After lunch on Day Three we all hopped on our buses and took a twenty-five minute bus ride to La Escuela Guillermo Tomás, a school age music conservatory. It was deep into the neighborhood of Guanabacoa outside of Havana. We drove through narrow streets and alleys to get to the school.
The school itself was very old and crumbling, but also bustling. There is no AC in the school at all, just fans and open windows. The students we were scheduled to sing for range from upper high school to middle elementary age.
As you can see from my use of the past tense, the schedule didn’t work out exactly as we had planned it. As we got closer to the school we noticed another tour bus had slipped between our bus in the back and the leading bus. When we arrived, the mysterious bus opened up and began spilling high school age, American-looking kids holding instruments. Mass confusion erupted, as our guides, my wife, and the school officials tried to make sense of the situation, in Spanish. There was lots of “para bara usted con blah blah blah!!” spoken really fast, over and over, with arms flailing in the air. It turns out that somewhere along the way, we were double booked with a Canadian high school jazz band! They loaded all their gear into the school and set up, while we continued to talk to the school representative. Our guides were annoyed that the schedule, confirmed multiple times with multiple people, wasn’t as promised. I offered that it was much more important that the high school kids from Canada get a good experience, than for my college kids. I said that our kids would be just as happy to have an afternoon off. It’s all about the kids, right?
Well, as soon as I offered to concede, the school officials said (in Spanish) “no, no, no, don’t worry about it. We will combine things and it will be good for everyone.” Or something like that. So we tromped up two flights of dark, muggy stairs to what must’ve been the band room. There had to have been 120 people crammed into a very small room. Oh, and it was easily 90 degrees in the room. It was sort of chaos.
So I said to the organizer (again, through my wife), “look, we’re going to sing two pieces (dos piezas), and then get out of here.” It was too much, with all those people in that room, and the last thing I wanted to do was to ruin things for the high school band. So we sang “Daniel, Servant of the Lord” and “Chan-Chan” (our second of three times today). After each song the Cuban kids erupted with screams and applause. They went crazy! I actually felt bad for for the band, but at that point I was just ready to get out. We gave a big bow, piled on the bus, and were out.
After the chaos of the school gig we needed a little down time, so we went back to the hotel for some much needed rest. After that it was dinner at restaurant Tocororo.
Well, Tocororo was another out of this world experience. It started off pretty normally. Appetizer, pineapple juice, etc. We filled most of the restaurant, but there were about four tables with some folks from maybe England or Ireland. After about 15 minutes a small jazz group took the stage right by our two largest tables. The group had piano, tenor sax, trombone, two percussion, bass, and two female singers. It started off slowly, but they were a real hoot. They worked the crowd, coming down off the stage for solos, dancing with the students, hamming it up, and just playing really, really well. Think Copa Cabana-type jazz.
After thirty minutes or so of building musical intensity, what should they start playing but…you guessed it…Chan-Chan! Well the kids couldn’t resist, and started belting out the words at the top of their lungs. Everyone really got into it. After the band performed Chan-Chan, they played a few more tunes. Dinner was mostly over, and was getting pretty raucous. I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was one of the singers. She apparently knew we were a choir, and asked that we sing for them! The result of that request is the video you see below.
I’m done writing for today. Tomorrow we travel to Matansas for a collaboration and a few hours at the beach. I can’t promise I’ll be able to update tomorrow, but I will try. Your kids are all safe and sound, and really having a life-altering experience. Thanks to everyone who has helped to make this trip happen.