Classical music in Brazil: a driver for social change
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
São Paulo, Brazil is a bustling, vibrant city of 20 million people. In the 1990s, the United Nations described São Paulo’s slum cities, or favelas, as some of the “most brutal” neighbourhoods in the world.
The well-off live in high-security penthouse apartments in attractive neighbourhoods, but 19% of São Paulo residents live below the poverty line. Many of the disadvantaged live in the infamous favelas with names such as Paraisopolis, or “City of Paradise”.
Crime is a major problem in the favelas—but there is more to these colourful cities and the people who live there. São Paulo also boasts a thriving music education scene. Social projects centred around music inspire and invigorate the minds of the city’s children.
In July of 2019, I was a guest at Latin America’s largest youth music celebration—the Campos de Jordao Winter Festival. Artistic director and guitarist Fabio Zanon hosted the festival, along with the Academy faculty principal players of the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo (OSESP)—a Brazilian symphony orchestra founded in 1954.
“Crime is a major problem in the favelas—but there is more to these colourful cities and the people who live there. São Paulo also boasts a thriving music education scene. Social projects centred around music inspire and invigorate the minds of the city’s children.”
I had the privilege of coaching eight talented young oboe players for two weeks in their amazing concert hall—a magnificently repurposed train station. I’d been there before, on tour with BBC Symphony Orchestra, and knew some of the players. I’d visited one of the incredible samba schools in the city at that time.
But I didn’t know many of the accomplished young classical musicians were already studying in the Orchestra’s youth academy. They’d come via one of Brazil’s many musical social projects: the Baccarelli Institute. The oboist group are still in touch today, despite being in lockdown and spread across the world.
Nestor Solorzano, 24, Venezuela
Nestor had been performing in the National Youth Orchestra in Peru before developing an interest in continuing his oboe studies overseas. We asked Nestor some questions about his life and experience as an oboist.
Why did you take oboe?
Well, I really didn’t know the oboe when I chose it. I was in my music theory class and the oboe teacher came into the classroom and asked, “who wants to play oboe?” I didn’t know what it was but I said, “I want!” … then here I am.
How did you start learning?
I started playing oboe in El Simesta, in Venezuela, when I was 12 years old. I still remember my first class with my first teacher, José Colmenares. It was just talking about the instrument and reeds, and one week later my first notes were sol, la, si (G, A, B). It was nice.
Did you like it?
What would you like to do next?
First, I want to study in a university or conservatory. I couldn’t finish my studies in Venezuela, but I want to do it. Also, I want to participate in international competitions.
(Nestor is now studying at YST Conservatory in Singapore with Rachel Walker and has just won First Prize, Elite Section of the Australiasian Double Reed Society International Online Competition, winning online lessons with elite oboists Francois Leleux and Diana Doherty).
What is your family background?
Well, my father is an engineer, my mum is a biology teacher, and my only sister is a dentist! There isn’t any musician in my family. I’m the only one, but they support me in everything. That’s great!
Along with several similar music social projects, the Baccarelli Institute aims to “democratise access to musical culture—producing professional musicians is not our intention. Musical education provides tools for living by fomenting cognitive, sensorial and physical capabilities and skills needed for any job or career … a socio-cultural project—the object is to bring together different socioeconomic classes.”
Venezuela’s El Sistema—system of 220 youth orchestras and 180 educational centres—has inspired similar systems across the world, including the Baccarelli Institute. Nestor developed his keen interest in the oboe through his study at El Sistema. The South American appreciation for music was everywhere during the Campos de Jordao —very infectious!
“Brazil’s inherent societal belief that music improves quality of life and is an important vehicle to establish a peaceful society filled with tolerance and respect is a philosophy I once thought existed only in my Utopian dreams!” said the Principal Conductor of the OSESP, the dynamic American woman, Marin Alsop.
Back home, and reflecting on my travels, I am proud and happy to live in South Australia. Our magnificent city recently updated its public Music Education Vision and Goals for 2019-2029:
Throughout their education, all children and young people in South Australia have access to a high-quality music education that is valued and inspires learning.
Everyone involved in children and young people's learning understands the value of music education.
Every child and young person has access to music education activities that start early and support the development of musical knowledge and skills over several years.
Music education decisions across the public education system support children and young people in a way that is responsive and inclusive.
Creative thinking—the keystone for music, education and arts professionals—is so important now. Although we’re in a time of great uncertainty about the delivery of “traditional” music classes, it is also a time of possibility and adaptation.
This time of uncertainty will spark ideas about how we can deliver music education even more democratically and successfully. For all its proven benefits—cognitive, social, educational—let’s keep up the music.
“Creative thinking—the keystone for music, education and arts professionals—is so important now. Although we’re in a time of great uncertainty about the delivery of “traditional” music classes, it is also a time of possibility and adaptation.”
Online resources are multiplying now in this time of worldwide crisis. Here are some good ones:
Tips from the Chief Examiner: A series of informal, approachable comments on practice, playing and more from the ABRSM.
Online Virtuoso: an excellent new resource from some of Australia’s finest
musicians, featuring practice tips and inspiration as well as useful resources (subscription-based).
TEDxTalk: a compelling and fascinating talk from Dr Anita Collins, Author of Bigger Better Brains, which underpins this entire article.
Hopes & Dreams: The Lullaby Project by Various artists on Amazon Music: soothing lullabies!
Read part two here.