“I play the bassoon in the orchestra," says Alberto Samudio. "This has become my career, my professional path, my life’s work. Alberto plays with the Orchestra Mario de Obaldía, which is part of the National Network of Children's and Youth Orchestras and Choirs of Panama.
"Being part of the Orchestra has encouraged many young people in my community to exchange weapons for a musical instrument, to stay off the streets ... to change their lives for good," Alberto says.
Like Alberto, more than 1000 children and adolescents from Panama are part of the Network, a project of the National Institute of Culture (INAC) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In it, young people have found a refuge in music, a passion for art and even the hopes of a future on stage.
In Panama, 25 percent of the population is young and 11 percent are unemployed. The levels of street violence and school dropout are high; nevertheless, the desire to find opportunities and to get away from bad influences has led some young people to look for new horizons through music.
Following in the footsteps of countries like Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Uruguay, and especially the model of the National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela, Panama launched the Network in 2016 in six provinces with high instability and social vulnerability.
Its aim is to be a powerful tool for social change through collective teaching of music. Community workshops and musical programmes promote conflict resolution and inclusion of children and youth in the cultural development of the country.
In this way, the aim is to improve quality of life and reduce inequality, as well as to advance the professional development of the participants, both students and instructors. The project ensures the supply and maintenance of the instruments, equipment and spaces that allow the musicians to achieve highest levels of excellence in performance.
The workshops offered by the Network range from introduction and methodology of early music education, choral conducting and vocal technique, to orchestral practice, taught by Panamanian teachers and teachers from the Simón Bolívar Music Foundation of Venezuela (FundaMusical Bolivar).
The courses are organized by INAC and UNDP, supported by a strategic alliance with the Latin American Development Bank (CAF) and its “Music for Growth” programme, which has been operating in most South American countries for 16 years.
In Panama, “Music for growth” offers choral and vocal technical direction and has more than 60 participants, including teachers, children and young people. “The main objective of the programme is to interest children in an activity that offers them discipline," says Alberto Grau, one of the visiting professors. “If these children can convince their parents to let them participate in a sport or cultural activity, we all are much better off.”
A renowned composer with over 50 years of experience, Alberto is the creator of the Schola Cantorum Music Foundation in Venezuela. For him, it is important to take into account native cultures, to find poems and songs that can be arranged in modern ways to strike a chord with young people.
"The reason is simple," he says. "It is good for them to feel proud of who they are. You have to find a way so that this is not lost. "
"Music for Growth" is designed to work with children, a task that Alberto recognizes, is not always easy. "The new generations are exposed to a lot more stimulation and won’t settle for singing songs from our grandparents’ generation,” he says. “You have to create music that makes them move, dance, sing, make a real show, so that they feel like returning because they feel like artists."
Class repertoires include indigenous music and classical composers like Bach and Mozart. The classes promote eurythmics through the use of not only instruments but the whole body, through feet and hand movements that help students release their inhibitions.
“The most important thing is that what we have started can continue,” Alberto says. “To be able to teach children and young people who often have many hours of leisure and to show them how to be disciplined in something that they like and that excites them and that eventually can shape them into citizens who have more pride in their culture, their traditions.”
The plan is for the Network will expand to all of Panama’s municipalities and share experiences with other countries through tours and exchanges of teachers and students. This year the participants have already given six performances; they have been met with strong attendance and enthusiasm from the community.
“In the future, I hope to play in a professional orchestra,” says Alberto, the student bassoonist. Practicing the latest notes learned in the classroom, he dreams of someday giving his own concert.