Sunday, September 1, 2013

The True Face of Music In Brazil

Hey world! So yesterday the August issue of Opera21 came out and there it was, a two page article about musical education in Brazil written by moi! The whole issue is so good, they have many pieces about musical education from people from all over the world plus an interview with Renée Fleming! To access the whole magazine just click here! I just wanted to pop here and publish my article in the blog, I hope you guys like it! 

"As a person who came to fall in love with opera only in my twenties, looking back now, I can see how things could have been different if I had had more appreciation for the art form when I was in school. But also looking back, I see that the possibility of me getting hooked on what today is my sole purpose of living was very small. You see I live in Brazil and I would like to show you how schools manage the arts around here.

Brazil is, some might say, a country on the rise. It’s the 6th biggest economy in the world, and we are hosting the World Cup next year and the Olympic Games in a couple more. However, Brazil could easily be described as an underfed child who happens to be wearing pretty clothes and is told to behave when they have visits. If you look from afar it all seems alright but if you get to know her, you will be quite surprised. It’s a country led by people who are ready to spend billions of dollars building football stadiums but will not raise a finger when it comes to our educational system.

It's this uncaring government that manages our public schools that sometimes produces "graduate students" who don't even know how to write. The teachers in these schools are quite competent, but they're told to approve everyone and if they don’t, they are bullied out of their jobs, by the students. It suffices to say that there’s very little room for Arts Education in these schools. Normally, the pupils who attend public schools in Brazil come from Low/Medium Low class families who can’t afford sometimes to pay the rent, so don’t have the means to invest in their children’s education.

What does create a bridge between these pupils and music is projects created by Non Governmental Institutions that teach children about the Arts. In some cases, music teachers go to the public schools themselves, gather up the kids who are interested in learning more about music, and end up doing quite remarkable things. A wonderful example is Cartola’s Violin Orchestra (Orquestra de Violinos Cartola), which is based on one of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favelas(slums), the Mangueira favela. Nowadays, that program has over 80 kids enrolled and a big waiting list. One of their many objectives is to bring to the concert hall’s stage and audience all kinds of Brazilians since the music of many of the great composers were written for the great public, and not just for the aristocracy.

Another school that teaches classical music in slums is the Rocinha School of Music (Escola de Música da Rocinha), which was founded back in 1994 by the German musician Hans Ulrich Koch. Rocinha is one of the most dangerous places in Rio de Janeiro, but with projects like these, kids are taken out of the streets and find a purpose. There, kids take musical theory lessons, various kinds of instrument lessons, and choir singing, and it's all for free. Plus, the pupils can also borrow the instruments they are learning and take them home to practice. Unfortunately, these schools are not backed up by the government. Rocinha’s School of Music, for instance, is financed by European donors.

In private schools, the scene changes a bit. More than half of the children in Brazil attend different kinds of private schools. We have from high end super expensive to middle class affordable private schools in Brazil. Since there are so many different kinds of schools in Brazil, it is difficult for colleges to rely only on school transcripts in order to approve a pupil or not. Each college holds a big test every year for all who are interested in going there to take it. These tests are the main focus of most schools nowadays, so quite literally, schools are teaching what is likely to be asked in these tests and not really educating, especially in high school.

Then again there is not much room for Arts education in private schools as well. Normally, what happens is that children will have some sort of regular music class between the ages of 7 to 10 in school. The quality of these lessons does change from school to school, and some have quite nice music lessons that teach a bit of music theory and history. However, others really disappoint. Some schools have music lessons, choir lessons and flute lessons as extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, the quality of these lessons again varies from school to school, and in some schools, the lessons given are of terrible quality or don’t happen at all.

In order to learn about music or how to play an instrument, parents normally enroll their children in Conservatories/Music Schools/Private Lessons, which are customarily far from cheap.

The Conservatories sometimes have high end teachers who give the child a wonderful notion of music in general and form excellent instrument players. Very young children get basic music classes for a few years, and are then directed to an instrument of their liking. Normally, these schools teach only classical music, but there are some schools that are opening their doors little by little to a more modern repertoire. The modern repertoire comes as an option the pupil can have once he’s got the basic notions of his instrument. A full course in a conservatory can last up to 10 years and can sometimes even allow the student to skip needing a minor degree in music in order to do a Graduate course in college.

One of the best music schools in Brazil is the Escola Municipal de Música in São Paulo. There, pupils get the chance to be privately taught by musicians who are playing in the major orchestras in São Paulo. For instance, one of their faculty members on the classical singeing staff is one of the most in-demand sopranos in Brazil. Apart from the private instrument lessons, the students also get Harmony lessons, Counterpoint lessons, Ear Training lessons, and History Lessons, all for free. The courses can last from 2 to 12 years, depending on the instrument. The school’s capacity is 800 students, and they accept 200 new students every year.

Although projects like these are wonderful, these numbers don’t suffice the enormous need that the 11 million citizens of the city of São Paulo have, alone. Moreover, the real issue is that most people are not exposed to classical music nearly enough and sometimes, not at all. Because of that, ignorance and prejudice grow along with an absolute lack of interest.

Fortunately, there are many who are passionate about classical music here in Brazil, and they do their best to introduce it to as many as they can. Brazilians are stubborn and persistent when they find their purpose, and as we say around here, “Brazilians never give up”. Being both a Brazilian and an opera singer, I must confess I take pride when I look around and see no dry eyes by the end of La Traviata."

Well, that's it! Hope you guys like it, please let me know! Cheers!

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