By Raquel Maldonado, Director, San Ignacio School of Music, & Director, Ensamble Moxos
In a little jungle-engulfed town in the Bolivian Amazon sits a music program that has changed the region’s social, cultural, and artistic complexion: The Music School of San Ignacio de Moxos. The school began without much forethought. Seeing it as an opportunity to pass along the musical legacy of Jesuit missions, a nun of the order of the Ursulines of Jesus opened the school in 1996 to encourage musical learning among her teenagers. Despite its modest aspirations, the school grew into something more impactful than she ever could have expected.
The spirituality of the Moxos indigenous people—whose population was reduced in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Company of Jesus—manifests itself in all their artistic output. One could say that the Moxos people sing and dance in celebration of the virgins and the saints; their musical manifestations are sustained by spirituality, and vice-versa. The Music School of San Ignacio picks up on this legacy, offering a free music education to the primarily Moxo-indigenous population—a unique opportunity for young people. Each year, the school welcomes over 300 children and youths to learn various instrumental disciplines. These students not only receive access to a profession historically reserved for the economic and social elites, but also the opportunity to restore their identity, their culture, and the memory of their ancestors through music. And thanks to the formation of the non-governmental organization Taupadak, the school has enjoyed its own infrastructure and equipment since 2005—allowing students to learn in dignified conditions.
The school started out with no resources, so their own entrepreneurship has played a big role in the budget. Much of the school’s income and notoriety comes from Ensamble Moxos, a group specializing in patrimonial music and formed by teachers and students from the Music School of San Ignacio de Moxos. The Ensamble has showcased their music in over 20 countries across Latin America, Europe, and Africa; thanks to album sales and international tours (also independently run), Ensamble Moxos has continued to help the school function. There have also been initiatives that have nothing to do with music, like the chicken farm egg sales, wine and whiskey sales, and shingle and sand sales for construction—community projects that also serve the school. As in all entrepreneurial movements, the entire education community has been involved: directors, administrators, teachers, students, and families.
The 20-plus years since the school’s creation have served as an example of achievement and survival without official support, but this long journey reached one of its principal goals in 2016 when it received double recognition by the Ministry of Education of Bolivia as an institute of professional formation. This allows the school to formally offer degrees of superior studies. It also resulted in government funding that goes toward paying teacher salaries; until this happened, all school funding was self-managed. The economic agreement has served as a catalyst for other projects that would normally be forced to wait for funding before starting.
The school’s role in the community goes beyond the pride students feel from playing; each year the heads of households try to earn a place in the workforce to assure their children a place in this school. In many cases, this is their only opportunity to become professionals. Today, the Music School of San Ignacio de Moxos has many ensembles: four infant choruses, a teenage chorus, a children’s orchestra, and a recorder ensemble. Though the education imparted there is universal, it still celebrates the proud legacy of the region’s traditional music. For today’s students, music is not only an opportunity to restore their culture, but also a tool for wholesome living.