The Bela Life

Early start today as I head through the blazing sunshine to the metro. It feels very odd to be cut off from all the election buzz today when, judging by my Facebook, that’s all anyone’s talking about in Scotland and indeed the UK.

I jump off the metro in Luz and come round the corner to see the EMESP building beaming in the sun in all its glory. Originally a hotel, this repurposed building now houses the state music school, offices for SMC and home for the guri youth groups on Saturday mornings.


First on the list of activities today is to see the Nossas Mestres (translates as Our teachers) class led by Cris Machado. Cris comes across as a fantastic teacher who is incredibly passionate about her students creating great music and becoming fantastic musicians. Her class is a multi instrument group activity where the students play music written by the staff of EMESP, which involves much Brazilian music and lots of improvising. Interestingly the young people (who here are all aged 16-20) don’t seemed phased by improvising at all and actually appear to really enjoy it. They play me an amazingly difficult rhythmic piece by Edu Ribeiro, a Grammy winning drummer who teaches here at EMESP. The music making in this class is so inspiring,


Next I have a meeting with Adriana Schincariol who is the pedagogical coordinator for the classical programme. She talks me through the EMESP system. It’s a very strict system with constant re-auditioning. I ask her why it is this strict and she says they have to be due to the number of applicants…for every 200 places there are 7000 applications. And even on the community/open courses, they run interviews due to high demand (on average they receive around 400 applications for every 40 places).

The reason the places here are so high in demand seems to be down to the extremely high standard of teaching within the school. EMESP prides itself on attracting some of the best musicians and music educators in the whole state. I am told that people come from all over South America to study here. Most courses run for 6 hours a week. The school is not accredited so participants are not obtaining a degree or specific qualifications but they are gaining an exceptionally well-rounded music education as everyone, similar to the guri programme, studies theory, singing and their instrument. In the popular courses, they also look at improvisation from the very start, which explains why all the students I met this morning were fine with this aspect of music making. 

Unlike the school system in São Paulo where state funded education is a poor sibling to private education, at university level this is reversed with the state free university being much better than private. To this end it is highly competitive to get in, with mainly privately educated students attending, Last year, the majority of the music spaces were taken by EMESP pupils, something which the school is extremely proud of. They tell me that this included all the percussion and cello spaces.

The only thing that seems to be missing to me, coming from an orchestra, is a formal partnership with OSESP, the symphony orchestra who are based directly across the road from EMESP, and I’m keen to explore this further when I meet OSESP next week. Many of the OSESP musicians teach at EMESP but on their own account, not through a formal partnership between the two institutions.

We head to the old Jewish area, Bom Retiro, now home to many Korean immigrants. The restaurant we eat in has wonderful food (I have a carmelised salmon with pesto rice), and I’m introduced to a new dessert, brigadeiro, which consists of only three ingredients: chocolate, butter and condensed milk! It looks amazing but unfortunately I’m too full to try any however vow that at the weekend I will indulge in this.


Next stop is to head out east to visit another Ceu, this time Jambeiro which is located in the area of Guaianazes, around 25 miles away. 

The Ceu is located in between two large favelas. A high number of the children who attend here come from the favelas, but not all. Some travel in from other areas. 


We witness band, choir and music initiation classes. All have exemplar teaching methods happening and all the young people are highly engaged. The band is an interesting model – it’s a 1st year band so the pupils are aged around 10-12yrs. This is their only instrument contact in this year and they learn in a mixed group environment. In the class are brass and woodwind including 3 clarinets, 2 saxophones, 2 flutes, 3 French horns, 1 trumpet and 1 trombone. I would be lost as to where to start with such a mixed group but the tutor is so calm and ensures that everyone is engaged and learning throughout the hour long session. 

We chat with some of the young French horn players at the back of the group. One of the girls asks me (in Portuguese), if i had any prejudice against the favelas before I came here. I’m taken aback by the question from someone so young. I ask her why she asks me this and she says it’s something that she’s experienced from other immigrants moving into the area recently.

We leave the band. From one of the classrooms, we hear the sound of the choir singing A Bela e a Fera (the beauty and the beast). In the corridor find parents crafting items including crochet and weaving. They were encouraged by the social workers here to spend their time creating items and using the skills they possessed whilst their children were involved in guri. Now, they have their own little businesses, selling their wares and the social work have helped them in setting up bank accounts. The items are beautiful. (The hat on the front cover of the blog is also one of these, made out of newspaper). The ones which really catch my eye are called fuxico. These are cloth flowers which the women tell me are made from the off-cuts of materials which they find on the street. They show me many varieties, including a bag which they made for one of the children. The guri have begun to incorporate the fuxico into the participants uniforms when they perform. 



Our final class here is a music initiation class. Here they are using Kodaly method with very similar games and activities to our RSNO Junior Chorus. The children are keen to show me what they know and all are incredibly attentive and well-behaved as they take turns to play little bits. Given its nearly 5.30pm and most started their education early this morning at school, their concentration is remarkable.


We leave the Ceu and head back to the hotel for a quick turnaround before I make my way to the Theatro Municipal, located in the República region of the city. The building is beautiful, absolutely stunning, both inside and out. 

I’m here to see the Orquestra Sinfônica Municipal (São Paulo City Orchestra) perform. I’m once again impressed by the audience. This is a different audience to the usual classical music audience. It’s a younger audience… a selfie-taking audienc…a clapping and chatting through the movements audience.  I’m saddened by the purists who continually (and loudly)  shush these keen, new attenders. They are, as experienced last Sunday, on their feet at the end of the concert with shouts of ‘bravo’ along with foot stamping and wolf whistling. 

As I jump in a taxi to avoid the rain, I reflect on the reactions of the two different factions of the audience. I really hope that the purists do not win through here. The atmosphere was alive and exciting in the hall and we need more of this in order to re-invigorate this art form.

Boa Noite.



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