Chat, Choro and Cuts

My morning begins with a meeting with Renata Bittencourt who is the Head of Cultural Education for the State of São Paulo. The meeting is extremely interesting given the recent cuts the state has unfortunately had to issue to many institutions, including SMC who consequently have recently had to remove 41 staff (including music tutors) and postpone the new intake of students, some 200 young musicians, enrolling in EMESP (state music school, run by Santa Marcelina Cultura- SMC).

(below: foyer at the State Department of Cultural Education)  

Renata gives me an overview of the projects funded by the state cultural education department. These include music, theatre, visual art and circus skills. There is some great work that they are doing in terms of urban regeneration – she tells me of the grassroots theatre company which launched in Praça de Roosevelt (on my list of visits for Sunday), which was a red light district. Through the drama work of the theatre company there, the community began to change and after a few years a new theatre school was established there. The sex workers were involved in training programmes and now, six years on, some are working there as receptionists and drama artists. The area has now changed and the school and theatre company now receive funding from the state to continue this work.

She also tells me of the Fábricas da Cultural (cultural factories) which are similar to ceus in that they are based in areas of high social deprivation and their aim is to provide safe spaces for cultural activities to be developed…essentially multi arts venues where the focus is very much on social change through art rather than the art itself.

However despite these examples of best practice of arts centres, she confirms what was discussed during the conference in Rio about venues, saying “Buildings are not as important as they use to be. We need a mentality change to make more activity in the community rather than in the building.”

We have a good discussion around product versus process, one of the topics which is regularly discussed in our learning and engagement department at RSNO. As with many classical institutions, we can all be guilty of being too concerned with the end product (the performance) rather than the creative process of how we get there and it can often be hard to find a healthy balance between the two, especially in the orchestral sector with heavy performance based schedules.

Working for one of Scotland’s five national performing arts companys funded directly from the Government, it’s interesting for me to hear the different monitoring processes they have here in São Paulo. Renata admits that currently it is very quantative focussed rather than qualitative but that there is a new department setup to improve this.  

We exchange further thoughts about disability and arts, partnership working and the role digital technologies can play in music making projects before it is time to part ways.

After lunch, I head over to EMESP. As I enter the foyer, I see the posters created by students all around us protesting against the cuts to their school.


I head upstairs to one of the rehearsal rooms where I am fortunate enough to witness a conducting masterclass by Claudio Cruz. Claudio was the resident conductor of OSESP (São Paulo State Orchestra) for many years before Marin Alsop took the helm. Claudio is working with six students ranging in ages from 18-34 years. They will conduct the SP Youth Orchestra next week which takes place just as my flight will be leaving Brazil! I’m therefore attending the rehearsal on Friday and am keen to see the progression between this workshop and the full rehearsal. Although the session is mainly taught in Portuguese, Claudio is so expressive with his movements and face that I find it easy to understand what he is asking of the students. Each student has twenty minutes of one on one time whilst the others watch and the improvement from the first minute to the final is very noticeable.

My final activity of the day is to participate in a samba workshop. I’m keen to take part in a workshop to understand what the participants experience and what better workshop to do in Brazil than samba! Our tutor is excellent and again, although no English is spoken in the class, through music I am able to understand and myself and the other seven adults in the class create a mini samba band.

As I leave the centre for the day, there is an adult Choro group playing in the foyer for parents who are waiting on their children. The band have no sooner sat down than the music starts and the lovely, lilting sounds of cavaquinhos (small guitar, similar to a ukulele- pictured below) echo around the foyer.

Até amanhã.



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