Some say music is a universal language that crosses all racial, social, and economic boundaries, with the power to influence the world. Argentina’s Department of Education is paying homage to this philosophy through its unique Bicentennial Orchestra and Choir Program for teenagers and children.
The program currently hosts 30 orchestras and 30 choirs in 17 provinces, from Jujuy to Neuquén to Buenos Aires.
Inspired by Venezuela’s award-winning music network revolution “El Sistema,” the program focuses on creating community and opportunity for children who have few resources and live in underdeveloped neighborhoods. According to Argentina’s Department of Education, the program’s objective is to boost self-esteem, encourage collaboration, individual responsibility and support students’ goals and aspirations by providing free instruments, afterschool rehearsal spaces and a team of private instructors, conductors and administrative assistants. Several faculty members, in fact, are professional musicians who perform regularly at the prestigious Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.
A petite orchestra with a colorful heart
The Youth Orchestra in Villa Corina, Avellaneda recently re-tuned its leadership by hiring a non-Argentine director. After considering twelve highly qualified local musicians to take over the program, the orchestra decided to shake things up by selecting Matthew Golombisky to head their youth ensemble, “Orquesta Creer Es Crear” (“To Believe is To Create”).
Far from his hometown of Hillsborough, North Carolina, Golombisky was labeled a black sheep at the interview as he incorporated a twist of American Folklore – including jazz and blues – into a classical composition. Despite his relatively limited Spanish vocabulary, his extensive musical background in New Orleans and Chicago quickly made a lasting impression on the board. He was immediately offered the position with the orchestra – and with it an opportunity to influence and lead a growing community of at-risk youth in Buenos Aires province.
The transition wasn’t without the occasional speed bump.
“[At the interview] we each had to take over the youth orchestra and guide them through a new piece,” recalls Golombisky. “After introducing myself as a North American musician, and asking the kids to put their instruments down and incorporate their bodies to discover the rhythm, everyone was transfixed; “Who was this strange guy with terrible Spanish?”
Nevertheless, the young musicians welcomed Golombisky with friendly smiles and curious stares.
A splash of American folklore in Argentina
Golombisky is a professional bassist, composer and educator. He has studied, performed, and made a living playing jazz in the past, and has since expanded his repertoire to several genres. He describes his passion for sharing jazz techniques with young musicians as a creative art form that allows his students to open their minds and explore their talent.
“[In Jazz] there is an expectation to create, to improvise, and explore free expression; making it beneficial to not only those you share it with but to the musician as well.”
Golombisky also hosts interactive workshops on call-and-response beats, rhythms from around the world, music history, ear training, improvising melodies and extended conducting techniques. He is the founder of Ears&Eyes Records, an independent record label dedicated to what he calls “sincere music.”
The foreign director says he has already begun to see positive results from the program’s students.
“They play wonderfully,” says Golombisky. “We’ve definitely formed a connection and a respect within our ensemble.”
Finding a voice through music
Golombisky has been eager to share his creative background with his new students and faculty. He continues to bring color and diversity to the program by creating a curriculum that challenges youth to think outside of the notes on the page, find a connection with the music and root themselves in the rhythm and soul of the composition.
“They are beginning to improvise and become storytellers,” says Golombisky with a smile . “I believe they are becoming an active part of their community through self-expression.”
The Department of Education recently gifted the orchestra with a brand new upright piano, allowing students to sign up for piano lessons. The gift seems to be a hit among the musicians – 90 percent of Golombisky’s students are taking lessons, rehearsing three times a week.
Playing for the future
Golombisky’s orchestra has several future recitals scheduled around Argentina. He plans on creating a method book that will allow all students, no matter their skill set, to learn and play together.
Watch a recent concert in Córdoba, Argentina, where 500 members of El Programa De Orquestas Y Coros Infantiles y Juveniles Para el Bicentenario performed as an ensemble: