Today was bittersweet. It was our last musical event of the trip. I think everyone was relieved to be done with all the appointments and workshops and all of that, but also sad to be nearing the end of our trip. We still have a full day tomorrow, but the day is totally unstructured and free. There is talk of shopping, sitting by the pool, “exploring,” and a few people trying to rent a boat and go out in the ocean. I have actively discouraging the boat thing, and I actually think renting a boat in Cuba is kind of difficult (which makes sense).
We started at a shop back at Morro Castle that sold cigars, coffee and rum. I think they bought coffee (no really, rum and cigars are illegal to import). Then we went to a large indoor market in Old Havana. The market was similar to a lot of things is Cuba. Cool, but a little touristy. There were a lots of aggressive vendors selling the same thing as another vendor five stalls down. But there were some nice things, and the kids will bring back some nice trinkets. There was a lot of beautiful artwork. There were definitely some original artists there that were more than competent. I didn’t get pictures, but I accidentally recorded 45 minutes of video of me and my wife walking through the art section.
After the market we had lunch on our own and then met up in the afternoon for a 5:00 concert with Vocal Luna, the group we did our first collaboration with. As with the Concert on Day Five, I was disappointed in the execution of things, but in the end it worked out.
The workshops here have been great, the people have been great, the choirs have been great, but the concerts were a big disappointment, and in some ways a little embarrassing. Once again, we had maybe twenty-five people in attendance, most of whom were people already hanging around for the workshops and rehearsals. There were a few professors from the conservatory, and a few music students, but that was about it. We are in a 500 year old city, with old, stunning churches, many, many state supported concert halls of varying size, and a city of 2-3 million. It couldn’t have been too difficult to either have a concert in one of the Old Havana churches with all the tourists walking in and out, or to arrange something in the evening, put up a few posters, and invite local music students. We prepared about 90 minutes worth of music, from memory, yet both of our concerts lasted about on hour, which included 4-5 tunes from the host choir and one or two combined tunes, and a set of our music. More than half our rep we never got to sing. Plus, our concerts were at 3:00 on a Thursday and 5:00 on a Saturday. Hey Cuba, how about 8:00 any night of the week?
Sorry. In the end it wasn’t about the concerts. And I know that. And we have had an incredible time. We will remember this experience for the rest of our lives. And even the concerts were great in their own way. We shared an experience with the host choirs, and the small audiences loved us and were incredibly responsive. But from a professional perspective, they were a let down. I don’t think there was a single kid who felt bad about the concerts, which is really the most important part. That’s why I haven’t raised much of a stink.
As you have surmised, this concert was pretty much the same as the concert on Thursday. Almost no audience, but the folks that were there were incredibly receptive. The venue was the same place we had our workshops with Vocal Luna and Coro Exaudi. Vocal Luna sang six beautiful songs, then we did about six.
The soloists in City Called Heaven were all graduating seniors. Very cool.
Then we sang Guantanamera and Walk in Jerusalem together. I also acknowledged the students who were graduating or moving on. It’s always sad to see students leave, but there is always a “last time” when you sing in a choir. So we sadly said goodbye to our seniors, and wished them well in whatever is next.
After the concert there was a lot of hugging and cheek kissing (Cubans always kiss on the cheek) as a greeting and a goodbye. Wilmia (the director of Vocal Luna) was very complimentary and I think I have a new friend. I got my hugs in with the students who are graduating, and after a good thirty minutes we went of to change and then dinner.
At dinner in Old Town Havana, we also said thank you to our drivers and tour guides. They were so wonderful. Each one was funny, kind, thoughtful, and incredibly helpful. I think we all feel as if we have made new friends, and we will be sad when we have to say goodbye to them a final time on our departure day.
Tomorrow is a free day. Niki and I are off to try to find some of her family who live in a suburb of Havana. Jane, our guide from Harmony International, will be hanging around the hotel for the time that Niki and I will be gone (just a few hours in the morning), and will have cell phone numbers to get in touch with us if there are problems.
More to come soon.