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The most moving aspect of connecting with the Music for Development programs in the Dominican Republic and Colombia is receiving reactions from the kids and teachers. Many of the children found out about the program in their local community centers. Here, they give their feedback on the relevance of this discovery for them.
Abel, a 17-year-old in Santiago, Dominican Republic, says: “I play the accordion, which I learned to play by ear, without learning how to read music. One day, I was playing the accordion at the center at Cienfuegos, and I met Yenny, the music coordinator. She spoke to me about the program, and I thought 'Finally, I can learn real music. I finally have the opportunity to become a music professional.'”
Fifteen-year-old Wilfer, from Barranquilla, Colombia, states: “One day, I came to the community center to pick up a benefit. I saw a group of young people giving a talk about the programs they offer and heard that music was one of the programs ... I went back home very happy and told my mother about it, and she took me to the next class.”
Once he joined the program, Abel decided to play the flute. He praises his teacher, Andri Cruz, Santiago's bandleader, who teaches winds and horns at CI. Abel says: “The first day of class, I don't know if I was nervous, but I guess I was, and then I stopped. I paid very close attention to what the teacher was saying. He told us how he likes to teach people who are truly interested in learning. Once I heard that, I paid even more attention. My heart told me to continue in that way, [that] I was doing the right thing. Classes with Professor Andri are like eating my favorite food – I eat everything up and then want more and more. What I really love about the flute was the sound it makes. I feel inspired with the flute and that I have really found my place.”
Wilfer continues: “I have learned to play the music in a wonderful instrument: the baritone saxophone. Something curious about these classes is that it is not only a music class but a moment full of surprises, reflections and games that teach us how to be better people and teach us that results in life will depend on the way we act. We also learn about the importance of ethical values in our lives, such as respect, tolerance and love toward people.”
“It is not only a music class but a moment full of surprises, reflections and games that teach us how to be better people and teach us that results in life will depend on the way we act.”— Wilfer (15), Colombia
And there's more. “Music is becoming more meaningful to me,” says Yoselin, 18, a tuba player in Barranquilla. “Each class is delightful by the way the teacher makes us feel how important music is. We even learn culture ... I did not know about this instrument before. I feel fulfilled because this is a dream that's coming true."
Sixteen-year-old Arley, a student in Barranquilla center, writes: “I think [these classes] are more than a [music] class, because they have helped to keep me out of trouble, especially to be with bad company and spend the time outside. It has also helped me grow as a person in many ways.”
It is most certainly thanks to the dedication of the teachers that the programs in Santiago and Barranquilla have such an impact on these children. Guillermo Mota Curiel, one of the teachers and coordinators in Santo Domingo, had studied violin in El Sistema, the program on which Music for Development is based, in Caracas, Venezuela. Guillermo subsequently played with many other orchestras and currently travels to Santiago regularly where he oversees the orchestra program.
Yenny Martínez, another teacher and program coordinator, recalls the Santiago program run by Guillermo at the start: “Guillermo organized [the students on] the first day of classes … At the beginning of the rehearsals, the children were always quiet; they barely talked or expressed their opinions. Now, they have a very dynamic relationship with the director. They laugh, ask questions, share ideas. The trust has grown little by little, without affecting the discipline that they have acquired and experimented with during the process.”
The circle turns round and then the teachers themselves, hearing or reading the words of their students, are themselves inspired. Jailer Fontalvo was added as the assistant percussion teacher in Barranquilla in February. He says: “As teacher of these wonderful boys and girls dedicated to the music and values that are instilled in them through different activities, I want to thank [The Sally and Dick Roberts Coyote Foundation] for such great support in the life of each one of them and also in ours for being their teachers. The musical quality they have and their vision makes me strengthen musical pedagogic strategies.”
Raymond Felix, the cello teacher in Santiago, expresses it this way: “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be their teacher, friend and guide toward a more human, real and dignified road in the existence of such wonderful beings as they are … It truly fills me with happiness when I see my children overcoming and escaping their harsh reality even if it's for a short time."
Finally, Juan Carlos, another teacher from Barranquilla, writes: “It is a joy to look at the happiness of the youngsters and children when finishing their classes and in their concerts.”
This truly is a circle of joy and hope. The teachers share their knowledge and love for music, the children learn, grow and express their appreciation toward their teachers, who are in turn inspired to give more of themselves. I look forward to hearing, reading and sharing more of this feedback from both teachers and students as the programs evolve.
Dick Roberts is the Chairman of the Sally and Dick Roberts Coyote Foundation in California, which supports after-school music programs in Los Angeles in addition to the programs in the Dominican Republic and Colombia.