From Armenia to Colombia: The Journey of a Traveling Cellist

Juan Sebastian Delgado

Strings

Driven by my passion to share the power of music with others, I have worked on a variety of projects in more than 20 countries with renowned performers and with leading contemporary composers. I am excited to share some of my adventures in outreach that have brought me to teach music to disadvantaged youth in remote communities.

As a member of the 2014 Orchestra of the Americas (YOA) Global Leaders Program, I traveled to Armenia to work as a faculty member of Sistema Armenia alongside players of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. This program was designed to provide high-quality music education to youth from underprivileged areas of Armenia, and the exposure to teaching in a different social environment provided me with a unique learning experience that helped strengthen my skills as teacher, leader, and observer.

In the beginning of my time in Armenia, the language was a major obstacle in communicating with the young students, since most of them did not speak any English. However, as I became more comfortable around the students, I discovered that I could communicate my musical ideas by performance demonstrations. By concentrating on specific technical and musical issues, students were able to grasp some of the basic ideas as well as relate to the musical content in a much more natural way. The closing concert was held at the Arno Babajanyan Concert Hall, an emblematic Armenian cultural space. The students performed traditional Armenian music alongside the festival’s teachers, and it was an extremely rewarding experience.

Musical outreach played a defining role for me while touring as principal cellist of YOA, an ensemble of talented young players from 25 different countries across the Americas. Working with musicians of high caliber was indeed inspiring, but I was even more deeply moved by the social engagement of YOA. We performed in non-conventional venues in remote parts of the continent.

I remember that the very last concert of our tour in Central America was an incredibly moving experience for everyone involved. It was the first symphonic music concert in the history of Belize, a country greatly affected by social and economic inequality. The concert was held at a rather small hall in downtown Belize, and people were sitting on the staircase, on the floor, and even standing up. The concert opened with the youth orchestra of Belize, and it concluded with the YOA performing an energetic and emotional symphony by Rachmaninoff in front of a community that filled the hall to the brim.

Last summer, as a winner of the McBurney Fellowship, I traveled to Colombia to develop several activities in music pedagogy and music performance, working mainly as a guest teacher with Fundacion Batuta Caldas in Manizales.

My residency in Bogota was a collaboration with Tocar y Luchar, a relatively new organization modeled after Venezuela’s El Sistema that provides intensive orchestral training to children of various ages. My project focused on providing extra-musical exercises with the aim of helping students to be more inspired when practicing their instruments by themselves. Among the many issues addressed during the workshop, I presented several exercises on stretching, breathing, relaxation, and acting as keys to technical control, musical expression, and stage fright. These were topics that seemed unfamiliar to most of them.

While in Bogota, I also collaborated with the Conservatorio de Musica de la Facultad de Artes, a government-funded institution with limited resources that provides musical training to children and college students.

There, I held a cello master class where I had the opportunity to work with advanced university students. Works by Bach, Britten, and Shostakovich, among others, were performed, and we discussed performance practice issues addressing musical style and historical implications.

While studying at Boston Conservatory, I was privileged to work with cellist and mentor Rhonda Rider and pianist Max Levinson. I am currently pursuing doctoral studies in cello performance at McGill University under the guidance of Matt Haimovitz.

I recently won the 2016 Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology Student Award with a project that proposes to augment audience perception through the creation of a visual display that is responsive to performance gesture. This project is in collaboration with Radio France, and Paris Conservatory composer Luis Naon will write an original piece for solo cello, ensemble, and electronics. In October, I am looking forward to giving the world premiere of Cinco Tangos Apócrifos, a piece for solo cello and chamber orchestra that was written for me by renowned Argentine composer Jorge Bosso.

 

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