Our mission, to increase the awareness of Latin American classical music by encouraging its creation, performance and study, is strongly focused on education. We believe that the richness and diversity of this music offers unique opportunities with which to stimulate the interest of any student, regardless of his or her educational level. For the younger student, it is easy to gain insight and inspiration into the decidedly different history and culture of Latin America by studying its classical music, which in turn strongly reflects these aspects. For example, learning about the extent to which many Latin American composers have been inspired by political or social events creates a perfect portal by which to connect the past with the present. For the academic, there are still many gaps to fill, not only in the historical record (there are but a handful of biographies that have been written about Latin American composers), but especially, in cataloging and evaluating their compositions. In other words, there is still much that is as yet not fully documented about this particular genre of music.
In a 2016 report entitled, “Improving Music Education for Hispanic Students,” the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) declared that “music curricula must … adapt to our diverse cultures.” Even as the number of Hispanic students in U.S. schools continues to grow, the organization worries that not enough is being done to provide these students with an education in music that is at the same level as that of white students.
As much as we applaud NAfME for having recognized the educational needs of such a large segment of the student population, we find that their solution, which, for example, is for teachers to lead their classrooms in various activities related to Hispanic music, such as making a güiro, maracas or panpipes, is woefully myopic. And in general, are we not doing a disservice to our students by focusing only on the so-called “national” (or traditional) music of each country, that is, the largely unwritten music performed by musicians who learn it by rote? We surely wouldn’t teach European music this way.
A Different Point of View.
Clearly, then, there is a need to tip the balance in favor of an approach that is more representative of the musical culture of Latin America. While we would not for an instant ignore the region’s folkloric traditions, it should be noted that classical music, too, plays a very important role in Latin America. This is due, in part, to the fact that the governments of nearly every country subsidize the arts, which means that in nearly every Latin American country there are music conservatories that train the musicians who populate their national and regional orchestras, all of which, generally speaking, present weekly concerts throughout regular-length seasons. These same conservatories, and many universities as well, also educate Latin America’s many aspiring young composers, many of whom have achieved international recognition.
Although classical music is more fully nurtured in Latin America than it is in the U.S., this is not the most important reason why it should draw our attention; rather, it is because since the mid 19th century it has developed along an entirely different trajectory, such that it can no longer be considered analogous to either European or North American classical music. And it is through this lens that we can begin to more fully understand Latin American culture, as expressed from its lowest to highest socio-economic levels. For these reasons, developing the means by which to share this knowledge and understanding with students in the U.S. is a topic that inspires careful consideration at the Cayambis Institute.
A broad spectrum of plans are currently under review, and will be activated at the appropriate moment. In the meantime, however, two strategies, linked below, are very close to activation.
For those school districts that are approximately 100 miles away or less from Blacksburg, Virginia, our own professional ensemble, the Cayambis Sinfonietta, has developed a dynamic school show built around an iconic Mexican work for orchestra.
Narrated by Dr. John L. Walker, the Institute is currently preparing a six-chapter DVD in which members of the Sinfonietta will demonstrate important concepts.