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On the Road: Destination Cuba

Jackie Bein • Travel/Festivals • December 9, 2014

In the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana, Cuba, student musicians perspired in the tropical humidity combined with the heat of performance. 120 members of the band, which consists of three concert bands and two jazz ensembles, along with twenty parents and teachers, departed for Havana via Miami on April 10th, 2014 and returned on April 16th. What we saw, heard, and learned on our trip gave us a remarkable perspective on a corner of the world that is controversially regarded by the international community.On our first full day in Havana, we visited an elementary/middle school designed for students who want to pursue music. Applicants to the school go through a rigorous musical aptitude audition process. The students take music classes for half the day and academic classes for half the day, heavily focusing on music beginning at a very young age.

For members of GHS’ Jazz Ensemble, one of the highlights of the trip was a workshop with Yasek Manzano, a renowned trumpet player and composer. He is one of relatively few Cuban artists who have studied in the United States. The most memorable part of the trip was our exchange with the National Band of Cuba. This consisted of a rehearsal on our first day, and a joint concert the day before we left. Our experiences playing with both Yasek Manzano and the National Band of Cuba added a new dimension to watching them perform.

The bands also performed at La Castellana, a school and health facility for students with disabilities, and then watched La Castellana’s students in a dance performance. This event was one of the most meaningful parts of our trip. It pushed cultural, diplomatic, and language barriers aside and epitomized why we came to Cuba. I think the fact that we were there primarily for music gave us an especially unique outlook. In Cuba, quality music is embedded into every fold of society. I found that friendly people in an informal setting characterize the atmosphere in Cuba, and music is always a part of this image. 

Music is truly what brings people together there and greatly enhances the quality of life by creating a rich cultural tapestry, although there is a lack of basic resources. Despite the physical conditions of the country, Cuban society dedicates itself to producing amazing music, a testament to the power of art. Our six days in Cuba showed us that it’s not about giving a perfect performance in sparkling, velvet seated theatre; it’s about throwing ourselves into the joy that music brings us and appreciating that music has the power to unite two cultures.

TRAVEL DESTINATION: Cuba
SIZE OF ENSEMBLE: 120 musicians
DIRECTOR: John S. Yoon
SCHOOL: Greenwich High School
SCHOOL LOCATION: Greenwich, Conn.

Jackie Bein
Greenwich High School
Greenwich, Conn.

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