Teaching Chamber Music in Colombia

Michael Kroth, associate professor of bassoon and associate dean of undergraduate studies in the MSU College of Music, recently returned from Colombia, where he was in residence at the 2012 Medellín Festicámara.

Kroth (far left) was one of 24 international musicians who provided instruction in chamber music performance to more than 100 Medellín youth. Over the course of the week, Kroth taught group and private lessons and led master classes and workshops. A smaller group of students and teachers from La Red de Escuelas de Música de Medellín (Network of Schools of Music in Medellín) received more intensive instruction and performed side-by-side in a series of concerts with the visiting musicians.

The program, in its second year, was based at the Hotel y Parque Ecológico Piedras Blancas in Santa Elena.

The Network of Schools of Music in Medellin, a program of the City of Medellín, was created in 1996 to strengthen the city’s cultural sector through the training of children and young people in music. It is operated in partnership with the University of Antioquia.

"The students involved with the Festicámara are so talented and genuine," Kroth says.

"They have had to find ways to succeed in difficult living conditions, without playable instruments, access to quality teaching, and absolutely no money for reeds and tools. They are all so dedicated to their music. Many of them walk miles to get to the schools to practice only to find out that the instrument that they must share is already being used by another student, so they wait for their turn. The government here in Medellín is working hard to improve the culture and safety of its people, however the students still have to travel back and forth to the school through dangerous areas. Some have been victims of physical violence and abduction.

"One of the most remarkable things I have seen is a student scraping a reed with the sharp edge of a broken credit card. There are no reed knives here. I couldn't believe how well they were doing. I tried to scrape with a credit card and was not even mildly successful! I opened up my reed box, which holds 12 reeds, and one of the bassoon students made an audible gasp and said something that I needed to have translated. The translation was 'You are so rich! You have years of reeds in one box.'

"After just three days, I saw amazing transformations in these students. By simply making a playable reed for them, showing them the correct fingerings, fixing a broken instrument, and doing some side-by-side playing, they have been able to better realize their true potential. The smiles from these students when they are able to do something they had no chance of doing a moment before is truly inspiring.

"They have shown us a thing or two, as well. We have been shown the stunning beauty of this place, tasted the delicious fruits of the region, and even experienced real salsa dancing! As far as the dancing goes, I had much better success scraping a reed with a broken credit card!

"If I take only one memory of this place back with me it will be this: working with a translator can make a conversation with someone seem a bit disconnected, so, following a two-hour masterclass with many student performers and a translator translating every word in both directions, one student came up to me and said in perfect English, 'Michael, thank you. Thank you.'"


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