BVR goes to Cuba 2019: Cuban Jazz Ensemble, Select Singers participate in a musical exchange in Havana, Cuba

BVR goes to Cuba 2019

This year, Select Singers Honors Chorus joined the Cuban Jazz Ensemble for Beaver’s bi-annual trip to Havana, Cuba. After spending the fall and winter terms exploring Cuban music, culture, and history, the 30 students — 7 from the Cuban Jazz Ensemble and 23 from Select Singers — traveled to Havana to attend the Escuela Nacional de Arte. For five days, they rehearsed and worked in close collaboration with Cuban students before performing a concert at the end of the week.

Ana Norgaard, the band’s director — and the visionary behind the trip, which is in its fourth year — describes it as a transformative experience.

“Not only are students immersed in a vastly rich culture, but they also have the unique opportunity to work with so many inspiring musicians. I’ve witnessed many of our students experience a ‘musical awakening’ as they form real and lasting connections with the Cuban students.”

— Ana Norgaard

This year, senior Max Glenn was one of those students.

“The biggest connection I made was with this student who was a bassist,” he said. “We were working on the song Moanin’ by Bobby Timmons, and we played it for 15 minutes straight — which is the longest time I’ve ever played guitar on that song. Everyone was just taking solos and inspiring each other to keep playing.”

Ben Cohen ’19 said he really connected with one of the Cuban conga players.

“The first day we were there we didn’t know anybody and we all got into a circle to introduce ourselves,” Cohen said. “[This student] saw that I had my drumsticks on the ground so he made an effort to sit next to me. After I saw how open the environment was and how much people wanted to talk, I got pretty close with him and we ended up talking about things beyond music — things that I talk about with my friends here.”

These friendships are what makes this trip so powerful, Norgaard said.

“We were surpassing the language barriers and communicating through music,” she said. “Many of our students don’t speak Spanish but we were able to form connections through the music.”

Jacob Calka ’20 experienced just that.

“It’s super humbling to see how much work [the Cuban students] put in especially with the equipment they have compared to what we have. They’re just incredible musicians and we can learn so much just through music. I don’t take Spanish so I couldn’t actually talk to them in Spanish but it was super easy to communicate through music and sheet music.”

— Jacob Calka ’20

In addition to practicing and learning music, Beaver students explored Havana and immersed themselves in the Cuban culture — listening to the local music, taking dance lessons, visiting historical sites, and eating local cuisine. Olivia D’Allessandro ’20 said the trip was a “gorgeous” experience.

I began to see a reality in which I was a true musician and that was extremely liberating. Who knows what I’ll do in the future, but whatever my life looks like I know that music will be an integral aspect of my identity forever.

— Olivia D’Allessandro ’20

More to come! We collected hours (and hours) of footage on our trip and are in the process of creating a video highlight reel. Stay tuned.

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