Music and Mindo

Me and the two other students that stay with my host family – Christina and Sylvia.

I didn’t realize until recently that I’m pursuing such an interesting career that no one knows anything about.  I blogged about this realization not too long ago.  But for as enigmatic as choral conducting is in the States, I should’ve known it would be even more elusive in Ecuador.  I have had one helluva time explaining what I’m studying in Spanish!  Choirs are not a popular thing here, not even in churches.  In fact, music in general does not seem to be highly valued.  Sure, my host sisters spend lots of time watching music videos on TV, but as far as actually doing music, I’ve learned that it is a very class-related thing.  My teacher said that less than 1% of people here have a piano (…bad news for the piano search that I mentioned in my last post).  Taking lessons on any instrument is expensive…a huge privilege…so few people ever have the opportunity.  Most houses have a guitar (one of the primary folk instruments of the area), but few people know how to play them.

Last week, I set out on an adventure to find a piano.  I’m not usually quite this desparate, but I have a lot of music to learn before August for my program, and I learn choral music best at the piano.  All the searching did not find me a piano, but it did introduce me to the offices of the Quito Orchestra!  Enticed, I decided to attend a concert for the expensive price of $5 a ticket.  It was a fascinating experience.  Over 500 people attended, dressed in their finest.  I think I saw most of the wealthy people of Quito, reinforching the classism I was afraid of.  The “orchestra”, more accurately named a chamber string orchestra, played Vivaldi and Pergolesi (La Serva Padrona), as well as one other piece I didn’t know.  They were pretty good, especially considering how low my expectations were.  Their concertmaster was a black woman, which I thought was pretty cool.  I’m glad I went!  What an interesting experience.

After a few more days of searching for a piano (and about ready to give up), my host mom finally found one.  Some music professor she knows who lives pretty far away said I could practice on his piano Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I was thrilled!  Then she said he’d bring the piano over.  Hmmm…I knew immediately what that meant, but I couldn’t possibly have been prepared for the hilariously tiny keyboard that appeared on our doorstep:So much searching, and this is my reward.  Better than nothing!

On Monday evening, I attended a lecture at my school about indigenous instruments and folkloric music of the Andes.  Lots of guitar and flute-like instruments.  It was super cool; I only wish music was more prevalent instead of a dying art.  My host siblings want to take guitar and voice lessons, but the family can’t afford it.  I’m doing my best to teach them (in Spanish!) while I’m here.  Maybe I can teach them mini-keyboard too.

On a different nonmusical note, last weekend was fantastic.  I went to Mindo with a group from the school.  Mindo is a tiny jungle-ish town known for its butterflies, hummingbrids, orchids, waterfalls, and ziplining.  It was as awesome as it sounds.  I decided to play it safe, which perhaps is boring; I didn’t jump off the waterfall (though my teacher and a friend did), but I did go down a slide that had a 10-foot drop into the water.  And I didn’t zipline (because we heard that an American girl died 2 weeks earlier when the cable snapped), but I did swing on a giant rope in the jungle.  I’m still using the fact that I went skydiving in May as an excuse from risk-taking.  That was enough risk-taking for a lifetime!

The weekend was a perfect combo of adventure and relaxation.  And it ended in a local chocolate factory where we made chocolate fondue (from a cacao fruit) and ate it.  Delicous, all around!  This coming week, I’m taking my Spanish studies to the coast!  A friend, a teacher, and myself will be taking a 7-hour bus ride to the beach Sunday night.  We’ll have four hours of class a day and lots of tranquil time.  I can’t wait; the only thing better than vacation is vacation from vacation!

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