Today was another interesting day. It all worked out in the end (in spanish, resolvér is the national term for “it got all messed up, but we worked it out.” They apparently say resolvér all the time here). We had another wonderful exchange, and a little bit of down time. It was the perfect balance of structured and free time.
I apologize about the videos being blocked from yesterday’s post. Uploading is a little bit of a pain. It is doubly difficult because internet access is so limited. Granted, I have it much better than most Cubans because I actually have access, and can afford it (about $5 an hour), but I must purchase internet access one hour at a time. They sell these little scratch cards at the front desk of the hotel that allow for internet access for one hour. You scratch off the silver covering, just like a lottery ticket (I won!), and then enter some codes into your browser. Not exactly primitive, but not super easy either. Speeds in the lobby are decent, though I get no connection at all in my room. So if something gets messed up, I can’t just hop on and correct it.
Food has been interesting too. It’s generally not very good. It’s not horrible, though there have been some close calls. Regular Cubans just don’t have access to the same quantity and quality of ingredients that we do. Also, in Havana especially, they know that we are comparatively well off. So the prices tend to be high. A few of our earlier lunches were 15 CUCs (CUCs, pronounced “kooks,” are the currency that is issued to foreigners. It’s a fixed exchange rate, and is not recognized internationally as a currency. So it’s worthless outside of Cuba. It’s about 85 CUCs per $100 dollars). That’s way too much…it’s more than we were told we’d need from the tour company, and just all around way too much. We talked to our guides and they helped us find cheaper places. Turns out there are a number of cheap, decent places within two blocks of our hotel. It’s interesting to note that 15 CUCs is roughly a months wage for the average Cuban.
We started our day in the same place the we had our clinic with Vocal Luna. Here we met with one of the more well known choirs in Cuba, Coro Exaudi. Their director, María Felicia Pérez, was really great. She is one of the most respected conductors in Cuba, and is well know around the world. She knows my friends and former teachers Bruce Browne and André Thomas.
We did the usual we sing, you sing thing. I don’t think the choral directors are used to the “clinic” or “masterclass” thing that we do in the US. Usually, when there is an exchange with two choirs and two different conductors, especially if they are from different cultures or have different areas of expertise, the directors will work on the pieces within their own areas of expertise that the other choir is singing. The idea is that one sings, say, a spiritual, and then the person with the most expertise in spirituals works with the group a little on the style, pronunciation, etc. Then, the roles get reversed. That way you are really “exchanging” ideas, concepts, etc. But none of our clinics have so far really worked out that way. It’s mostly been the we sing/you sing variety. The Cubans really love spirituals and gospel, and if I was one of their directors, I would really love for an American to help me on the style, so I could get it more authentic. But I think there’s a different approach here. I certainly want them to tell me how we could improve what we are doing with our Cuban piece.
So, after a bit of back and forth, and a lot of discussion of what we will do and how and the usual large group of people standing in a circle waiving their arms and talking fast trying to figure things out, we actually got María to give us a few comments on Chan-chan. She is a very passionate conductor, and you can see that music really flows through her and excites her. When I’ve talked with other directors here, the conversation was more “who are you where are you from, etc,” but for María, it as always “I love this piece, the lines are so lyrical, and it expresses sadness and beauty, but to do it right you must do it this way, etc.” It was great to have those kind of discussions with someone local, and of her musical background. She gave some nice comments and correct a few little things here and there.
After the clinic we went back to the hotel to change for our 3:00 Concert. Well, we were told it was 3:00, but it was actually supposed to be at 4:00. So, change of plans…no biggie…we will resolvér it! When we arrived at the concert “venue” this is what we found:
As you can see, we are in a tiny lobby.
Our “audience” was tiny…it was basically the workers in the building that we were singing in. A few invited folks, but really, just some random people. María Felicia was, I found out later, very embarrassed.
Our tour leaders also told us later on that they were ashamed and frustrated by the venue. It was also wicked hot:
But here’s the thing…it’s sort of what makes all the schedule changes and revisions and miscommunications we’ve had to deal with on the tour OK…the Cuban audiences are really, really great. They are so enthusiastic and appreciative. They clap vigorously, hoot and holler, tap their feet along, and just have fun. Despite the awful venue, it was quite a nice little concert. The audience loved it, and the kids left feeling like they’d done well and were appreciated.
If you are thinking of going to Cuba, you have to be willing to endure last minute inconveniences, plan changes, and a general lack of really knowing what is going on. For some of the more uber-organized of us, this could be really hard. But if you can let go, and not get too worked up when things don’t go exactly as you were told, the musical experiences and interaction with the Cuban people are truly unique. If you have to have your tour planned down to the minute six months in advance, do not go to Cuba. Go somewhere else, like Sweden or Germany. But if you can roll with it, a visit here is worth it. I know that these kids will never forget the trip.
There were somewhere around 10-15 students who had expressed reservations about spending as much much money as we did for the trip. I’ve already spoken too a few of them who have said, “thank you so much for encouraging me to come on this trip. It has been incredible so far. I’m really glad I didn’t back out,” or something to that effect. That really makes me happy.
Dinner that night was at an Italian restaurant in Old Havana. I say “Italian” because we had spaghetti with red sauce (quite possibly just Ragu), and a “pizza” with corn on it. Yup. Corn. But we did get this great shot of our guide Janet (YAH-net) mimicking my dancing during Chan-Chan:
Day Six is Old Havana and Morro Castle.