In 2008 I wrote this article to tell about an event that was taking place in Peru, where I lived at the time, and about a wonderful intercultural initiative. For this special up-dating on Music Abroad, I contacted Ellen again, whom I had interviewed for the article, to know how things are going. I therefore add a little something and slightly modify the article to up-date it, leaving the original interview as it was, since it contains many infos that are still relevant. Happy reading and happy music !
Traveling Notes is an intercultural music festival that brings classical music students in contact with other cultures and important musical experiences. The Festival distinguishes itself from other music events because it combines music education with foreign travel and social outreach.
Every year a new country becomes the stage for the Traveling Notes Festival, an intensive cross-cultural musical encounter. In 2012 the festival took place in Georgia. Young musicians from the United States at the intermediate and advanced level of their music studies and highly qualified US-based teachers come together with fellow music students and instructors from the host country to interact, study and perform. Together they participate in rehearsals, sectionals, master classes and chamber music workshops, in addition to giving several concerts in and around Lima. _ Excursions to important historic sites, museums and national monuments educate the visiting students about the country’s history and cultural heritage. In addition to its musical and cultural purpose, Traveling Notes places high value on social awareness and children reaching out to other children. Opportunities to lend a hand to the less fortunate are an integral part of the program. Traveling Notes participants are ambassadors of their countries and gain a new understanding of each other’s culture, traditions and social structure. At the same time they improve their music skills and are challenged to reach their maximum potential.
I happened to meet Ellen, one of the Festivals organizers, when I was living in Lima, Peru, and she was working there. I got back in touch with her when I received the information about the Festival. Ellen is currently living in Armenia, from where she explains that there is a Traveling Notes workshop coming up the second week of January which is a cross-border initiative between the DR and Haiti. They are also talking to the Mozart Association in Italy to do something with them over the summer, though that is only in its early stages.
Ellen, tell us a bit about you and your background.
I was born in Belgium where I lived until I turned 30. I left the country to satisfy my curiosity about other cultures and learn new languages. I lived a year and a half in Spain and a year and a half in Germany. Then I went to California where I met my husband who was studying at UCSD. When he finished his studies we moved to his hometown, Baltimore, where we got married. I started working in the Sales & Marketing department of Intelsat, a multinational telecommunications company in Washington DC and he joined the Foreign Services and started working for USAID. Our first post abroad was Peru, where we lived four years, the normal length of a USAID foreign assignment. We are currently stationed in Santo Domingo, about halfway through our assignment here.
Who got the idea of organizing the festival?
The festival originated from a chance meeting last year in March with a Peruvian-born but US-based violinist, Jorge Aguirre, who had come to Santo Domingo as a guest performer during the Festival Musical de Santo Domingo, a two-week event with several classical concerts that takes place every other year.
For several years already he had had the idea of bringing young musicians from the US and Latin America together to allow them to learn from each other, musically and culturally, but had never been able to get it off the ground for lack of resources and time. Since the lack of interest in classical music in the Dominican Republic had been my main frustration here and I had a solid background in marketing and event organization through my job at Intelsat and time to spare as a trailing spouse, I volunteered to organize a music festival in Santo Domingo with a mixed participation of US and Dominican students.
It was mid March when we formulated our plan on the back side of a napkin in a local restaurant. We set the last week of June as our target date for the festival. Over the next two and a half months I worked non-stop to negotiate deals with hotels, restaurants and airlines, to obtain scholarships and financial contributions, to find host families for the US participants, to determine venues for concerts, arrange transportation and give interviews with the local press and TV stations, to print and distribute concert posters and programs and to come up with a balanced 8-day program of music education and cultural activities.
Doing all this in a country where all tasks are a) left in God’s hands and b) to be accomplished in the vague timeframe called mañana, almost cost me my sanity and I swore I would never ever do this again! However, when the students arrived from the US at the end of June and the festival actually happened, the satisfaction of seeing how so many young, talented kids – including my own – benefited tremendously from all my efforts made up for all the sleepless nights.
Since then the program has matured in many ways: it was adopted by a non-profit organization based in Norfolk, VA and we are in the process of creating a strategic alliance with the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, a very well-known youth orchestra that travels the world with the most promising young musicians of the Américas. If you haven’t heard of them I recommend you look at their web page www.yoa.org. Their artistic director is Plácido Domingo and many of the world-famous classical musicians contribute to this program. We are very proud of this alliance since it elevates our program tremendously. Our second Festival is scheduled to take place in Peru from 28 June till 10 July with performances in Lima and in Cuzco.
What is your involvement in it? What you specifically do for the festival?
I am the Executive Director of Traveling Notes and take care of all logistics, fundraising, accounting, and marketing. My partner, Jorge Aguirre, is the Artistic Director and he is in charge of the music faculty, the auditions, the repertoire for the festival, the music education.
Why would you say this festival is so important?
The festival is very important because it not only provides excellent music education to young musicians and a great motivation to continue their career as musicians, it also brings young people from different countries and cultures together through the universal language of music. Our participants become ambassadors for their own country and learn to appreciate the culture of other countries. A third and equally important part of our program is that we use this incredible talent of our young participants to reach out to the less fortunate and allow children to help other children. To that end we are organizing benefit concerts to support a local cause. In Peru, for instance, we will have a benefit concert at Newton College to support the victims of last year’s earthquake. We will also give a free concert in the Hogar Santa María and are working with the US Embassy on a similar concert in another location.
How do you chose the students that participate in the festival?
We put a lot of effort in marketing our event in the US, the Dominican Republic and Peru, sending information and contacting conservatories, youth orchestras and other music institutions everywhere. We also put a lot of effort in obtaining scholarships for participants who do not have the financial means to participate by themselves.
How do you choose the countries where the festivals take place?
The countries are chosen based on the support we find locally. The Dominican Republic was an easy first choice because I live here and was able to coordinate everything myself. Peru was a logical second choice because I had contacts in the music world through my two daughters who had studied music in Lima and Jorge knew who’s who because he is Peruvian. When we spoke with Mr. Cino of Newton College and received his full support to organize our second event together with the school, we knew we had made the right choice. We are now getting to the point that institutions abroad contact us to invite us, so it should be getting easier and easier to find good locations. Thus far we have been looking at Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Italy as possible locations for next year.