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Life skills through music: A gift beyond music from Venezuela to Peru

(Hannah) Screenshot from Christmas Conce

Screenshot from the Christmas Concert, Gran Teatro Nacional del Perú, available from Youtube.

On 18 December 2020, on International Migrants Day, 75 musicians of the Roraima Phil Orchestra and the Peruvian Bicentenary Youth Orchestra gathered in Lima to offer a Christmas concert with a repertoire of Peruvian, Venezuelan and international carols. This year’s concert, prepared and broadcast online due to the pandemic, was inspired by previous events organised by the Roraima Phil Orchestra, a Venezuelan migrant ensemble, in the capital city of Peru. 


The idea behind the concert was to build bridges and honour the friendship between migrants and host communities. I interviewed four members of the orchestra and the Peruvian-Venezuelan Cultural Association to discover that this meant more than mobilising musicians for a concert. These migrants are using their knowledge, networks, and skills to build a better society in the country that has hosted them.


What these musicians have in common is that they grew up in the orchestra system of Venezuela. This is a non-profit initiative that aims to promote values and social change through learning music. Since its foundation in 1975 by the musician and educator Jose Antonio Abreu, it has grown to cover the Venezuelan territory with a network of instructors and study groups. With state and private sponsorship, it has provided an alternative for children from all backgrounds to commit their lives and efforts to culture, keeping them away from crime or substance abuse.


The virtuous scheme is simple: students start learning in a small group in a town before moving on to local, provincial, or national orchestras through a mixture of discipline and talent. Through the process, they develop their skills and help others develop theirs. 


This was the case of Ivan, who, before migrating to Peru, was part of the two leading orchestras including the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, which lends its name to the current designation of the network, ‘Simon Bolivar Musical Foundation’.


Ivan acknowledges the positive impact that music has had in his life and in the lives of many students and colleagues. He believes that the life skills he acquired learning music – such as patience and the ability to plan his own time and resources – helped him overcome the difficulties of migrating and work his way into the Peruvian National Orchestra. ‘When you start as a child you realise you have to be organised to balance school work and doing music.’ Ivan wants to continue sharing this love of music along with values, such as perseverance and focus, with people in Peru. He believes that music should not be for the few but something coming from and returned to the people.


Catherine, the president of the Peruvian-Venezuelan Cultural Association, tells us that with the concert they aspired to give back to a society that has welcomed them. In her case, she is among those who have two nationalities after migrating to Venezuela in the 1980s and returning to Peru in the last few years. She spent the last two years strengthening and looking for funding for the Association. While all instruction work is done pro-bono, the maintenance of tools and instruments can be onerous. Catherine believes that ‘our gift is this set of skills and values; the music is the wrapping’.


Carlos, the manager of the association, tells us that this is more about giving back to society and imbuing in children certain skills such as discipline, respect, responsibility, teamwork. ‘It is possible to play music on your own, but if you want to play with others, you have to coordinate, set apart some time for your practice, be punctual… when you play with other people vibration and emotion guide you… All this you learn through music and they are skills that stay with you even if you decide to study something else’. 


Pablo, a member of the association’s choir, arrived in Peru three years ago. He believes that besides the discipline imbued by the practice of music, singing improved his capacity to express himself and to relate with people from diverse backgrounds. Singing improves lung capacity, vocalisation, and enunciation; and the interpretation of roles helps people put themselves in someone else's shoes. ‘When you sing with other people your body reacts to vibration, this has been one of the challenges of practising online during lockdowns: you can’t reproduce the body feedback’. The Association’s choir gathers 40 singers from Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba and is an example of what you can achieve in a supportive multicultural environment. 


The Association has expanded to other areas of performing arts. By the end of 2021, they plan to show Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker involving the choir, orchestra and ballet. That would be another token of what can be done working together, beyond all the invisible hard work of disseminating values and transforming society through music and arts.

If you feel the Christmas spirit still lingering or are partial to concerts, I invite you to listen to the Christmas Concert: A Gift from Migrants, which is available here.

You can contact the Association through their Facebook site.

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Javier Ormeno

With a philosophy background, Javier got involved in humanitarian action around the globe, working for the Red Cross Movement between 2008 and 2019. His MA in Human Rights (UCL) was an opportunity to reconnect with academia and articulate his experience. His research links arts and justice (including transitional justice, LGBT+, migration rights, and identity). Besides being involved with the Theatre of Transformation, he is Research Tutor for Diplo Foundation. His interest in performance and pottery seems to be somehow related to his self-declared addiction to matcha.

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