University of Rochester

Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Two Cultures. One Passion.



The University Chamber Orchestra is heading south this winter. The all-student ensemble will leave on December 29 and tour Chile for 10 days, performing in several cities, including in Santiago with a well-known Chilean youth orchestra, the Fundación de Orquestas Juveniles. The concert in Santiago on January 7 will be the first shared experience that the Chilean students will have with a foreign youth orchestra, according to Felipe Hidalgo Harris, conductor of the youth orchestra. Beyond the cultural exchange, Harris says, there’s another perk to visiting Chile in December: “It’s summer here now!” (Pictured: Leah Rankin ’10)

If music is the art of thinking with sound, then learning how to play a classical instrument at an early age can blaze open a pathway for passionate focus that may guide a lifetime. Ask any of the musicians who play in the University Chamber Orchestra, a group of 34 River Campus students with diverse majors ranging from English to brain and cognitive sciences. The group will be traveling to Chile this month to perform works by Beethoven, Mozart, Barber, and Copland.

“When you are in the practice room, by yourself, you must be strict and critical with yourself in a way no one else can be,” says cellist Leah Rankin ’10, a double major in English and music, before a recent orchestra rehearsal in Strong Auditorium. “Through repetition, you learn dedication and perfection—a good way to approach a lot of things in life that are important to you.”

“The training as a classical musician I received as a child now helps me in work and school since the discipline itself allows me to prioritize what is important to me, what I am truly passionate about,” adds violinist Alexandra Bozenhard ’09, a Simon School of Business graduate student who received her undergraduate degree in psychology and marketing. “Now that I am entering the workplace, I know how that training gave me the initiative to focus on what I really want. It was a great lifestyle to grow up with.”

Under the guidance of conductor David Harman, a professor in the Department of Music and director of orchestral activities, the all-student ensemble will leave on December 29 and tour Chile for 10 days, performing in Valparaiso and Paine, as well in Santiago with a well-known Chilean youth orchestra, the Fundación de Orquestas Juveniles (www.orquestajuvenil.cl/Youth), a national program sponsored in part by the Chilean government.

“Our students in orchestras here on the River Campus are people who do several things well—they are interested and interesting—and they are looking forward to performing concerts in Chile on their own, as well as with a first-rate high school orchestra in Santiago,” says Harman, who arranged the tour for the Chamber Orchestra last year with the help of the U.S. Embassy in Chile. 

“The amazing thing about Chile as a nation is that the people there view youth orchestras as a way of building their culture and creating personal discipline and thoughtfulness that help get us all through life on a number of levels,” says Harman, who is also conductor of the University’s Symphony Orchestra, which is comprised of professionals from all walks of life, including doctors, researchers, and artists. 

The Fundación de Orquestas Juveniles was patterned after Venezuela’s youth orchestra program, known as “el Sistema” or “the system,” founded to fight poverty through the discipline and passion derived from musical training. Through el Sistema, two-year-olds may start learning the basics, like rhythm, and the language of music. By the time they’re four, the children learn how to play an instrument. By the time the children are six- or seven-year-old veterans, they’re performing in classical orchestras. 

According to Sandra Perroni, the cultural liaison for the U.S. Embassy in Chile who assisted Harman with tour arrangements, classical orchestra programs in Chile are becoming widespread, primarily in lower-income neighborhoods and communities. There are currently 171 youth orchestras throughout Chile’s urban centers, small towns, and rural areas, she says.

“Youth orchestras teach students to read music, to understand the uses of silence, and to transmit feelings and emotions that go beyond the written page,” says Perroni. “It is widely held in Chile that children who develop proficiency on a musical instrument do better in school, exhibit higher levels of concentration, work together more effectively with others as a team, explore more opportunities to develop their talents, and contribute to their communities throughout their lives.”

The concert in Santiago on January 7 will be the first shared experience that the Chilean students will have with a foreign youth orchestra, says Fundación de Orquestas Juveniles conductor Felipe Hidalgo Harris. “Language barriers aside, this shared music experience will be something they will never forget and we will do our best to make sure it is one of the greatest experiences University of Rochester students will have in their lives,” says Harris. 

For Harman, while classical music education and appreciation in the United States may not be as strong as it was 50 years ago, there is a bottom line that remains clear, across cultural borders and class lines. “If you don’t practice, you don’t get better—it’s a simple but somehow difficult thing to learn in life,” says Harman, who is also the conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. “It is something anyone who genuinely loves music, who loves learning, knows in their heart to be truth.” 

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