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Working with Sinfonía por la Vida in Ecuador

By Albert Hunt
March 6, 2019

(Editor’s note: Several FMMC members have been volunteering in Ecuador, bringing music to impoverished students. What follows is a description of their recent experience.)

The worst thing was the flight. Delayed two hours at Dulles, we had to literally run to make the connection. But it was worth it when we deplaned in lovely Quito, a world heritage city. The next day, we flew to Esmeraldas, an Afro-Ecuadorian city nestled by the Pacific Ocean.

On Monday, November 26, the work began in the Esmeraldas branch of Sinfonía por la Vida. Bonnie Cohen worked with the strings, Lauren Hunt with the brass and celli, and I worked with the woodwinds and the other teachers. In our spare time, Lauren and I prepared the orchestra to play concertos in the culminating concert, while Bonnie worked her heart out repairing the string instruments.

It is difficult to describe how rewarding it is to work with these students. Esmeraldas is a city inundated by the effects of poverty, but the children constantly reveal their love for, and dedication to, music. They are hungry to learn more, and their immediate and continuing growth during the week was beyond remarkable. Also remarkable was the sense of community; students were continually helping each other to understand the musical concepts we were introducing.

Esmeraldas is a city inundated by the effects of poverty, but the children constantly reveal their love for, and dedication to, music.

On Saturday, we were all excited about the concert. The students were completely focused and played with total enthusiasm.

There is much to love about the experience, but the lack of resources is also obvious. Most of the instruments are in dire need of repair or replacement. (Big kudos to Bonnie Cohen, who spent many extra hours repairing the string instruments.) Another big need is for more teachers. Currently, the students take lessons and play in the orchestra, but they really need to start a wind band. As most of you know, winds tend to play in flat keys and strings in sharp keys. In US schools, full orchestras of winds, strings, and percussion happen in a few high schools, but in Esmeraldas, these young musicians are thrown together almost at the very beginning. It is my ambition, and the ambition of Edison Gualotuña, the conservatory director, to add a wind band so the students can progress more rapidly. There are many other needs, but in my opinion, this is the most important.

Every time I go to Ecuador, I come back inspired by the students. It is so wonderful to be a part of their learning, and I appreciate the opportunity to share the experience with you.

Albert Hunt is the Program Director of FMMC; violist Bonnie Cohen is an FMMC member; and Lauren Hunt is a winner of the FMMC high school string competition.