Timing is everything

It’s a glorious day today and I’m sitting in the park writing this in blazing sunshine having just had a day of fantastic music. But first, to yesterday…

It’s an early start as I set off for a day of Choro music. The first class I’m observing is a 3rd cycle group of EMESP students (roughly ages 16-20yrs). The group is made up of various guitars and wind instruments including a 7-string guitar (called violão, confusing when there’s also violas kicking around), a cavaquinho (tiny guitar – see below), flute, saxophone, clarinet/bass clarinet and pandeiro (similar to what we call a tambourine).  


The group work with a basic melody and then improvise around this. The work is very collaborative with everyone inputting their ideas and assisting each other to come up with harmonies. It’s clear that the work in theory classes (which is quite hands on practical) pays off here.

The second choro group I visit is in a polo around 10 minutes walk away from EMESP called Polo Júlio Prestes. As soon as we step into the building, I feel a different ethos to the other centres. All the centres have a lovely feel about them but there’s something really special about this one which oozes warmth more than anywhere else we’ve visited…Im not sure exactly what it was that was different but it was definitely different.  I head into a choro class led by tutor Santiago. I hadn’t realised that not every guri programme incorporates choro. In fact, out of the 46 programmes, only 6 have choro (which, despite its age, is classed as popular music rather than traditional I am told…traditional is more Brazilian folk music). This means that students come from all over the metropolitan area to participate in this group. As a result, by 2.15pm, we only have 3 of the 10 pupils (the class officially started at 1.30pm) and the rest drift in between this time and 3pm. I recognise the trombone player who we met in Jamberio Ceu in the east of the city yesterday.

As soon as they enter, each student joins in and gets straight down to work. The class is taught differently to the other classical classes, which I think is to do with the nature of the music. There’s a really collaborative vibe here with the session very much being student led rather than teacher led. I am asked if I want to join in and very soon I’m part of the percussion section playing caxixi (a type of shaker). The session is long and I leave at 4.30 whilst they continue making music together. I pop my head round the corner of a saxophone quartet. Their group was due to finish over an hour ago but they have an upcoming concert so, like the choro group, continue to play together. 

I find it interesting the different mentality from the pupils here (both classical and popular)  to what I’ve experienced in Scotland. I discussed it at length with the supervisors here and I think it’s down to the way we treat education. Here, the students are coming of their own free will, in their own time, to learn. They will gain no formal academic qualification – they just want to make music together and the teachers want to make music with them. Phones are out in the classroom, if someone checks their Facebook or What’s App they’re not punished or have to hand their phone over, they’re treated like adults. They come and go in the classroom as needed, popping out quietly to the toilet rather than having to ask permission, grabbing a quick top up of water when they need some. Teachers and pupils hug each other when greeting or saying goodbye and the vibe is very much that of a big family, yet the pupils still have the respect for the staff, even to the point where they call them ‘Professor’ rather than ‘Mr X’ as we do in the UK. 

I finish with both the groups and jump in the car to head to the EMESP Youth Orchestra. They rehearse in a school theatre nearby.  When we arrive the rehearsal is in full swing. It is led by Claudio Cruz, who’s conducting masterclass I witnessed the other day. This group is the top of the EMESP/Guri pyramid. The group recently toured to New York, and some of the participants have undertaken exchanges with Paris and Amsterdam Conservatoires, with some pupils being accepted to study there. The group range in ages from 14 (young oboe player) to 26 years (few of the violins) and are more like a training orchestra than our youth orchestras in the UK in both the way they rehearse (every month they do five days a week for two weeks solid then perform the programme with a professional soloist) and the fact that every participant receives a monthly scholarship payment. This is to encourage them to continue their studies and attend the youth orchestra, rather than taking on a job. The group is of an exceptional standard and Claudio is great with them, cracking jokes and again fostering more of that collaborative spirit, whilst remaining ever the professional conductor in his approach to the music, and the group play with a young energy and enthusiasm which is infectious and I go back to my hotel with a big smile thinking about the rehearsal.


It’s Saturday and the sun is splitting the pavements. It is very hot (well, for us Brits)…if this is Autumn I can only imagine how unbearable summer heat must be!

(Below: Luz train station) 


I am back at the EMESP building today for the guri youth group rehearsals. There are 9 groups which rehearse here weekly and they’re made up of young people from across the 46 guri programmes. Students are auditioned to attend these groups and competition is fierce. Today I’m visiting around half of the groups and next week will finish my journey here with the other half. The first group I see is the big band. This really is full of the type of young person I wish I had been, but most definitely wasn’t…one of these people who just oozes ‘cool’! They are so welcoming and play with a real passion and Brazilian feel. They play a whole breadth of music from Latin Jazz with Oye Como Va, to standards such as Sir Duke and then a Mack the Knife which has a very Brazilian feel to it in that it’s quite relaxed…one thing I’ve found about this country is the disregard for precise time. Things happen when they happen, if you’re late you’re late. At first, it was a bit unnerving but now I’m really getting into the Brazilian way…I dread to think what I’ll be like when I get back to the UK! 


Next up is the family choir. This is a group of parents and grandparents (all female) who’s children attend the groups here. Rather than doing nothing whilst they wait on their children, this group was started. We head next to the junior choir, string group and then finally, the very cute and very talented children’s choir. The tutor tells us there are a high number of absences due to an event in a local area elsewhere however there are still around 30 children here. The children are so keen – we attend during their final half hour at 11.30am (they’ve been rehearsing since 9-ish) and they’re still full of energy and enthusiasm. We are treated to a rendition of various songs they’ve been working on. The tutor is fantastic and makes all the songs fun games for them. There’s quite a bit of drama activity involved in the singing also, including acting out various songs and even with all this going on, the tuning of the group is spot on.


As mentioned, the children come from all over the metropolitan area (which is the size of Belgium) to participate in these groups. Many come from extremely poor areas, and as an incentive for the parents to send them rather than have them work to earn money, SMC pay their metro/bus fares and also provide them with lunch before they leave (groups are 9am – 12pm). This feeding programme is kind of similar to the work that the charity Mary’s Meals do (shameless plug weaved in here for my husband’s charity!), albeit Mary’s Meals feeds everyday in a place of formal education, rather than an extra curricular programme (they feed almost 1 million children every day in a place of education in some of the worlds poorest communities across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean- do check them out http://www.marysmeals.org).

Back to SMC…I’m impressed by the standard of the groups, the joy from the pupils but most of all the commitment from everyone – the tutors, the pupils, the parents, the social pedagogs (social workers) and all the staff. Everyone involved in this organisation goes that extra mile to ensure that the children and young people are at the heart of the programme and developing both musically and socially as good citizens. Something we have as part of our Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland but here it is a very different process to achieve that goal.

My final activity for the day is to head to Sala São Paulo for the OSESP Concert. This is the first time I’ve heard the state symphony orchestra perform and I’m not disappointed – they are excellent. Funnily enough, the classical concerts are the only thing I’ve found in Brazil (both in Rio and SP) that start exactly on time (although this was pushed quite a few times in Rio!).  I’m amazed when I arrive to see this sign: 


It’s Saturday at 4.30pm and this is a standard season concert which has already been performed for the past two nights in the same place. I was told before I came that because it is Saturday late afternoon, the audience would be slightly older than the others I’d experienced, which is correct, however they’re still younger than our general audiences in the UK. The audience is more traditional in its approach to the music….there is no clapping during movements and polite clapping of the conductor as he arrives on the stage. There is though a standing ovation and some whooping after both the violin concerto (Patricia Kopatchinskaja playing Lindberg) and symphony (aptly it’s Mendelssohn’s No. 3 in A Minor…also known as the Scottish symphony!)


As I travel back to my hotel my day ends perfectly: my friends and family will attest to the fact that I’m a wedding obsessive (I think they thought it would end once I got married, which happened in December, but alas I’m still in love with weddings) and to my surprise, I stumble upon a couple getting their wedding pictures taken in the middle of Av. Paulista – a wonderful way to end a wonderful day.




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