Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

El Camino Project

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

El Camino Project

Article excerpt

WITH THE LATEST ELECTION CAMPAIGN UPROAR about Mexican immigrants, the U.S. mainstream media may be paying attention to their political clout, but generally not to the contributions of Latinos to the civic culture of the Americas.

When the U.S. media does pay attention to Latin American or Latino cultural life, they most often overlook the genre of classical music. Indeed, in the United States, audience attendance at classical music concerts is at an all-time low. Yet the opposite is true in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Which makes what happens when Americans hear-really hear - classical music, especially that of Latin America, all the more miraculous. We believe, in fact, we know that the traditional and classical music of Latin America can help American communities avoid the pernicious impact of negative stereotypes. And we have launched a new initiative this year at Harvard and in California with a mission to prove exactly that.

El Camino Project merges our experience as performers, educators, producers, and advocates with our combined experience of what it means to be Mexicans, Latinos and Americans. We are taking that combination on the road-literally and figuratively-to rebuild a new awareness of Latino culture for a broad audience. The road of our choosing is El Camino Real-the ancient highway linking two continents and hundreds of cultures. It will serve as the central artery of our efforts, providing history, ideas and music-the lifeblood of culture-to map and guide our efforts.

The path of our collaboration disregards current notions of presenting traditional music in the usual way (in a large hall, with a large orchestra, on a large stage, in front of a tiny audience) in favor of the troubador's approach-taking the stories and music of our heritage on the road with intimate salons or community gatherings. Our "artesanía de acción" combines elements of surprise, production and entertainment value with thoughtful curation of the Latin American classical and heritage genres and a soupçon of wit and old-fashioned parlor gossip. This paradigm is closer to forum theatre than to traditional concert presentation. The result?

The result is what we call the "I Had No Idea" effect upon an audience and community. "I see people's faces change during performances," says Dirlikov. "First one, then a couple more, then it's like the whole room suddenly lights up."

"They're all thinking, 'I had no idea,'" Davison Avilés adds. "I had no idea that Latin America had composers of classical music. Or, I had no idea Latinos performed classical music. Or, I had no idea the music is so beautiful, ethereal, transformative- all adjectives we have heard after one of our salons."

"Actually in the United States there was one person who had an idea," says another of our collaborators, Marisa Canales, founder and principal of Urtext, Mexico's leading classical music label. "Leonard Bernstein."

In his time, Bernstein innovated the popularization of classical music with lively presentations for young people, and filmed lectures that were equally entertaining and educational. He also knew and loved the music and people of Latin America-his wife, Felicia Montealegre, was born in Costa Rica and grew up in Chile. Through her, and his travels in Mexico and South America, he achieved a deep understanding of the power of its culture.

The idea for El Camino Project arose not with Leonard Bernstein-although it might very well have done-but with a policy conference a little more than a year ago. The White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics joined forces with the Mexican Heritage Corporation, Pixar Animation Studios, arts educators, curators and acclaimed international performing artists to discuss creating access to music education for Latino youth.

The two of us met at this conference (Dirlikov is an opera singer and Davison Avilés is a San Francisco-based impresario and arts advocate). …

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