Thursday, June 21, 2012

On music education: Conchalí Big Band (I)

The recurring debate on how to take jazz out of intensive care — a figure of speech, mind you — seems to be especially prominent at the end of spring. I have my own ideas about that, and I expect to write the dreaded definitive take on it in the future, but in the meantime let me say that I don't care that much about jazz, as I do about music in general, especially when it comes to kids playing. 

If you're a regular reader, you'll have noticed that I mention Chilean musicians quite often. Besides happy coincidence ("happynstance"?) the reason is that I like what they do, and that I'm very intrigued by the embrace, as unlikely as it is enthusiastic, of a music that should be completely foreign to them, both in terms of geography and age. One of the explanations for this is phenomenon is the Conchalí Big Band. 

This is a youth orchestra, based in the not so well-off comuna of Conchalí, in Santiago de Chile. Some alumni you may have seen in this blog are Andrés Pérez, Cristian Gallardo, Marcelo Maldonado, Agustín Moya or Cristian Orellana, all of them great musicians who wouldn't be the same if they hadn't played in this big band. 

The video below — with subtitles in English — is a documentary from 2005 about life on the road, and it focuses mainly on three musicians in the band, Emilio Melo (tp), Juan Saavedra (tb), and Domingo Alicera (g). It makes compelling viewing, especially because it shows how good playing music can be for a kid, and because of the surprising maturity and sensitivity they show. Like so,

Saavedra (on music):
You expel what's inside you. You release all pressures. You take out what's within you, and that makes you free.
Alicera (on music):
It's always me, I think. I may play licks, but I feel where I have to place them. I imagine where they have to be placed, it's me who feels it, so... there's always a connection with oneself [...]

Sometimes there's so much logic 
[in music] that one misses the feeling, and feeling is the most important thing there is to it, to feel what you're playing.
Melo (about schooling):
Sometimes you have to pay and there are not enough resources to go to a private school. The only option is to go to a bad school. There's no hope for poor people.
More about the band, and their leader and teacher, Gerhard Mornhinweg (the Eddie Bert look-alike), in a few days.

Hope you enjoy it.

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