I am still adjusting to a December without gray skies, cold winds, and snow. For almost all of my life Christmastime meant white, fluffy stuff and freezing temperatures. Now my head sweats under a Santa hat because it is 73 degrees and sunny, not because I am shoveling snow and scraping ice. Bright, twinkly lights look amazing on palm trees, but blow up snowmen perched between two cacti seem strange. Steve and I needed a little help getting into the spirit. A Christmas concert by the Esperanza Azteca Youth Symphony seemed like the perfect choice.
I do not have very good luck attending symphonies. In fact, I am pretty sure that when I attended annually with my fifth grade class, I was caught dozing off once or twice by my students. The Sonora Youth Symphony, however, is the pride of Guaymas. It was a risk I was willing to take. Steve does not have a track record of falling asleep at classical concerts- -mostly because he avoids them altogether. I could practically hear his eyes rolling into the back of his head and his teeth grinding when I walked up to the ticket seller at the Christmas Bazaar and purchased two tickets to the December 17 Christmas performance. I am also pretty sure I heard a pencil scratching as he made another tally in the “she owes me” column in his Take One for the Team tracker.
The Esperanza Azteca Project is sponsored by a foundation operated by the Salinas Group in Mexico. Its goal is to improve the quality of life for at-risk youth in low income and underserved communities through music. The foundation provided all start up costs for the program in Guaymas beginning in 2012. This included funding for: brand new instruments, music stands, chairs, rehearsal space and utilities, and teachers. The expectation for all orchestras receiving the grant is to be self-supporting after one year through performances and local, private, and government financial support.
There are one hundred children performing with the orchestra today. Seventy of those one hundred had never played an instrument before in their lives. In addition, there are one hundred children who sing in the choir. In September, a steel pan drum group was formed and began practicing as well. Their very first public performance kicked off Sunday’s show. All members practice five days a week for four hours a day.
The importance of this program is seen and felt in 29 states across Mexico. There are 54 orchestras and at least 800 music teachers thriving from the opportunities provided by participating in the arts. These young boys and girls are confident, driven, and excelling in school as a result of their participation.
The reputation of this group of children was well known to most of the audience, who was on its feet from the moment the young musicians walked onto the stage. They received multiple standing ovations, brought at least one of us to tears with their rendition of “Silent Night”, and treated the audience to three encores. Parents beamed with pride as the audience around them chanted, “Otra! Otra! Otra!” We hooted, hollered, and whistled our appreciation and admiration. Admittedly, this is not typical orchestra viewing behavior. The audience was passionate about this incredible group of performers and not shy about letting them know. And no one fell asleep.
Two hours after it began, the concert finally came to an end. It was announced the group would be back in February for a Valentine’s Day show. And guess who suggested we buy tickets for that one?! This gives me a free future tally somewhere! Now, overflowing with Christmas spirit, Steve and I are headed off to spend some much needed time with our son.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of A Christmas Festival performed at last year’s Christmas concert by Esperanza Azteca Orquestra Sinfónica Sonora! Happiest of Holidays to all!