It had not occurred to me that there would be people outside of CU Winds that would be reading this blog. I think it would be appropriate for me to go over briefly exactly what it is that this tour is about.
Cornell Winds has a partnership with a Costa Rican organization called SiNEM. The purpose of this org. is to promote a strong work ethic, peace, and cooperation amongst Costa Rican youth. When I went on this trip two years ago, I could see how music education would foster development in those areas, but I was not entirely convinced that the program was successful. It was too early to tell to be honest, as it was only founded a few years before.
My goal for this trip was to find out a little more about the impact SiNEM is actually making on Costa Rican youth, at least on the microscale of individual people. My improved language skills helped me immensely in this as did the presence of Costa Rican musicians that essentially joined Cornell University Wind Ensemble for this tour.
I found that some of the greatest problems that afflict Costa Rica are domestic ones. I met a girl who was violated at the age of 8. She in turn told me about her classmate, aged 17, who has 3 children already. I met several who no longer lived with their parents for whatever reason. I met people who did not know who their fathers were. I met someone who was abused by his mother. And of course I heard a number of other stories secondhand.
This music program was, for many, a means of escape. A way to avoid going home, a way to avoid getting involved with gangs or drugs (other problems that Costa Rican suffers from), even perhaps a way out of the country for some. Even so, I noticed some limitations that most likely impede these students from getting the absolute most out of music.
1. Poor quality of instruments: I saw and heard many terrible instruments. Cornell tries to alleviate this problem by bringing forgotten, but very playable instruments, from the US to Costa Rica. A flute player from two years ago, who had received a new flute, improved so much that he joined us on tour this year. Aside from donations, I know a few of us were also able to fix some instruments that kids were playing when we arrived at each school. You never know what a single act will do.
2. Poor teachers, lack of teachers: I actually cannot comment specifically on the quality of teachers but there was a distinct lack of them. One notable bassoon player never had a teacher, only learned by ear. She had only been playing for a year, yet was as capable as a student who had been playing for 3 years. Cornell brought 40 of us musicians-turned-teachers to pass along some advice and tips we have received over the years. We shared breathing exercises, scalar work, tuning tricks, posture, the nitty gritty of embrasure form, and so forth.
3. Familial support: I have already mentioned how broken some of these families are, but the ones that do have relatively intact families are not always the most supportive ones. Encouragement from the home I believe can go a long way with a budding musician (or really a budding any-human-being). The purpose of our nightly performances in all of these communities is to bring everyone together. I can say certainly that we achieved exactly that goal in a particular barrio of the capital, San José: Leon XIII. The priest at the end of the night approached Cindi (our conductor) and said something to the effect of: “The sounds you make are beautiful and not what we are used to hearing. We are used to hearing gun shots.”
It is clearly evident that music can improve people’s lives. This really is quite an incredible thing we are doing.