FEATURE: Social Impact Depends on Musical Excellence

Brass section, YOBA (photo by Lenon Reis)

The Youth Orchestra of Bahia (YOBA) completed its seventh international tour this past September. YOBA is the top orchestra of NEOJIBA, the Sistema-inspired program of Bahia, Brazil, which is already in its third generation of music students. Most of these young musicians began their musical studies at NEOJIBA.

During the tour, YOBA played with the legendary Martha Argerich in sold-out concerts in some of the most prestigious concert halls of Switzerland, Italy and France, including the Philharmonie de Paris. Their nine performances won acclaim from audiences accustomed to the best orchestras in the world—an unusual achievement for a Brazilian youth orchestra.

The orchestra members worked very hard to meet the high expectations we set for them. However, our goal is not simply prestige. More than anything, being in NEOJIBA is about defending a cause.

We believe that in contemporary Brazil, public spending on artistic activities must be deeply rooted in arts-related education. In our country, symphonic orchestras were created before a base of music education for all children in the country was developed—and it still is not. In fact, this is true of education in general; universities receive much more attention and funding than fundamental public education. In short, there is not enough investment in the base, be it childhood music education or fostering of amateur music-making in ensembles. This model is just not sustainable!

YOBA at a sold-out Philharmonie de Paris concert, 2018
(photo by Lenon Reis)

This is why, from the very start of the project, we adopted the motto “They who teach also learn.” We are creating a movement of young “multipliers,” strengthening the importance of spreading knowledge, social awareness and a sense of community. Every member of YOBA is involved in regular pedagogical activities, as instructors in NEOJIBA’s educational centers or as promoters of the arts in schools and charitable institutions.

In this way, we hope to collaborate in the process of freeing Brazil from its main social ills, which have put the country close to a state of undeclared civil war. As a society, we are rapidly and dangerously losing the capacity to feel indignant about a daily life that is absurd. For instance, the existence of favelas in our cities should never be seen as normal. For that reason, I believe that that some youth development activities should take place outside the favelas, because it is more effective to show the inhabitants that another reality is possible than it is to provide social programmes within their ghetto environments.

This is why we will soon be inaugurating NEOJIBA’s new headquarters in the old city center of Salvador. This architectural project, which will offer all students and teachers access to facilities and instruments of high international standards, is being directed by the Swiss firm B-O-V together with Bahia’s SKE; the acoustics are being overseen by the Japanese firm Nagata Acoustics, creator of the best concert halls in the world. This will be the first building with such standards in Latin America. Bringing Nagata Acoustics to Brazil is a huge step in the process of establishing international standards of excellence in our institutions of musical education. Before the end of this year, the first phase of the construction project (6 rooms for rehearsal and 1 chamber music room) will be finished, all under the supervision of Yasuhisa Toyota’s team.

YOBA at home in Salvador, Brazil, in the Teatro Castro Alves (photo by Lenon Reis)

We want to demonstrate that if we have a learning environment equivalent to those enjoyed by music students in Europe and the United States, we can match or even exceed the musical excellence of those students. Similar experiments are already underway in China and South Korea. We also aim to spread knowledge about music technology, as shown by our partnership with Nagata Acoustics, and to encourage investment in specialized musical equipment to attain the highest standards in music education.

While YOBA was our overseas representative of the version of Brazil that we want, and that we can achieve, our 13 educational centers across Bahia continued working full steam ahead. All of our ensembles — choirs, percussion, wind, guitar, and more — are teaching and learning a rich and varied repertoire. We are constantly aware that social impact only happens when one aims for excellence. If we can continue to learn from our own experience, if we strive to draw more public and private investment to the sphere of music education, and if we are led by competent and willing leaderships, we might at last be capable of showing that “beauty will save the world.”

Author: Ricardo Castro, pianist, conductor, and founder/director of Núcleos Estaduais de Orquestras Juvenis e Infantis da Bahia

Date Published: 29 November 2018

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