquier alumno de una escuela de música”.

María de los Ángeles Verdecia, violin teacher, confesses her enthusiasm for the precedent that the project means. “This is a reference right now, I think: to arrange artistic teaching, to sit down and think about what we are doing. Those [who study in academies] are children committed to parents, to reviewers... and music is vocational in the first stage, it goes from the inside out. This type of learning [the one proposed by the Symphonic Center] must prevail: spontaneous, free recruitment ”. 

In front of such a complex issue, part of the answer may be simple. Alena Ferradíaz, mother of Ana Williams, does not worry too much about whether her daughter will continue studying the violin. “The first thing is the certainty that music is her ability, her enjoyment. If she wants to continue, we will support her. But first, it has to be her passion because she must be happy in what she does ”. 

Eileen Sosín Martínez A journalist in training and professional coffee drinker. She sings not in the shower, but in the kitchen. More posts

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