“Would you ever bring this group to Argentina?” Ramona Stirling heard a voice behind her ask, at the 2006 SAA convention in Minneapolis. She turned to meet, for the first time, Fernando Piñero of Córdoba, soon to become the first violin teacher trainer in all of Latin America.
“Well, we have already planned to go to Argentina in the summer of 2008; we just did not know why? Perhaps we picked Argentina for you,” Ramona replied.
Thus began a wonderful association between the Suzuki programs of Cordoba, Argentina, and the Rocky Mountain Strings performing group, advanced students of Deborah Moench and Ramona Stirling, of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.
Michael McLean is a good friend of the Rocky Mountain Strings, and when he heard the plans, he asked if he could be part of the project. He composed a Tango Nuevo just for the trip. When it was first performed in Salt Lake City, accompanied by Janet Todd (nationally famous accordionist), it was the hit of the show. The Argentines loved the number as well and asked for encores. Michael also arranged second violin parts for Millionaires Hoedown by Clebanoff and Danse Espagnole by Manuel de Falla, so we could share the cultures of the two countries. The Kabalevsky violin concerto, Michael McLean’s Fandango and his Canon for Four Violins were also part of the repertoire for the tour.
As part of the exchange, Fernando Piñero came to the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute in Utah in June of 2007. The students in Utah loved working with him and experiencing his Latin music in the orchestra class. He was able to see a very large string institute at work and take that experience back to Córdoba with him.
In August of 2008, 22 students, 16 parents, an accompanist, Deborah Moench, Michael McLean, and Ramona Stirling took off for Argentina. We were met at the airport in Córdoba by a group of parents and students. Córdoba is beautiful city, the capital of the interior of Argentina. Fernando and his fellow teachers have built a strong Suzuki program there.
Since most of the students coming from Utah are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we had made arrangements to perform for the church three times in Argentina. On the night we arrived, over 500 people came to our first church concert. The Argentine people are warm, open and friendly, and they love classical music. They asked for encores and wanted to shake hands with all of the students. The trip started out with the students from Utah feeling very well received by the church members in Argentina. This experience was repeated twice more, in La Plata and Buenos Aires. The church members in Buenos Aires even learned a Tango to play for us.
The second day of the trip the group went to the home of the composer Manuel de Falla in Alta Gracia, near Córdoba. He is the composer of Danse Espagnole for violin, one of our performance pieces. We filled the modest home, now a museum. After the guide gave her presentation she asked that we get out our violins and play his music in his home. Her eyes filled with tears as she watched the students spread out throughout the home and perform Danse Espagnole in honor of Manuel de Falla, right in the rooms where he lived. Probably the guides that were there had never had such an experience in the home. It was an inspiring moment for all of us, a moment of connecting with the composer and his life through his great music. The students will never forget that feeling.
Fernando arranged for the teachers from the USA to do a workshop for the Suzuki teachers and students in Córdoba on Saturday. A highlight was sharing the compositions of Michael McLean with the teachers in Córdoba. They got to meet our composer!
The afternoon was filled with classes where the students from Córdoba and the students from Utah mixed together. Fernando planned wonderful non-verbal games for the students to play together. The Argentine students practiced their English (and they were very good at it) with the students from Utah. In the evening a wonderful party was held at the home of the Carabajal family. We got to experience the beautiful hospitality of Argentina as this family opened their lovely home to our large group. A calf was roasted for the occasion, and a Tango orchestra came to play for us. The living room was filled with over 60 people as Tangos were sung and we were taught to Tango. No one will forget that evening.
Sunday evening a combined concert was given in the Teatro Real in Córdoba, with the Rocky Mountain Strings giving their full concert, and the students from Córdoba playing for us and along with us. It was a wonderful cultural and Suzuki exchange. We invited them to send four teachers for training at the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute on full scholarships in 2009, as part of this exchange. The students from both countries were now becoming great friends and exchanging e-mail addresses to keep in touch.
We departed Córdoba on Monday, to visit the beautiful Iguazu Falls and then on to Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires we performed a concert and had a workshop with the students of Eduardo Ludueña, also now a violin teacher trainer. Eduardo arranged for us to give a very well-attended concert in the Salon de Actos, a beautiful hall in Buenos Aires. The local Suzuki students joined us for the performance. One of the little girls gave the youngest member of Rocky Mountain Strings her scarf as a remembrance.
The Rocky Mountain Strings had an incredible experience in Argentina. Never have we played for audiences who were so receptive and appreciative. We estimate we peformed for over 2700 people during the trip. Hotels and ranches we visited had us get out our violins and give our concert. The Argentines are warm, friendly, and very classy people. We will never forget them.