One of the young musicians from Zaachila. One of the young musicians from Zaachila.

Amid violence and poverty, there’s music in the air

Unlikely dream of a music school comes true in a Oaxaca town

A priest, a musician and a French pilot have helped children from an impoverished and violence-stricken community in Oaxaca to realize the unlikely dream of opening a music school in their town.

The process began in 2011 when a group of youngsters from the town of Zaachila, located on the outskirts of the state capital next to the municipal dump, asked Father José Rentería to help them find a way to study music.

In turn, the Catholic priest called a musician who had recently moved to Oaxaca city to enlist his support for a project that would help the children forge a better future.

“Father José proposed opening a space so that the kids weren’t wandering the streets, he was worried about the violence,” Camerino López Manzano told the newspaper El Universal.

“. . . I’d never given group classes but we started with 20 children. We were in a borrowed house without chairs or a blackboard. The first thing I did was give them a solfège [singing] class because that’s what I was taught when I was a boy . . . We needed instruments but nobody could buy them so we started to improvise with what we had: chairs, hoses, nozzles, things like that, inventing [instruments] so that we could play,” he explained.

Soon after, the children’s luck changed when Air France pilot Isabelle de Boves arrived in Zaachila to visit her aunt, who told her about the humble music school.

“She told me there was a group of children who wanted to form a band and that they met up after school to study solfège, but they didn’t have any instruments. I went to meet them and they had stars in their eyes. I heard them say: ‘I’m going to play the trumpet.’ I was touched by the excitement I saw in them,” she said.

When she returned to France, de Boves started to collect unwanted instruments from her friends, colleagues and acquaintances and shortly after sent a first shipment back to Oaxaca.

“Within two weeks of meeting Isabelle, the first batch of used instruments arrived. That’s how this adventure started,” López recalled.

From its modest beginning, there are now 100 children aged between seven and 15 who attend the Santa Cecilia Musical Initiation School under the tutelage of López and four other teachers.

Local parents and musicians also contribute to the organization and teaching of the school’s programs, which include classes for string and woodwind instruments.

In 2014, the Air France Foundation — which provides funding for charitable projects aimed at education for children — contributed half the funds needed to buy a plot of land for a new school. The local community provided the other half through their own fundraising efforts.

The foundation also largely funded the construction, de Boves explained.

Since its first year, the school orchestra has played several concerts in Oaxaca and Puebla, exhibiting the developed musical talents of the school’s students.

However, none has been as high-profile or prestigious as two performances it will give this week in collaboration with the Air France Choir, an 80-strong ensemble of which de Boves is also a member.

The first concert will be held Thursday at the National Arts Center (Cenart) in Mexico City followed by a second recital Saturday at the Macedonio Alcalá Theater in Oaxaca.

Funds raised from both performances — featuring traditional songs from Oaxaca as well as classics by composers such as Beethoven and Johann Straus — will go towards building an extension of the school on another recently purchased site.

“We’re very nervous, we’ve worked a lot so that everything goes well. They’re very difficult pieces for us,” Camerino said.

For de Boves, who has been instrumental not only in helping get the school off the ground but also in obtaining the continued support that has allowed it to grow and prosper, the two performances will be a great source of pride and satisfaction.

“They told me I was crazy. Everything seemed impossible. I don’t know whether we can attribute it to the school but in that community, people are allowed to dream now,” she said.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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