Music Up! Putting Music at the Service of Community

by Cecilia Velázquez Moreno, Manager, Orquestando Armonía

Orquestando Armonía (Orchestrating Harmony) was born in Boca del Río, Mexico, in July 2014, through an initiative of the municipal government. It is supported by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Boca del Río, which is composed of professional musicians who are teaching artists in the evenings. Ever since then, our goal has been to bring music lessons to the most vulnerable places in the area.

Photo credit: Social Communication of Municipality of Boca del Río.

Our first task was to find a school that could house the program. We were fortunate to find the Jose Vasconcelos Elementary School, which still shares its facilities with us. At this school, we have learned how intensely families value the education of their children. In 2010, Hurricane Karl brought a tremendous flood, causing many families to lose almost everything. Authorities declared that all the backpacks and school supplies were lost to the water – but in fact, this was not the case. Of the 300 students in the school, the backpacks of only two children got wet. The rest were rescued by the children and their families. The same thing happened in every school in the surrounding area.

However, persuading children and youth to sign up for the program was a hard task (and sometimes still is). We had to explain the impact music has on neurological, socio-affective, and community levels. In the end, we won everyone over with the phrase: “Less risk on the streets, less TV, less cell phones, more music!”

We started out with 200 students, aged 8-14, and a team of incredible teachers. The instruments arrived a year later, and it was a party. I will never forget the eyes of each student facing their instrument, unpacking it like a much-awaited gift. Soon, the sounds of the orchestra began to arrive in our program. Families learned fast too, and began to ask their children: “Do you have solfege today?” “Are you forgetting your staff paper?” “Is chorus class after sectionals?”

By 2017, the program had over 500 students, two orchestras and five choruses, in addition to our chorus for mothers and grandmothers. In our staff meetings, we began to discuss the need to base our work conscientiously on three key points: theory (knowledge), heuristics (abilities), and axiology (attitudes). We talked about how to integrate these key points into each class and rehearsal. We also began to give our students multidisciplinary experiences by working with dancers, writers, and artists.

New teachers joined as well. The program had national help through an Agreement of Collaboration with the Sistema National de Fomento Musical (the national Sistema organization) and international help through a Treaty of Collaboration with The Global Leaders Program. Last year we formed a Committee of Parents to raise funds necessary for the life and growth of the program.

In 2019, we have had the challenge of seeing many of our students become teenagers with many academic obligations. Therefore, we are inviting younger students to join the program. The choruses are not as numerous, and they are more selective. There are administrative challenges as well, as we work to modify our practices to maintain the high quality of teachers necessary for this community work.

I hope that Orquestando Armonía gets the support it needs for a long and lasting life. One of my favorite images is what I see as I approach the vicinity of the school: on every street, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, children, and young people are walking briskly with instruments hanging from their shoulders and hands. It is beautiful to see this as part of everyday life.

And I hope that a hurricane or flood like the last one will never come again. But I know that if it does, I will see students raising both hands high, backpacks in one hand and instruments in the other. Music up!!

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