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July 2009 - STIMMA has launched its community children’s harp program in the historic town of Suchitoto, El Salvador on the shores of Lago de Suchitilan.
This beautiful, ancient, colonial town with its cobbled streets and its landmark, The Santa Lucia Church, dates back to 1528.
The town of Suchitoto is emerging from the war years as one of the most artistic, historic and emerging tourist places in El Salvador.
The harp program currently consists of, 10 children (ages 9-13), a local teacher Orlando Menjivar and takes place in the beautiful Centro Artes para la Paz under the directorship of Hna. Peggy O’Neill. The Centro is located on the grounds of the Santa Imelda School and Convent. From 1917-1980, the Dominican Sisters worked here but had to abandon the school because of the civil war violence. To quote Hna. Peggy O’Neill “Suchitoto was one of the most scarred war zones during the cruel civil war. So, we are dealing with trauma from those years, as well as from poverty, lack of options, disintegration of family because of emigration ,etc. That is really why this place, Centro Arte para la Paz is my latest passion. It is a healing place. A quiet place where the arts can be the vehicle to heal and build a culture of peace.”
STIMMA member and harpist, Wendy O’Connor will oversee the program and visit the project every 3 months.
The goal of this community project, sponsored by STIMMA, is to develop a children’s harp ensemble/orchestra program that promotes self-esteem, team and leadership skills, while incorporating music as a way of continuing development in the process of peace.
STIMMA was very proud to attend our very first recital! See pictures from this great event or watch the videos of the recital below.
I am writing to share a little of the joy we all experienced here in Centro Arte para la Paz with the second visit of Wendy O’Connor. The children were thrilled because she was so pleased with their performance, their enthusiasm and their desire. It is clear that Wendy’s loving and generous way with the young ones helps them to keep trying and want to persevere.
You in Canada just celebrated your day of Thanksgiving but know that we are the ones this week to be giving THANKS for this project and all of those who have made it possible. We hope to have a little presentation at the end of November for family and friends and we will keep you posted with photos and “evaluations”.
Again we feel honored to have been chosen to be the place for the Harp program. Know that we will do all we can to be supportive of Wendy as she is so dedicated and special. Volunteers don’t usually give 110%!!! How lucky we are!!
The children’s harp program in Suchitoto, El Salvador has progressed into its second year. It started with 10 children and on my most recent visit in September 2010, there are still 10 children attending. What a great tribute to the program.
During my recent 2 week visit, the harps and hardware were cleaned (for a harp this is like going to the dentist) and the children received private lessons as well as their usual weekend group lessons. They continue to advance in playing by ear, reading music and tuning their harps. The harps have 29 strings, so tuning can be a tedious task for a 9-12 year old. There is a saying “Tune to your harps desire”. They tune with confidence, diligence and patience. Their eagerness to learn was so evident that when I added new music to their songbooks THEY ACTUALLY NOTICED!
Many of my goals are evolving.
In this country of El Salvador, where so many things are broken ie: buildings, roads, PEOPLE, be assured, that by playing their harps for friends and family, the children are aiding, big time, in the process of healing and peace in this community.
Sr. Peggy O’Neill, director of Centro Arte para la paz, continues to bring her undying love and support to the program and to the children. A big thank you to her and all of the staff at CAP.
On arrival at the Centro Arte para la Paz, big changes were noted. There was a new skate board park, an outdoor exercise area with equipment and a beautiful new museum. Extensive new out buildings and apartments, to house future programs and guests, were in construction.
There were 3 new students' harps. Two were made in Guatemala and one in Suchitoto. They were all excellent harps made at a fraction of the cost that we would pay in Canada. I no longer have to travel with harps and even more importantly, a local tradesperson is employed.
Now the hard work begins:
On the day before the trip, we were honored and surprised by a visit from a delegation of wives of the vice presidents from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. They were in San Salvador on a conference concerning the senseless violence that plagues the Central American countries. All showed great interest in our harp program; in the harps, in the music and how the program is dispensed. Of interest was the fact that the children were traveling to Guatemala City the next day, a 6 hour bus trip, where they would mix and liaise with their peers in a similar program. The wives thought this was a fantastic gesture for the young in a step towards peace and prevention of violence. Myself and my young charges were lauded greatly for their efforts. This could not have been a better boost for the trip occurring the next morning at 5 am sharp.
The bus was loaded with the harps, luggage, harpers, parents, little brothers and sisters and a cinematographer to record the event for the Centro Arte para la Paz. Sr. Peggy O'Neill assumed the role of translator and tour guide as she was the only one who had been to Guatemala City. This was much to the relief of our driver, Jose, as she was able to guide him to within a bus length of the hotel.
At the hotel, we were met by Carlos. He is the producer and manager for the event along with his wife Patrice Fisher, a well known harpist from New Orleans. Carlos advised us that we would play at 4pm instead of 12 noon as originally planned. We decided to relax, feed the kids, go to hear our fellow harpers and return to the hotel for a little practice and a last tune up for the harps.
We had lots of time..so we thought. At 11:30 I received a call from Carlos that we were now to play at 12 noon and 4 pm as planned. Panic set in to find the children, find the bus driver, reload the harps in the bus and get to the 6th Avenue pedestrian mall in less that half an hour. It happened! We arrived 3 minutes before our introduction and what do you know, the harpers sat down and started to play with their fellow harpers as if they were doing this all their lives. I can honestly say they played the pieces better than I have ever heard them play before. They remembered everything and their accomplishments brought me to tears. They behaved like little angels. Their families were so proud of them and the crowd of passerby's kept building in the street to about 1,000. They were loving it. We played for about one hour.
At the kid's choice, we all went to Wendy's restaurant for lunch. Some of the group had never heard of Wendy's and got a kick out of the association of the name of the restaurant and my own, thinking that somehow, I had planned the whole thing.
After pollo and more pollo, we went to the market to shop, did a tour of the beautiful cathedral on the main square and returned to the pedestrian mall to tune the harps for the 4pm show.
Once again, the STIMMA children performed admirably. This time they were part of 26 harps playing. We were told that this set a record in Guatemala for the most harps played at one given time in public.
After a successful performance, and myself making new contacts, the harpers of Suchitoto vowed to reciprocate with a similar event in Suchitoto in August. Planning has already begun.
For the next 3 days following the concert, I gave all of the children private lessons and each was oozing with pride. They have progressed immensely and are no longer shy and retiring. In fact, as I was giving little Irma her lesson, a group of high school students from all over the world were touring the Centro. They asked Irma if she would play for them. Without prompting from me, she played a piece she learned for the concert...flawlessly and with great pride.
The children worked hard learning how to tune their new harps and change some broken strings. I am enthused with their progress in the last few months and their ability to play independently with confidence.
SKYPE lessons have been scheduled, alternating between myself and a teacher from the Guatemalan harp project. I have arranged internet access at the Centro for this.
When I return in May 2011, the program is ready to start 4-5 new harpers with the help of the current teacher, Orlando.
On behalf of me, our "little harping stars" and their families, thank you STIMMA for this opportunity to unite families and countries in this community project.