On a quiet afternoon in August, the dulcet sounds of a symphony float across the crisp air of Chile’s El Tránsito Valley. Here, in the small town of the same name, a youth orchestra program is drumming up acclaim.
Students at Educador Arturo Alvear Ramos School have been learning to play the sonatas of Bach and the symphonies of Beethoven as part of a music program launched by the school in 2008. Originally, the school only had a brass band that would lead parades in the community. With the arrival of Claudio Morales, director of the school’s orchestra program, all of that changed. The school acquired cellos, violins and other instruments, adding to its existing collection of brass instruments.
Barrick began sponsoring the orchestra in 2011 as part of the company’s support for cultural activities in the district, contributing $120,000. The goal of the program is to foster culture, creativity and teamwork and help students improve their focus both in school and in life.
“It’s been gratifying working with Barrick on this program and instilling a sense of commitment, discipline and learning in these students,” says Morales. “We’re seeing a spirit of cohesion emerge in the school now and it’s reflected in our students when they play concerts.”
Most of the 50 participating students — ages seven to 17 — are from El Tránsito, which is located in Chile’s Alto del Carmen district near Barrick’s Pascua-Lama project. But word has spread about the program beyond El Tránsito, and some participants come from towns and villages as far as 50 kilometers away.
“I’ve learned to read scores, notes and how to play music in different keys,” says Karen Alcayaga, a 12-year-old student in the program. “I’ve never done anything like this before, and I feel great being a part of this.”
Last year, the students were invited to Copiapó, capital of Chile’s Atacama region, to play at a Christmas gala in the city’s cathedral.
“I feel very proud of my daughter because I know that she can go on to do many things with this ability,” says Maritza Gajardo, mother of one of the students that played in that concert. “It will serve her in her future. I hope that she decides to continue learning music because she comes from a family of musicians.”
This year, the orchestra is scheduled to play a number of concerts in neighboring communities, including Vallenar, capital of the Huasco province. And they’re not just playing classical music. Their repertoire now includes more contemporary music, ranging from pop to Latin American music.
Students interested in joining the program are subject to a rigorous selection process. They must commit to orchestra practices at the school and are expected to practice for several hours at home each week. “This program raises the academic performance and cultural awareness of youth in the valley.” says Mai-Nié Chang, Superintendent of Sustainable Mining Development at Barrick Pascua-Lama.