THE GUATEMALA MUSIC TEACHING PROJECT
PATRICE FISHER, New Orleans

 

When I first met my husband, Carlos Valladares, it was love at first sight. It was the same thing, when I first saw his country, Guatemala. It is called the "Land of Eternal Spring," because the weather there (at least in the mountainous part of the country) is warm in the day and cool at night all year long. I have been going there to visit and work with the local musicians since 1985. The musicians I have met there have a wonderful creativity, a dedication to hard work and a respect for original music.

In 2001, I was sad to learn about the death of the Guatemala National Symphony harpist, Floridalma Robles. I asked my cellist friend, Paulo Alvarado, "Who is playing with the orchestra now?" He said "No one. They are playing the harp parts on a keyboard." At dinner one night with some Guatemalan musician friends, I heard them lamenting about the lack of good music teachers in Guatemala. An idea just popped into my head and I knew it was the right thing to do. Since we go to Guatemala every year to visit our friends and family, I could start a teaching project there to encourage students to study the harp.

It was priceless to see the look of wonder on the face of Brendy Boj Escalante. She had just learned, for the first time, to slide her thumb down to play a five-note passage on the harp. It was especially important to me, because I know that I am making a difference in the world.

 

We started the Arpas En Armonia program in 2003 at El Sitio Cultural Center in the beautiful colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala. We had 2 Paraguayan style harps and 18 students. Now, we have 16 harps and 20 students, in 3 different cities. Our carpenter friend, Rigoberto Hernandez, has built 43 harps for us and other harp students in Guatemala since 2003. For a moment, I ask myself, why am I spending my vacation putting levers on the two new harps that have been built since the last time I was here six months ago? Then I remember the look of wonder in Brendy.s eyes and I smile. Brendy is now the teacher for the harp students who come to Correios, the old historic post office of Guatemala City, for lessons each Saturday afternoon.

 

My students hug me and kiss me on the cheek each time we meet. I can see the progress they have made in the last few years. I teach Brendy, the 22 year old teacher, by Skype, on the internet every week. I get to practice my Spanish, especially musical Spanish. Instead of quarter notes and half notes, we say white notes and black notes. Our Guatemalan harp ensemble just did their fourth annual performance at the Festival Centro Historico in the main plaza of Guatemala City.

 

Many harpists in the U.S. save their slightly used strings for us or clean out their closet and send us old music and harps. The project inspires a spirit of international friendship between North America and Central America. Seven harpists and teachers have travelled, at their own expense, to give volunteer harp lessons and concerts with our students. Our Canadian friend, Wendy O’Connor, has started a similar program in El Salvador, modeled after our program in Guatemala. We have brought the kids together to meet and play together twice, in both El Salvador and Guatemala.

 

I gave my first harp workshop in Guatemala in 2003, as a kind of lifeline for the three students who were left without a teacher, when Guatemalan harpist, Floridalma Robles, died. I had a special affinity for the students, because I remember, when I was 20, my first harp teacher died. Since 2003, I have never looked back, only forward to see what challenges lie ahead. In case you ever need to know, the Spanish word for finger slide is resbalar.

 

Support the Project! Buy a T-shirt! Proceeds from the sale of these tee shirts are used to support the Guatemala Harp Teaching Project. Each tee shirt sold will pay for one week of harp lessons for 30 students at El Sitio Cultural Center in Antigua, Guatemala. This logo is printed on a black cotton tee shirt.
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You can make tax deductible contributions by clicking:

Or by mail:
New Orleans Chapter of the American Harp Society or Musicians for Music
921 Stewart Ct.
New Orleans, LA 70119.