Thursday, May 16, 2013

Playing for a Future


By Christine Rushton
May 16, 2013

HAVANA, Cuba– Lifting the horsehair bow to the taut strings of her violin, the 15-year-old Cuban girl began to perform. She played without sheet music. 

Amanda Michelle Estrar Rodriguez, the young violinist, presented the piece “Abandoned Nest” written by Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini at the Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA) violin competition on May 16, in Havana, Cuba. Her performance pitted her against other Cuban musicians for both the competition and a potential spot as a student at the school.

Amanda Michelle Estrar Rodriguez performs at the ISA violin competition. Christine Rushton/Murrow College
“I want to get to a higher level for this school,” Rodriguez said. “[ISA] also has a level exam from one year to another to stay in the school. I must have good records in my specialty.”

Rodriguez speaks about her passion for violin. Christine Rushton/Murrow College
Rodriguez looks to her mother, a percussionist, and father, a pianist, for her musical inspiration. Practicing three to four hours per day for the last seven years at her current school, the Guillermo Tomas Bouffaratigue Music Conservatory, she said she hopes to soon enter the ISA program and eventually play in the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba.

Cesar Quintana Medina, ISA University Extension Specialist and Public Relations Coordinator, said Rodriguez must perform well at the competition and then make another audition with an extensive interview to enter the school.

“They are asked a lot of questions because we are looking for talented students,” Medina said. “We can teach the skills, but not the talent.”

ISA started as the Havana Country Club, which was open to the wealthy, white community, Medina said. After recent and pending renovations, the site now houses the university that teaches roughly 1,500 arts students from 18-25 years old studying all Cuban art forms except jewelry, textile and glass.

Artists at the ISA school use the studios for their projects. Christine Rushton/Murrow College
He said the typical five-year program hosts students from Venezuela, Colombia, Germany, China, Cuba and even three from the United States. They study their specialty as well as subjects like math and language.

For musicians like Rodriguez, Medina said they study for four years and then devote one year of service to a community group, like the symphony.   

“When that period ends they can stay [at their service site] if they have a position, or they can return to the university and start as professors,” he said. “They can receive another salary and be a professor here and an independent artist.”

While most study classical, the university offers classes in jazz and traditional Cuban styles, Medina said.

“You can come here at 4 a.m. in the morning and find students practicing piano and violin,” he said. “It is open all the time. They have their own key and can work in the night because it is more quiet and cool.”

Most students spend hours practicing to keep up with the intense competition, but many end up touring in different countries for opportunities after they finish their studies, he said.

Yanet Martin, a vocalist with a touring Cuban music group, said she studied piano and voice at a different school in Havana, but knows the challenges of competition in the business. She started singing at age four.

“I began singing for regular audiences,” Martin said. “My mom would take me in front of large crowds, and I would sing popular songs.” 

She said she joined a small music group while in Havana, which includes soprano saxophone, conga, electric upright bass, guitar and maraca players. The instrumentalists also sing backup to the two lead vocalists, including Martin.

Twelve years later after forming, the group plays under a different name, but still tours and performs traditional and modern Cuban music for audiences in Havana, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas and on the television and radio.
Yanet Martin performs with her traditional Cuban group on May 15. Christine Rushton/Murrow College
Martin said as a musician she also appreciates the jazz style. Like the musicians studying at ISA, she said she hopes to travel the world experiencing foreign music and sharing her own, especially her favorite piece “Bésame Mucho.”

When asked what she loves about the art of song, Martin said, “Everything.”

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