‘It’s like a calling’: Edmonton woman bringing sound of music to Rio slum

CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Monday, August 8, 2016 11:10PM EDT

Brazil may be known for its pulsating samba, but a Canadian woman is bringing a different type of music to one of Rio’s largest slums.

Tucked away in a school classroom in Rocinha — considered Rio’s largest favela with about 200,000 people living within roughly two square kilometres — Vanessa Rodrigues is teaching children how to play string instruments.

Rodrigues was on a trip to Rio four years ago when she stumbled upon a box of donated instruments, which she took as a sign.

VanessaCTV

“I thought you know what, it’s like a calling,'” she told CTV News. “Here’s all these instruments.”

An accomplished jazz organist who grew up in Edmonton, Rodrigues decided to devote her spare time at the Escola de Musica da Rocinha offering a safe refuge for children who needed support and an outlet away from gangs and violence.

Read more >>

With a report from CTV News’ Omar Sachedina

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Joy of Music – Avenue Magazine

From Edmonton’s Avenue Magazine, July 2014 edition.

Click here to see original article >>

Published Jul 17th, 2014

By Richard Simas

An Edmonton musician shares her gifts with one of the poorest neighbourhoods in South America

Home these days for musician Vanessa Rodrigues is high on a hill in Rio de Janeiro, in a place called The Maze that doubles as an inn and a happening underground music club. Her bird’s-eye views of tropical forest, Rio’s famous Pão de Açúcar mountain and Guanabara Bay couldn’t contrast more with Edmonton, where she grew up. This multi-talented salsa and jazz keyboard player works the Rio clubs and tours with some of Brazil’s best musicians. Her recording and performance roster in and out of Canada is impressive, but even more singular is her social activism through music.  

Rodrigues teaches violin and string ensemble three days a week to kids in the Roçinha favela, one of South America’s most populous, poor urban neighborhoods. Close to 200,000 people live there on hillsides just out of view of the glitzy Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.

“We are slaves to our desires,” Rodrigues says about what she calls her “dream-life” in Rio, combining sweat, hustle, and a gritty determination to survive. “Destiny chooses you, then you have to respond to the call. That’s why I am here doing what I do.”  

It all started back home for this thoughtful, soft-spoken woman whose Latin complexion and name could easily mark her as a native Brazilian.

She grew up playing classical music in a cultured home. Insightful parents wanted her to have a variety of life experiences, so she attended Spruce Avenue School, a rough-and-tumble inner-city school that took part in a city-wide music initiative. She played with the Singing Strings Orchestra and performed in city events, as well touring to Portugal, Taiwan and Germany. 

“That experience was all about being a team: Friendships, learning collectively,” she says. “That’s the backbone of my childhood in Edmonton.”

And it was a defining one. After jazz studies at McGill University, where Rodrigues was active in Montreal’s jumping salsa scene, she travelled to Brazil for the first time in 2009 to study percussion. There, Rio cast its spell on her. “At first I thought it was just like a drug,” she says, “and the effect would wear off.” By January of 2012 she had returned, hoping to call the exotic city home. “My life is divided in two sections: Before and after discovering Rio.”

While taking samba lessons in Roçinha, Rodrigues discovered the favela’s non-profit music school with a closet full of unplayed violins and no teacher. Rodrigues volunteered. The inspiration and guiding light for her musical activism is José Antonio Abreu, the Venezuelan economist and public music educator who founded the famed El Sistema (Social Action for Music) program.

“Music has the power to combat social problems,” says Rodrigues. “It saves kids who have tough lives.”  

Brazil Strings is the NGO Rodrigues recently founded — it’s a Canadian organization with all its activities carried out in Brazil. Her goal is to make a difference by bringing volunteer music teachers to Brazil.

“It’s not about me. I want to do my work in peace and spread joy and happiness through music.”

The dedication of Brazilian and foreign professionals keeps São Conrado school going strong

(Original article in Portuguese: http://oglobo.globo.com/rio/bairros/a-dedicacao-de-profissionais-brasileiros-estrangeiros-mantem-escola-em-sao-conrado-12736450 )

The dedication of Brazilian and foreign professionals keeps São Conrado school going strong

20 years of love for music

BY GABRIELA FERNANDES

08/06/2014 6:00

RocinhaGlobo
Celebrating. Students and monitors between teacher Vanessa Rodrigues (left) and coordinator Simone Ferreira (wine-coloured pants) – Agência O Globo / Guilherme Leporace

During the last week, the Rocinha Music School (Escola de Música da Rocinha – EMR), maintained by the city government in the Rinaldo de Lamare municipal building, celebrated 20 years of activities with an intense programme. There were 20 presentations, among them concerts, lectures, and performances for students and for the community. Simone Ferreira, one of the coordinators who was a student and monitor at the school, has worked in other places but never stopped coming back to the EMR.

—I’ve been here since 1996, almost 20 years as well. We love it here, we work with a lot of love and affection for the school. In the years when we don’t have a sponsor, we can’t even pay for snacks and transportation for the teachers who, in the past, were also students here – affirms the coordinator.
Simone tells us that the EMR was founded by music educator Hans Koch, who dreamed of a social project in underprivileged communities, and returned to his native Germany after establishing the school.

— Everyone who has come through here carries a very positive legacy. Many are studying music in university, which wouldn’t have been possible without the school; this is what inspires us the most. One student defended her thesis on the EMR. And the band Chorando à Toa, which is entirely made up of our young students and plays melancholy choro music, has already performed internationally – she tells us proudly.

Serving [the shanty towns of] Rocinha and Vidigal, the school, in addition to teaching, lends instruments such as cavaquinhos (a small ukulele-like Brazilian guitar), acoustic guitars, recorders and various percussion instruments to the students. Now courses in orchestral instruments are also offered as of a year and a half ago.

— These instruments require a lot of maintenance, which can get expensive. Because we had never had teachers trained in violin, cello and double bass, we brought in foreign instructors, like Vanessa Rodrigues, who after discovering us never returned to her home country, Canada – says Simone Ferreira

Vanessa tells us that in 2011 she played in the Carnaval parade with the drum corps of the Acadêmicos da Rocinha samba school, and there she heard about the work of the EMR and was enthralled. “I found out there were a whole lot of string instruments stored here and nobody was playing them. As I have a background in string orchestra, I offered to volunteer to teach string lessons. I returned to Canada, organized the paperwork, and in 2012 I came to stay. The friendliness of the people, the weather, the music, the culture and the celebrations in the street here really won me over” she confesses.

Lessons are free for public school students from 6-17 years of age. Those who wish to donate may do so through the school’s website

Canadian Volunteer Gives Music Lessons in Rocinha

(Original article in Portuguese: http://www.rj.gov.br/web/imprensa/exibeconteudo?article-id=1283703 )

RJ Press NEWS

CULTURE

CANADIAN VOLUNTEER GIVES MUSIC LESSONS IN ROCINHA

19/10/2012 » Fabiana Paiva

33-year-old Vanessa Rodrigues has a passion for the project and for Rio de Janeiro

Five months ago, 33-year-old Canadian Vanessa Rodrigues decided to volunteer at the Rocinha Music School (Escola de Música da Rocinha, or EMR), and teach children from the community to play a musical instrument. Seventeen residents between the ages of 7 and 17 are learning to play instruments.

Passionate about Brazilian culture, Vanessa first came to Rio in 2009 to participate in Rio’s Carnaval parade. She was accepted to play tamborim [brazilian percussion instrument] in the drum corps of the Acadêmicos da Rocinha samba school. At these rehearsals she learned of the community and of the EMR music school. She didn’t think twice, she went at once to present herself to the school and offer her services as a volunteer.

“At first I was only going to stay for three months, but I wanted to help in some way; so I taught some piano lessons and did an arrangement for a band of [the school’s] mentors. I returned to Brazil in January of this year and decided to stay. I saw that the school was lacking a violin program. I obtained a two-year permanent visa to enable me to do this volunteer work in the community. This project gives me a reason to live, profound peace and happiness,” Vanessa beams.

The arrival of the Canadian allowed the EMR to blow the dust off of more than 20 violins which had been in storage for years. According to assistant director Simone Ferreira, after just two months of classes, the students are already showing results.

“They did a small concert after only two months of lessons. The fruits of their labour were visible very quickly. We are hoping now that the community has been pacified, more people will want to come visit and volunteer. It was difficult to keep teachers because many were afraid,” remembers Simone.

14-year-old Gabriel de Oliveira, student of Vanessa, discovered a new passion in the violin. Aside from attending classes every Monday, he takes the instrument home and practices two hours per day.

“I took flute lessons and I found out that there were also violin lessons being offered. Because it is very expensive, I never thought it would be possible to learn to play it here in the community. I decided to sign up and I’m loving it. People say that the violin is my buddy. I think I’ve found myself,” professes the youth, resident of 2nd Street in Rocinha.

Orchestra becomes reality

After 18 years since its inception, the EMR music school will finally be able to realize the dream of its founder, German Hans Ulrich Koch. According to Simone, the arrival of Vanessa and the donation from friends of the EMR made it possible to start an orchestra. Now, in addition to keyboard, cavaquinho [Brazilian ukulele], recorder, choir and nylon-string guitar, the EMR also offers lessons in acoustic guitar, trombone, trumpet, double-bass, tuba, violin and viola.

“Only now are we able to have classes of orchestral instruments. Individual lessons have already begun, and starting next week, we will begin rehearsing together,” affirms Simone.

Having had experience playing in a string orchestra in Canada, Vanessa has assumed responsibility for the violin and viola sections of the [EMR] orchestra. This week, she will start teaching viola classes as well. Full of joy, she has already settled in the neighbourhood of Tavares Bastos and isn’t considering returning to live in her country of origin.

“I feel very much at home here. [Though] I would one day like to return to do an exchange with them, bring them to play a concert in Montreal,” Vanessa dreams.