On January 1, 1995 I got up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a shuttle bus to the airport. The temperature was around 2 degrees below zero in Minneapolis. About twelve hours later I was standing, for the first time in my life, in the southern hemisphere in Lima, Peru, temperature around 75 degrees.
I had known for several months that I, along with two other teachers from the MacPhail Center for the Arts, would be going to South America for three weeks.. In Lima and Santiago, Chile, we would be working with teachers and students at two different summer Suzuki festivals held annually in these capital cities.
I was quite apprehensive about reviving my Spanish sufficiently to teach effectively over the weeks of our trip. While it took me the first morning to rid myself of the “vosotros” habit I had acquired during my years in Spain, after that it went surprisingly well except for the few mix-ups due to regional colloquialisms unknown to me. The young students were eager to learn; some were already in Suzuki Book 2 and were seasoned performers. Each day there was a noon recital featuring guitar and recorder students. In the afternoon, each student had a master class with me as well as a group class with their peers.
On our fourth night in Lima, the American tour group of fourteen students gave a performance in a large auditorium at a downtown bank. The kids had been preparing for this for months and they were primed. For me, the highlights were “Danny Boy” performed by the MacPhail Cello Choir, the Bach Double Concerto for two violins and orchestra, and of course, my student Neil Pederson’s and my duo performance of “Charade” by Henry Mancini.
Other highlights of our stay in Peru included warm hospitality, wonderful food, and exotic folk dancing. The festive elegance of this dancing, the beauty of the costumes, and the alluring multi-metric nature of the music knocked me out. Our group also took trips to Machu Pichu, the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), and the sixteenth-century catacombs below the city. To be sure, Peru has a dark side with high unemployment, a recent cholera epidemic, and other political and economic troubles. Still, it is a country whose people express a culture and generosity equal to the beauty of the land and the warmth of the climate.
From Lima we took a midnight flight some 1500 miles south to Santiago, Chile. Santiago is surrounded by the biggest mountains I have ever seen. On a clear day, I was able to see beyond the first belt of mountains to an even taller second belt and beyond that, a stunning snow-covered third belt of mountains! There are beautiful tree-lined streets, a modern subway and a very pleasant climate.
In Santiago, I worked with 14 Chilean and Argentinean teachers. Many of them complained to me about the lack of a consistent, logical approach to technical instruction in their own backgrounds, so I was happy to be able to tie up some loose ends for them regarding technique. I enjoyed sharing methods for teaching a number of techniques traditionally considered too complicated for young children. As a parent of one of my students has said, I have a contraption for every eventuality. The teachers enjoyed learning about the use of a slap bracelet behind the left hand thumb to check for excessive pressure, the guitarasaurus for left hand balance, etc. We also spent a good deal of time discussing reading skill development for young children.
The children were a joy to work with although there were some problems with consistent attendance and parental involvement. I stressed the importance of group lessons, and encouraged parents to help teachers organize group lessons. On the last night we were there, the guitar teachers held a party at one of their homes; they passed around a guitar and sang their hearts out. From gravelly rough and tumble romantic songs to love songs too poetic to be anything but corny in English, they wowed me for hours. Finally, after much insistence, I felt obliged to sing an American song and dredged up an old blues number I hadn’t sung in nearly 20 years. Next time I’m going to plan ahead and learn something more ambitious like maybe “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.” Yeah, they’ll like that!