We had been working for months to make a visit to the Totonaca happen with artist, arts programmer, and friend Tareke Ortiz. Tareke had told us about the area’s orchestra, a group of studying musicians from ages 11 to 70 that was interested in collaborating, and where we could perhaps be of use.
In the weeks leading up to our visit with the Totonaca, after a hurricane passed through the region and our days were delayed, I organized an arrangement of the song “Jungle Earth” that we could work on with the orchestra. I had the parts worked out and felt cool about it all, thinking an approach similar to that which I took in working with the students of CECAM in
When we got there and began speaking with the orchestra, all of them with the parts we had sent in advance in front of them, I started to feel that this approach was not going to be beneficial. The spirit of the band, the ages, the community, and the experience was not that of a traditional orchestra. My fault for being presumptuous perhaps.
So, with the great singer, composer, songwriter Silvana Estrada along we followed her recommendation to approach the music by ear. For the most part, the written music was set aside and we sang the parts to each horn section. This is often a more musical, and connected to spirit, approach, and it once again proved to be such this time.
The most rewarding part of the work is to see the young musicians begin to believe in themselves. What we do is only about music because of what music allows us to become as people. Music is a way to teach and celebrate empathy, teamwork, discipline, and so much more.
In 5 hours with the orchestra, we were able to create a piece of music together, talk a bit about scales and transposition, some basic somewhat formal music education concepts, and most importantly, get everyone improvising, expressing, and embracing their role in the group.
We look forward to returning to work with the Totonaca and hope to put together a full concert’s worth of material using the ensamble and improvisation concepts we worked, and encouraging the young musicians to direct the orquestra themselves using alternative conduction techniques.
Music Mission patrons financial support this episode went to
- donate shoes to migrants passing through Veracruz
- cover the travel of Joel Anaya to deliver food, medicine, and clothing to a home providing shelter to stranded migrants in Veracruz, run by women known as “Las Patronas”
- donate basic needs support and clothing to earthquake victims in Oaxaca
- cover bus costs from Mexico City to Papantla and back for myself and visiting artists Tareke Ortiz, and Silvana Estrada
Thank you for your generous support