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June 27, 2013

Michael Kroth: Music in Medellín

June 27, 2013

In March 2012, Michael Kroth, associate professor of bassoon and associate dean of undergraduate studies in the MSU College of Music, spent a week in residence at Columbia’s Medellín Festicámara. Kroth was one of 24 international musicians who provided instruction in chamber music performance to more than 100 Medellín youth. Throughout the course, Kroth taught group and private lessons and led master classes and workshops. After returning, Kroth reflected upon that experience.

The students involved with the Festicámara are so talented and genuine.

They have had to find ways to succeed in difficult living conditions, without playable instruments, access to quality teaching, and absolutely no money for reeds and tools.

They are all so dedicated to their music. Many of them walk miles to get to the schools to practice, only to find out that the instrument that they must share is already being used by another student. So they wait for their turn.

The government in Medellín is working hard to improve the culture and safety of its people; however, the students still have to travel back and forth to the school through dangerous areas. Some have been victims of physical violence and abduction.

One of the most remarkable things I have seen is a student scraping a reed with the sharp edge of a broken credit card. There are no reed knives here. I couldn't believe how well they were doing. I tried to scrape with a credit card and was not even mildly successful!

I opened up my reed box, which holds 12 reeds, and one of the bassoon students made an audible gasp and said something that I needed to have translated. The translation was, “You are so rich! You have years of reeds in one box.”

After just three days, I saw amazing transformations in these students. By simply making a playable reed for them, showing them the correct fingerings, fixing a broken instrument, and doing some side-by-side playing, they have been able to better realize their true potential. The smiles from these students when they are able to do something they had no chance of doing a moment before is truly inspiring.

They have shown us a thing or two, as well. We have been shown the stunning beauty of this place, tasted the delicious fruits of the region, and even experienced real salsa dancing! As far as the dancing goes, I had much better success scraping a reed with a broken credit card!

If I take only one memory of this place back with me it will be this: working with a translator can make a conversation with someone seem a bit disconnected, so, following a two-hour master class with many student performers and a translator translating every word in both directions, one student came up to me and said in perfect English, “Michael, thank you. Thank you."

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