Wednesday, July 11th
Today I arrived at Sinamune and one of the ladies in the office confirmed that I played piano; I said yes. She told me that I would play in the orchestra and she took me up three flights of stairs to the performance hall where the orchestra was rehearsing. Out of breath, she introduced me to Maestro Edgar Palacios, the founder of Sinamune and director of the orchestra. She told him I played piano and he said, “Great, she will play with us!” I asked if they had sheet music, but the primary pianist is blind, so she did not have sheet music. Maestro Palacios told us to go back to the office, where they would find and make me copies of “las partituras.” So, we went back down three flights of stairs to ask for the partituras in the office. They had no idea where they were. So back up three flights of stairs to ask where they were. Maestro Palacios told the lady where to look and we returned to the office one more time. However, still nobody could find them, so she told me to just watch the rehearsal today and they would find the partituras for me to play tomorrow. By this last time up the three flights of stairs, I was very out of breath and gladly sat down in the audience to observe the rehearsal.
I am glad that I had the opportunity to do this, because I got to observe the hour-long rehearsal and then watch one of the performances the orchestra and dancers present to tourists. It was a beautiful performance and I was very impressed. The orchestra consists of Maestro Palacios on trumpet, two violins, two flutes, a clarinet, and several percussionists. Most of those players are local Ecuadorians or teachers at the school. A couple are students. Also, Cosette plays one of the flutes and Meghan plays one of the violins. There is also a small percussion section made up of students from Sinamune who play tambourine and shaker. In addition, there are several dancers and a few singers, who are all students at Sinamune. It was a joy to watch, and the tourists enjoyed it immensely. I cannot wait to play with the orchestra!
After the performance, I followed Meghan and Cosette back down to the second level. (Sinamune is four stories, the first level is offices and a shop, the second and third levels are classrooms, and the fourth level is the performance hall.) They said after performances they just come down here to wait to be told what to do next. Well, it turned out that we would be teaching lessons today; they gave us a schedule of students and showed us our rooms.
Let me just say that teaching adaptive piano lessons is difficult enough when you and your students speak the same language. It is markedly more difficult when you speak a different language. And it became even more difficult when I discovered that Ecuador does not use the same system of music theory as in the United States…
My first student, A, came in. I think she has Cerebral Palsy or Spina Bifida because she has difficulty walking and moving her hands, but I couldn’t say for sure because nobody gives us any information. I spoke to her a little bit first about her background at Sinamune and with piano. She told me she has been playing for three years, and then she played Bach’s Prelude in C for me from memory. She did well with all the notes and rhythms, but because of her limited finger mobility she has difficulty sustaining notes after playing them, as well as playing legato. Perfect! Something to work on! She had never used the pedal, so we gave it a try. It was difficult with her leg, but she started to get the hang of it, and I think it will be a great physical exercise for leg mobility. It was great because it helped her make the notes sound as they should even though she couldn’t hold them down. Next, I tried to gage her music-reading ability. This is when I discovered that in Ecuador, they use fixed do and they only use solfege for music reading for all instruments. C is always Do, D is always Re, E is always Mi, no matter what key you’re in. Sharps are called sostenidos and flats are called bemoles. Thus, they call it Do sostenido, or Re bemol. To me, this seems very complicated and counterintuitive, but of course it works well for them because it is what they are accustomed to.
Next, I had another student named S. He was more cognitively impaired and also only had vision in one eye. He has difficulty speaking, so it was hard to understand him, but he told me that when he was a child he fell off the third floor of a building and had a traumatic brain injury. He can play several melodies with his right hand, so we worked on those and learned a few new ones.
The third student I was supposed to teach was not there, so one of the teachers introduced me to three little girls who were there for summer camp. From what I understand, Sinamune also offers a summer camp for typically developing peers, but almost no one signed up. These three girls were 5, 10, and 12. The teacher left me with them and said “Do some music therapy!” I immediately thought: “Oh dear, they definitely don’t know what music therapy is.” But I didn’t have the opportunity to explain at that moment, so I just played guitar and we sang together. At this moment it also occurred to me that I didn’t know any songs in Spanish, I was hoping I would get to observe some teachers first and learn some songs. Nope. So I did my best to translate the children’s songs I know in English into Spanish there in the moment, with a bit of help from the girls. Then I taught them some of the English words, because they were already learning English in school.
After that, Cosette, Meghan, Paige, and I went to Spanish lessons. Then I went home for dinner and went to bed at 8:30 pm. I don’t know if it’s the altitude or the longs days or both, but I am so tired!
Moral of today: I have no idea what is happening or what I’m supposed to be doing, but I’m getting a lot better at improvising and making things up as I go along. Hasta mañana!
Thursday, July 12th
Today, it was rather empty at Sinamune because the orchestra was off playing for Congress and for some reason the rest of the students weren’t attending today, as is sometimes the case. Since I didn’t have the partituras and hadn’t rehearsed with them yet, I didn’t get to go unfortunately. At this point, I had no idea where Paige was.
For the morning, they gave me the three little girls for two hours to “do music therapy.” Ha ha. Instead I played guitar, sang with them, did some Orff games, and then started teaching them piano when I ran out of things to do. They are very sweet girls, and their vocabulary is about the same level as mine in Spanish, so we got along nicely.
After that, I went down to the office and they told me that some Sinamune students were coming for music therapy in an hour or so. I asked if I could walk down the street to get some coffee until then. I found a typical little Ecuadorian restaurant, got some coffee, and then headed back. I waited for another hour, before asking again if any students were coming. They told me that actually none of them were coming, so I could go ahead and leave. I was honestly a bit confused and frustrated, but I’m trying to just go with the flow.
I went ahead and headed to Spanish early, found a good place to get an empanada and some fresh juice, and then went to Spanish. Paige was there! I asked her where she had been, and she said they sent her to another school today! Then Cosette and Meghan arrived and told us how incredible it had been to play for Congress. They even got to watch them vote on a bill about eliminating pollution!
After Spanish, I went home, ate dinner, and went to bed. Apparently tomorrow we are going on some excursion with Sinamune, but nobody really knows where. Originally we heard we were going to a town close to the border with Colombia, but apparently that is like six hours away so it couldn’t be a day trip. Long story short, we don’t know where we are going, but we’ll find out tomorrow! Stay posted!