What to do to study music in Cuba?
Every now and then someone asks me the question that appears in the title, usually it is someone I know whose son or daughter excels by their musical talent very soon -or so their parents think. I have the impression that it is not easy to find complete and organized information about it, so here are some general comments about specialized music teaching on the Island, some possible options and useful contacts.
Cuba has a long tradition of musical education, with its beginnings in the early 20th century, and has seen -as founders, pedagogues and teachers of different specialties- such relevant names as Hubert de Blanck, Jose Ardevol, Harold Gramatges, Argeliers Leon, Edgardo Martin, Maria Antonieta Henriquez, Leo Brouwer, Roberto Valera, and a long and impressive list of etceteras, and as students -and in most cases also teachers in different stages- some of the most relevant musicians and instrumentalists of our country.
Formal music education in Cuba has three levels: Elementary Level (which is equivalent and simultaneous with Primary Education), Middle Level (which is equivalent and simultaneous with Middle Education), and Higher Level (Bachelor's Degree).
Music education is institutionalized and, like regular education, is free of charge in Cuba for Cuban citizens and permanent residents. This is not the case for foreigners or non-resident Cubans.
When someone is going to learn to play an instrument (except in cases such as piano), the principle is that the school provides one for each student as a free usufruct. The instruments are not of first quality and almost always they are second hand, but they are worthy considering that most of them have been imported or arrived as part of donations by conservatories or schools abroad, governments, NGOs and even musicians passing through.
There are elementary-level music schools in practically the whole country. Not all of them offer all the specialties, but certainly the basic ones: string instruments (violin, viola, violoncello, double bass), piano, singing, guitar, wind instruments (trumpet, saxophone, trombone, flute) and percussion. The middle level is also studied in almost all provinces, although in some there are only Art Instructors Schools, which prepare students not for instrumentalists or conservatory teachers, but for Music teachers in regular schools. The higher level (Bachelor's Degree) can only be studied in Havana (for all specialties), and in Camagüey, Holguin or Santiago de Cuba for some of them, and it is the only level whose classes can be taken either completely in person (5 days a week) or by meetings (1 or 2 days a week).
To enter the elementary level of music, the boys or girls interested must have passed the 2nd grade of elementary school for the so-called long careers (piano, violin and cello); for the rest they must have passed the 4th grade of elementary school (short careers).
The calls for applications are open and are made through the mass media. Whichever instrument the budding talent intends to learn to play, he/she must take an aptitude test, which usually has two phases: the first one, called workshop, acts as a first filter to define those children with real physical abilities, skills and aptitudes for music, and the second is a test that evaluates more seriously the musicality and rhythm of the aspirants. The results (in the form of passing lists) are usually displayed on public murals in the music schools of each province or municipality, as the case may be. The number of students joining the system each year in September fluctuates depending on the medium-term needs of the musical groups in each territory, and also on the availability of teachers and/or instruments by specialty.
Once the children begin to formally study music, they have a rigorous system of evaluation for instruments and several theoretical subjects, in addition to the classes of Mathematics, Languages, Science, etc., which in the language of the music schools are called "schooling". At the end of each level they do what is known as a "level pass examination", which consists of assembling, rehearsing, and playing a complete program that usually includes studies and the most complex pieces that they are capable of interpreting using the skills they have learned up to that point. Only when this phase and the other school subjects are passed, the students will be able to continue their formal music studies. Otherwise, they can be inserted at any time to the corresponding course in regular education.
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If the child did not begin to study in the music school at the elementary level, he/she can join the middle level, as long as he/she has passed the ninth grade of regular education and passes the music admission exam. Also, in order to enter the higher level, they must have satisfactorily completed the intermediate level of music (including the level pass examination), and the entrance examinations for Spanish and History; or have completed pre-university and passed the entrance examination for Mathematics, Spanish and History, in addition to a very rigorous exam for the music specialty they intend to study. Additionally, the students who enter formal music education directly at the higher level, are required to be no more than 25 years of age and possess an academic index equal to or higher than 85 points as an average in the intermediate level. A Provincial Selection Committee defines who enters the Bachelor's Degree in Music. This, regarding to formal and institutionalized education, which, in Cuba, is governed by the National Center of Art Schools (CNEART) for elementary and middle school education, and by the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) and the Ministry of Culture, for the higher level.
It is also possible to study music with teachers out of this institutional system. One of the activities expressly authorized as Self-Employment (TCP) in Cuba is Professor of music and other arts (sic). Thus, both Cubans and interested foreigners can directly hire the services of a music teacher, who must be licensed by the Ministry of Labor for the activity. According to consulted data, there are about 460 music and other arts teachers authorized to perform this activity on their own.
The practice of "training" the children under tutors for the initial examination of the elementary level in the formal or institutional system is widespread. As soon as parents detect a certain talent or vocation, they look for a tutor to give what we call private tutoring (generally at the teacher's house, although there are some who go to the student's house). These tutors prepare the children and guarantee that they improve certain basic skills or knowledge. It is also becoming more and more common for parents to decide to "reinforce" the learning process of the instrument or complex subjects such as harmony or solfeggio during any level, with tutors during the student's extracurricular hours. The price of private music lessons for Cubans ranges from 1 USD to 5 USD per class, depending on the level, the subject, the teacher and the geographical area.
Foreigners who are not permanent residents in Cuba can also choose to study in the organized system of music education by levels, and also look for summer workshops and short courses; the methodology is legislated in detail in Resolution No. 26 of 2012 of the Ministry of Higher Education (Regulations for foreign students in Cuban education centers). Fees, on the other hand, depend on the type of course, its duration, the disciplines the foreign student is interested in studying, and other variables, so it is recommended to contact directly by phone or e-mail.
Finally, for those foreigners passing through, who do not know musicians or music teachers, and are looking for consultations or a course of a few days with teachers of good level, we recommend Havana Music Schoolwhich offers a personalized teaching program and information on cultural options once in Cuba.
Abogada. Hipervinculadora. Madre de un violinista. Organizadora nata. Mala memoria solo para lo que le conviene. Sueña con jubilarse a leer.