Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Morning Colours

I did not expect my day to be an immersion experience in local politics. I unexpectedly found myself involved in lobbying and appealing to 'National Assembly' members, and still am unsure as to what I was actually advocating for. Maya had been told to show up for a special concert at 11:15 today. This is unusual, in that the orchestra ordinarily meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 3:30 to 5:30 and has had concerts during that time or in the evening. I was not comfortable with Maya taking more time away from school, but I agreed to pick her up from school at 10:30 AM to make it to her rehearsal. I was far south in the city checking out a volunteer position at CENIT, which is a half hour Trole ride from the Diez de Agosto station, which is another half hour walk from our apartment, while Maya's school (Alberto Einstein) is in Carcelen, a long Trole and taxi ride to the north of Quito.

I was surprised how easy and straightforward the Trole ride was, and how delightful the topography of the southern part of Quito was. There were hills and ravines and parks and greenery along the way, and we passed through the Centro Historico, which is always a delight. I never go to the south, because it is the poorer part of the city and reputed to be unsafe for gringos. CENIT is located in the midst of one of the more disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and I was reassured that it was easy to get to and from. To pick up Maya, I took the Trole to its very last stop in the north and jumped in a taxi for the last part of the trip. I am getting to know the fares to and from school and could see that the cab's taximetro was altered and decided to go ahead and pay double the fare rather than dispute the cost. Later I was lectured by another taxista about entering a taxi that does not have an orange sticker labeling it as a legitimate rather than illegal taxi. I did get into an illegal taxi to get to orchestra practice, and his taximetro was working accurately, although he drove us very slowly and went down Amazonas instead of continuing down Diez de Agosto (as I had instructed him). I have learned to be very precise about what routes to take when I enter a cab, otherwise longer and more inconvenient routes are taken which increase the fare, either consciously on behalf of the driver, or not.

Being Ecuador, once we got to FOSJE (Fundacion Orquestra Sinfonica Juvenil de Ecuador) we were obliged to wait (and wait) for the arrival of our very important guests. I called Amparo, with whom I had a 1:00 PM appointment, and canceled when I realized that our 12:00 noon concert would be significantly delayed. I had time to run across Carolina Park to choose a change of clothes for Maya ( which she chose not to wear). When the guests finally arrived, all three orchestras played one or two pieces each, and fiery speeches were made before and between and after each performance. Both parents and musicians were very interested in the comments about the 'Ley de la Cultura'. Correa is keen on changing everything in Ecuador (this is his revolution!). FOSJE is now part of the Department of Education, but the government has proposed that the organization become part of the Ministry of Culture. The concern of the parents and professors of music at FOSJE is that the teaching program at FOSJE will not survive the change in departments. I learned later that the proposed changes may be a good thing for the professional musicians, who do not have contracts or health insurance currently, which they will have if they are part of the department of education.

Each of the orchestras performed their pieces twice and quite wonderfully, accommodating different assembly members who came to visit and make speeches. I had thought that Maya would miss a couple of hours of school, but when finally free, it was too late to return her to Carcelen.

I tried to follow the speechmaking, but when confused, I asked the woman sitting beside me (whose child was in the orchestra) what the change in the law of Culture would mean for the children, and she was adamant that FOSJE would not survive the revision of departments. Most of the children in the orchestra study 11 hours weekly of music theory, solfage, instrument lessons and orchestra, all at no cost to them. The program is much like 'La Sistema' in Venezuela, focusing on providing children of all means the opportunity to learn an instrument and become professional musicians. The program is wildly successful in Venezuela and appears to be working well in Ecuador. My neighbour was concerned that with the change in the law, the government would fire all the teachers involved at FOSJE and replace them with Cubans (lately, the bogeyman in Ecuador is either Columbian or Cuban) , the idea being that native Ecuadorians do not have the skill or knowledge to teach the students.

So the concert was designed as an effort to show the assembly members how effective and successful the orchestras are and to encourage them to advocate for the FOSJE orchestras and not change a program that is clearly working.

I read in 'El Comercio' today that the conservatory based orchestra (rival to the philharmonic) has folded for now and have canceled all their concerts. I asked Karin, Maya's violin teacher and a member of the philharmonic orchestra, whether these events had anything to do with the change in the law, and my understanding was that perhaps they do. The conductor of the orchestra was Swiss, and his contract was not renewed (because he was not Ecuadorian?). His assistant conductor is Andrea Vela, whom Maya auditioned for in September (we chose FOSJE over the conservatory orchestra simply because the practice times were more appropriate for Maya's schedule), and although she is a good conductor (studied at Peabody as well as other schools in the US), she is not as experienced as her predecessor and my understanding is that some conservatory musicians objected to the sacking of their former conductor (there may have been a mutiny!). There were rumours that some musicians were planning to sabotage the concert scheduled for this evening, as a means of protest, which is why the concert was canceled.

President Correa rails about his 'revolution', which means (for Correa) change (improvement?) in all aspects of life in Ecuador. The students at the universities and public schools have been protesting regularly against the proposed laws ( once again my neighbour informed me that the government is questioning the value of Ecuadorian run institutions and wants to institute changes that will improve the quality of education). Correa is also introducing free and accessible health care for everyone in the country (which is also controversial --who will pay for it?).

Maya and I arrived home after four hours of waiting, rehearsing and playing. I am not sure how effective our lobbying effort was, or if she or any of the children had any idea what the point of the concert was. She likes playing in the orchestra and has much to talk about with her musician friends, who are all enthusiastic about the orchestra and their conductor, and happy to miss a day of school.

We came home in time to skype my father and wish him Happy Birthday (his official birthdate is today!) and marvel at his 90 years and his continued good health. I hope I can live that long and healthfully!

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