Volunteer Sarah Martin at FUNFFEC in Luis Gomes, RN, Brazil

Brazil Strings volunteer Sarah Martin recounts her experience teaching cello in the arid interior of the Brazilian Northeast:

February 27, 2018

I wanted to happily give you an update of my first week in Luis Gomes, Rio Grande do Norte! After spending a few days in Natal with a friend and visiting some beautiful spots like sand dunes and the stunning endless coastline, I was picked up on Monday and embarked on my new adventure, starting with a 7-hour drive across nearly the entire state into the remote interior.

Luis Gomes is a very quiet, calm, safe, family-oriented community. Leandro, my contact here and now my co-worker, caretaker, tour guide and friend, conducts a very dedicated group of youth in this town of only about 10,000 people. Before I came, I was a bit uneasy about bringing European music to Brazilian children and youth – it felt a bit like colonisation – but Leandro has acquired and made excellent, level-appropriate arrangements of all sorts of Brazilian music, mainly from this Northeastern region. The orchestra has been invited to perform in places such as Quebec (where the kids were very disappointed to not see snow in July), France, and Portugal – upcoming possibilities depending on finances. Despite studying in Natal and travelling on behalf of the orchestra, Leandro always returns home to Luis Gomes where he is a tireless advocate of local music and culture.

The excellent FUNFFEC http://www.funffec.org.br is funded entirely by a former Luis Gomes city member who has graciously donated his family home and provided funding for free community programs including the orchestra, provided instruments, and hired staff. I am being so well looked after here I often feel like a celebrity!

March 18, 2018

I have now spent a month in Luis Gomes and have just returned from an amazing, epic, week-long bus tour with the fantastic, dedicated and energetic youth orchestra and I wanted to share! In 6 days, us 4 adults and 23 youth aged 10-18 travelled a total of nearly 2000 km by bus through 3 states, played 6 concerts in 3 cities, spent 4 nights total on the bus (!) and had an incredible experience musically, personally and socially. We shared this adventure with the excellent FELC saxophone quartet from the neighbouring city of Uirauna including a gifted and dedicated 12 year old soloist and their leader, the insanely talented, passionate and self-taught musician and expert arranger, Ewerton Luis.

We played in a stunning church in Sobral, at the Federal University of Ceara and Federal Institute (University) of Piaui, at a wedding-like 15th birthday celebration, and 2 concerts at the shopping centre in Teresina, Piaui. here and here. We were always received with open arms and frequently with standing ovations. You would not believe the youthful exuberance (and joyful screaming) on the bus after our best concert with huge audience energy and lots of pop and fried food that followed!

Another highlight was jamming in the afternoon with the saxophone quartet. Everyone got out percussion instruments and we played together for hours. It was amazing! They were rapt whenever I played the guitar and sang in English – a rarity to hear the songs they know from a native speaker. We also had the opportunity to go to the beach, which was amazing and the first time for a few of the youth! It was wonderful. The youth got to visit the big city of Teresina, do some shopping, wear their best (and very adult, by Canadian standards!) ‘going out’ outfits, do each others’ hair and makeup and a couple even got to see an airplane for the first time.

So – we had an amazing time. We were greeted upon our arrival in Luis Gomes by parents carrying a banner reading: ‘thank you Leandro for your dedication to our youth!’, a crowd of excited families and even hand-held fireworks!

I absolutely loved the opportunity to play with them (it is a different but very fun experience playing samba on the cello!) and was overjoyed to spend time getting to know the adults and kids. Also my Portuguese improved exponentially in only 1 week of total immersion! This trip was great for the musicality, community and soul of everyone involved.

Thank you again to Leandro, the orchestra, everyone at FUNFFEC and especially to my supporters and Brazil Strings for helping send me here!

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