Working With Children in São Paolo

Thursday, Aug 17, 2017
Brian Hong
Juilliard Journal
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Second-year master's violinist Brian Hong

Since 2010, Juilliard has worked with a São Paolo program that brings music education to 15,000 underserved children as well as being affiliated with Tom Jobim State Conservatory of Music and the São Paulo Youth Orchestra. This summer, a Juilliard string quartet spent a few weeks with the program. The participants were Jennifer Liu (Pre-College ’10; BM ’14, MM ’16, violin), fourth-year cellist Edvard Pogossian, fourth-year composer Jasper Snow, and second-year master’s violinist Brian Hong, who wrote about the experience shortly before it ended.

As our week has progressed, the students have overcome their shyness and begun to ask for technical advice so we’re using rehearsal breaks to give mini private lessons (more like public, since other students gather around and try the tips as well) or group classes to work on specific technical ideas, especially with the bow arm. The students love it and have transformed their technique and sound, which is amazing because it shows how much they thirst for this kind of work in a program that doesn’t offer private lessons, only orchestra.

Today was a marked breakthrough. In addition to the general sound and intonation improving to the point that it sounded like a true violin section (previously, it sounded like everyone was struggling to even make a sound), we worked on 3D listening and awareness: encouraging the students to use their eyes to not only watch their music but also their section leaders, the other sections, and the conductor, as well as using their ears to listen to themselves, those around them, their whole section, and other voices as well.

Seeing how excited they got when they played a mini fugue from an Albinoni suite in perfect ensemble for the first time was so rewarding. It has also been amazing to see everyone adjusting their arm and hand positions as we have taught them to find a better posture and technique for ultimately better sound.

When the girl leading the second violins raised her hand and expressed her frustrations at not always being able to hear the ensemble well, we invited her to stand in front of the orchestra and listen while Jennifer took her seat and I conducted the sections in a string orchestra arrangement of “Nessun Dorma.” After we finished, the girl elegantly described the ways she’s realized that we must all listen to each other and play as a group, not as individuals. I had never felt so proud of someone before and know from her smile that Jennifer felt the same way.

I’m so thankful for this opportunity. In addition to experiencing a new country and culture, we’ve renewed our faith in our profession. These children are so eager, bright, and talented, and to see how happy this work has made them has really inspired me.