Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Morning Cadences Soothe Cuban Patients Private Havana Orchestra Plays at the Expense of Cash-Strapped Communist Regime

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Morning Cadences Soothe Cuban Patients Private Havana Orchestra Plays at the Expense of Cash-Strapped Communist Regime

Article excerpt

A listless cymbal player clanged the beat as the Havana Psychiatric Hospital's own private, 115-member symphonic orchestra performed the "Spanish Military March" to an audience of four hospital gardeners.

The sparse showing was nothing new to the orchestra, which plays every Tuesday and Friday morning. The crew of mostly elderly men has been booming and squeaking everything from war marches to American show tunes since it began performing soon after Fidel Castro's bearded rebels seized power here in 1959.

The hospital orchestra was once a proud symbol of the revolution's progressive idealism and quixotic defiance of "bourgeois" norms.

Now the lagging cadences and empty benches seem to mirror this communist society's current state of slumberous resignation. Beneath a specially built portico whose sallow paint has seen brighter days, the half-absent orchestra churns out tinny tunes on old, dented instruments and follows brittle handwritten music sheets. Some players doze off during the three-hour performances' frequent intermissions.

"Even if they don't come to watch, the patients pass by all the time," says Rolando Valdes, a psychologist and hospital administrator. "This is part of their therapy. It's a way for them to feel good."

The unconventional treatment also comes at the expense of the severely cash-strapped Communist-run government, whose scant resources prevent it from providing sufficient supplies to the island's 280 hospitals and other necessities to the government- dependent population of 11 million.

The full-time orchestra, with its own administrator, conductor, and team of technicians pays its players above-average salaries. "Yes, the money could go elsewhere," says Juan Morell, a baritone saxophonist, who has been playing with the aggregation since it began shortly after the revolution. "But I think it's a good thing. …

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