Dr. Craig Fuchs has conducted more musicians than he can count, both students and seasoned professionals. Although he appreciates them all, some eager youngsters in a poor town in Brazil hold a special place in his heart.
Last November, Fuchs was invited to conduct the Orquestra de Camara in Forteleza, a thriving city of 2.5 million people on the northeast coast of Brazil. Part of his trip was set aside for a very different experience, however.
In addition to conducting the state-sponsored Orquestra de Camara, which is made up of professional musicians, Fuchs also taught and conducted the 200 youngsters in the orquestra sopros de Pindoretama, a wind orchestra for children in an economically impoverished city of 18,000.
The orquestra sopros de Pindoretama was founded 11 years ago by a fireman with a passion for music, Arley Franca. Franca's aim was to lure youngsters away from the streets and the dangers of drugs and prostitution that seemed to be everywhere.
In the years since, the wind orchestra has grown from a handful of students to more than 200. To be part of the orchestra, students are required not only to rehearse, but to stay out of trouble. The success of the project can be measured in the fact that all but two of the orchestra's participants have passed the national exam for admission to college.
"They are beautiful, very polite, very disciplined," Fuchs wrote on a blog he maintained during his trip.
Fuchs wrote that he was captivated by the students' enthusiasm and their eagerness to learn. And the fact that neither spoke the other's language was not the barrier that might be expected.
"It was funny, without a translator, the students knew exactly what I was saying to them, just by the way my hands and face were speaking," Fuchs said.
Fuchs spent four days with the students and conducted two concerts that drew large crowds.
Saying goodbye to the students was difficult, Fuchs said. "It was really quite touching."
Fuchs said one of the student musicians summed it up when they said: "Even though we do not speak each other's language, it was wonderful to share this time together to speak the same language of music."
Fuchs thinks often of the students and his new friends in Brazil. He hopes to be able to bring Franca to PSU and would like to return to Pindoretama with some upper class PSU music students and former students with teaching experience who could conduct master classes.
"I think my students will learn so much from the experience and I know the students from the wind orchestra will love having American teachers work with them," Fuchs said.