During their recent trip to Cuba, members of the Fort Frances High School band sat with students from Cuba’s National Arts School for lunch.
Given the language barrier, as well as the shy personalities of the youth, it could have been a very awkward meal.
But the students soon discovered they had similar tastes in music and knew many of the same songs.
“They spent most of lunch singing,” recalled music teacher Lisa Loney.
And throughout their trip, which took place March 11-18, the group of 56 students and 13 chaperones learned a lot about the music, history, and culture of Cuba.
Not only did the senior band perform for people in Cuba, playing about six different concerts, but they were able to take in some performances themselves.
“We played and then they played,” Loney noted about the students at the National Arts School.
“They were really good,” echoed Grade 10 student Hannah Mueller, noting it was an audition-only school so the students played at a very high level.
Loney noted they played “an incredible version” of “O Canada” that the conductor had arranged.
“It was such a beautiful arrangement,” she added, citing the conductor even got a bit emotional during the song because of the strong feelings they have for Canada.
The students also took part in a percussion and Latin rhythms workshop, as well as attended a performance by Novel Voz, an excellent a capella vocal jazz ensemble, and a presentation by an Afro-Cuban musical/dance group.
“We even learned how to salsa dance,” Loney enthused, citing even the boys participated in the dance lesson.
She indicated they also took in plenty of history of the country, completing a walking tour of Old Town Havana, Spain’s gateway to the conquest of Latin America, as well as visiting to the “Parque Historico del Morro” to see fortifications built in the 17th century to guard the city from pirate attacks.
They also had some time to spend at the Santa Maria beach, as well as sightsee at the caves in the Vinales Valley and hike along a mountain river to a waterfall.
“We had two full-time guides and two full-time bus drivers with us all the time and they were very knowledgeable,” Loney voiced.
But the highlight, according to many of the students, was a visit a local orphanage to do some humanitarian work.
They had brought donations, such as toothbrushes, pencils, crayons, colouring books, glowsticks, and other small toys, for the youngsters there, who were very happy with the gifts.
“It looked like they didn’t have much,” Loney expressed, describing the little beds all lined up, each with a tattered stuffed animal placed on top.
“It was pretty sad,” she admitted, citing they then separated, each taking a child to play with.
“We coloured, played soccer, frisbee, and skipped with them,” Grade 10 student Chelsea Skirten said.
“They were really intrigued by all the long, blond hair,” Loney voiced. “They just wanted to touch it, play with it and braid it.”
Loney indicated it showed the students just how privileged they are to have what they have.
“If we need something, we find a way to get it. We don’t often go without,” she remarked.
The band also visited a community centre for musicians where they also left some donations, including a microphone cord.
“They were having trouble with theirs, so we just left one of our microphone cords with them,” Loney noted, citing the band has plenty of microphone cords.
“It was a great trip,” enthused Rebecca Zimmerman. “I didn’t want to leave.”
Loney noted they were told by the tour company that they were one of the largest groups they have had to handle, but that they were also one of the best groups they’ve dealt with.
They were also told they were one of the better sounding groups.
“I’m incredibly proud of the kids,” she enthused. “They took so much initiative and organized themselves so well.”
For instance, the students were very good about loading and unloading the instruments and gear, which they did many times over the course of the trip.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids,” she added. “Everything went really smoothly and we had a great trip.
“I’d certainly go back again.”