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

6 minutes / Eileen Sosín Martínez

11.03.2020 / Reportages

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."

"There is no better way to learn to appreciate concert music than when you really practice it," says maestro Ulises Hernández, director of the Lyceum Mozartiano. This institution welcomes the Symphonic Center in a kind of continuity of the project European classical music in the surroundings of Old Havana, completed three years ago. In turn, the Center is inspired by a similar idea from the city's historian, 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.

- Is such a large instrument very difficult?

- No ... I'll stick with that one.

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. 

Cello and viola complete the strings they have used so far, although the line of winds could be incorporated later. Most of the instruments have come through donations from friendly people and institutions, such as the Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg; the Hague Conservatory in the Netherlands; Pastors for Peace, and musicians participating in festivals held in Cuba. Some calls for donations move from the page on Facebook of the Symphonic Center . There you can find publications like this:

"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. " 

On the other hand, the mere presence of the project raises an interesting conversation about music education in the country. “They come to hang out, to learn. There is no such tension of having to do it super well, or get 100 points in a test ”, explains Yisel Amorós, director of the Center. The distinctions are more noticeable in the method, and not so much in the matter. "The selection processes in music schools are more rigorous," says Lourdes Rodríguez, Solfeo teacher. But, really, there is no difference between those who have more conditions than those who are here and any student from a music school ”.

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.

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