Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dr. Eric Conway, Morgan State University Choir: Day 4 in Santa Clara, Cuba. This concert was another small step for Cuban and American relations!

Dr. Eric Conway writes:

Day 4 in Santa Clara

After a full day of travel and exploring the villa of Trinidad, we arrived to our Santa Clara hotel, exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep.  As stated earlier, this hotel was on a preserve-type property that everyone in the group did not immediately embrace, however, once to bed, with doors closed most enjoyed a good night’s sleep.  One concern that many expressed was that fact that probably because of the animals, there were many more mosquitos in the air.  As great as my slumber was last evening, it was awakened by the cockadoodle-doo of a rooster, not at sunrise but an hour or so before sunrise at 4 a.m.  At breakfast, most were surprised that the accommodations were better than originally believed, as most still had smiles on their faces at breakfasts.  After breakfast, I discover even more animals that I did not see yesterday like huge rabbits and monkeys in cages.  

We travelled to the city-center of Santa Maria, (our hotel was about 3 miles out) for our cultural activity with the Santa Clara choir.  The cultural exchange was held on the 2nd floor of the site of our concert: Teatro La Caridad.  Our cultural exchange events, although desirable when touring a foreign country, was mandatory supporting the type of visa given to the choir.  This exchange was much freer than the previous stop.  The local choir performed many local songs for us.  The Morgan choir of course reciprocated by singing some songs from our repertoire.  We closed out the rehearsal by singing the Cuban song Dulce Embelso together, and with me teaching the other choir: Oh Happy Day as a finale!  After O Happy Day, the local choir began playing some stirring rhythms with their percussion instruments, and everyone started moving their bodies feverishly!  The Morgan choir knows how to dance!  So beyond just exchanging music, we also exchanged dance; yet another way to experience each other’s culture.  See snippet attached in mov. format.

After the workshop we travelled to Remedios, a town one hour away for lunch.  We had a very nice meal in a town constructed in the 18th century.  Similar to many European cities, many Cuban towns have a town-square where their major churches are erected.  Always, we have noticed the best restaurants are on this square with a great view during the meal.  We quickly returned to our hotel to rest before out 9 p.m. concert this evening.

We left at 7:15 p.m. for our group dinner, again at a Cuban buffet-style restaurant, immediately behind the Cuban theatre for our concert.  Everyone has commented on the consistent quality of all our Cuban meals.  Given that this is still a communist state, we were certain, these were not meals that the locals could or would ever enjoy.  Despite this apparent caste system between the local Cubans and the visiting tourists, all of Cubans treated all of us with so much kindness and care, one would never know how economically disadvantaged that they were by the way we were treated.  

The theaters where we performed during our first night in Cienfuegos, tonight in Santa Clara, and on Sunday evening in Mantanzas are among the top concert venues in Cuba!  One might not immediately think that this was the case upon viewing the buildings compared to our American standard, but despite that there have not been consistent resources to tend to the upkeep of these buildings in decades, one could still feel the history in the walls and on the stages. 

Tonight’s concert again was a great success.  The concert was well attended.  As the opening Cuban group began to sing Gospel music in their set, it only seemed appropriate that on the fly, we change our program somewhat to balance the Cuban's vision for the program through their programing.  Additionally, after having been drenched after Wednesday’s concert with no air-conditioning or ventilation in the hall, we decided to wear our cooler uniforms: white tee-shirts and khaki pants, which made a huge difference in energy expended and recovery after the concert.  At the end of the concert the Santa Clara choir gave each of the MSU choir members photos from our afternoon exchange. Earlier in the evening I gave some Morgan momentos including a tee-shirt to the director, MSU pens, wristbands, choir CDs and DVDs to members of the Santa Clara choir. 

This concert was another small step for Cuban and American relations!



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