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  • Writer's pictureThe Rivers School

March 12: Lecture on Cuban Music with Maraca, Visit with Cuban Conservatory Students, Concert #1

Today was a day full of music! We arrived early for breakfast to load the buses with our instruments for all the day’s activities, which included a master class with top musician Orlando “Maraca” Valle, a renowned flutist based in Cuba who has recorded and traveled all over the world. Maraca is a friend of Nobles jazz band director Paul Lieberman, also a flutist, who is co-leading this joint tour of Cuba and has played on Maraca’s albums. 

We headed to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the National Museum of Fine Arts, which has a concert hall where we performed our first concert, later in the evening. Maraca began by lecturing on the history of the flute and Afro-Cuban percussion. “It is essential to know the rhythms first before improvising,” he told the group, and he invited percussionists one by one to demonstrate the different rhythmic elements of the Afro-Cuban style of music our groups are studying. By clapping, students imitated the traditional clave, timbales, conga, güiro, and cowbell.

After setting up the rhythm section, piano and bass were added, then wind instruments. Maraca worked one-on-one with each student who came up and challenged the wind instruments to try different modes of improvisation. Throughout the class, Maraca tried to impart larger ideals of how to approach the music and encouraged students to be present and feel the music. “We have to understand that this music that comes from an oral tradition has a lot of spirituality,” he said. “You can’t find it in a book—you have to find it in your heart.” He also talked about the importance of small rhythmic patterns in Cuban music, which Rivers jazz director Philippe Crettien emphasized for the students. 

From there, we headed to the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldan, where we had an exchange with local high-school age music students, with whom we will play a concert on Friday. The Cuban students had prepared a few pieces to play for us—a trombone and saxophone quartet, and there was a brief period where we could ask questions. The conservatory represents the middle level of an intense three-level system of training musicians. After graduating from the conservatory, students are qualified to work as music teachers in schools and are considered working musicians. Many American students were surprised to hear they typically practice three or four hours a day!

We stopped for another great Cuban lunch at a restaurant before heading back to the

museum for our first concert, which was a great success. We wrapped up the evening with some much-deserved pizza. We have an early start tomorrow, as we will spend the day in Matanzas and tour San Severino Castle.


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