Julia and I spent the day meeting and working with Orquesta Barrio Ludueña on the outskirts of Rosario, Argentina. [ reference drug crime increase in Rosario over past 10 yrs ] They have 180 kids from shanty towns playing stringed instruments, 15 string teachers, and a remarkably organized system for distributing instrument. They are also in significant need. All the stuff we talked about at the concerts is taking place here on a grand scale, in real time. They talked about the barrios, which are hard and violent places, becoming more peaceful as a result of the orchestra getting kids to play together. "Some of the adolescents who are in the orchestra do still get assassinated, but this is happening much less," was one of the director's way of putting it. The kids are staying in school longer, because they want to keep working with the orchestra, and are doing much better on tests. When a violin arrives in a family, there is a kind of coherence around the whole thing, and a level of community involvement created that is changing the face of some of the roughest and poorest neighborhoods hereabouts. They have a means based rental system as well, so each kid with an instrument has the whole family kicking in to help them keep it. "Makes it real easy to get everyone to practice and keep the instruments in good shape."
We went through the Rosario minister of culture, his head underling, some other minister, and finally to the local Mayor of the Barrio who got us an appointment with the orchestra head and the personnel at the municipality responsible for providing structure and funds and helping to take care of the instruments. We spent the afternoon going through their collection, which is in for the Christmas holiday to be assessed and inventoried. We straightened bridges, fixed pegs, and did a lot of basics to get things in order. The instruments are 90's chinese, very rough but useable, and they definitely get used well. Their great need is for strings, and I am writing to Fan Tao who is the director of orchestral string development at D'addario (also a friend and a colleague). His company just came up with a new student line and I will ask for them to donate a bunch to this program through TOS. They need bows badly, but most of the instruments can be made to work at a passable level. What they also need is better instruments for their better students, who are growing in number each year. A standard SNOW chinese student fiddle outfit would be a huge improvement for them and a good fit for this program. On our next trip we plan to teach a three day workshop to all of the teachers and staff, so they can do much of their own maintenance. They also want me to see a local luthier and some carpenters who do work for them to bring them up to speed with some of the finer stuff which I will start on tomorrow. We are also making a short video for the teachers now, to show them how to change strings and straighten bridges, which will sort out many sound problems and make a huge improvement for them.
The program is awesome, and they were more than surprised that some Blancito fell out the sky and started fixing instruments on the spot alongside Julia the Rosarina. They are also remarkably well organized, run a clean and tight ship and would be a good program for us to work with. Again, just for confirmation that what we are doing has a major impact on people's lives this place is dynamic proof. They made a film about it that we are going to watch tonight, and I will have more news tomorrow. I will also send you a copy of the film as soon as I leave argentina I must say, I am incredibly proud and happy to be here doing this. It feels amazing, and you are both the backbone that has made it all possible. I am grateful to you both, for being an essential part of what happened in the badlands of the barrio today. Also, the people involved were just so enthusiastic and happy. They were excellent to simply be in the same room with.
I am attaching a photo they gave me. Today there was little in the way of photo ops, mostly us meeting at a table drinking maté in a run down municipal building and then fixing instruments under florescent lights, but there will be other opportunities when we are working on site in the schools.
For our international angle, this is a very good place to start. We can communicate easily, the place is very well set up and has a structure in place, a solid history, hundreds of kids and a waiting list to get an instrument, well documented effects on the community, the kids educations, and the levels of violence hereabouts etc. We also have good backup here, transportation, people in the Marie who can help get things through any red tape as well.