The Other Side of Cuba

To the Editor: This past December, 16 music students and two teachers made the trip down to Cuba and had an experience that I’m sure none of us will forget soon. While we all studied the music, the culture, the religion and the history for a semester in our Music of Cuba course, I don’t think any of us were prepared for the amazing generosity, patience and understanding that the people we interacted with gave us. In Cuba, we spent intensive hours in workshops led by teachers from the Writers and Artist Association (UNEAC) in both the eastern and western parts of the island. We also had the privilege of playing with students from ISA, the Institute of Superior Arts, who were by far the best musicians I’d ever listened to or played with that were our age. These students were classically trained but played jazz as often as they could. It was amazing how difficult it was for them to access resources that we take for granted every day here as musicians: Real Books, teachers who teach only jazz, and hundreds of thousands of CD’s at our fingertips to learn from and yet despite all this adversity, they absolutely blew us away. Back home, it has been an exciting time this semester, as well. There has been a wealth of Cuban musicians and specialists in the area. There have been speakers from the University of Havana and a visit from Ben Lapidus, an expert on Cuban music who worked with our class and the Latin Jazz Combo. We have been graced by the presence of Chucho Valdez at the Flynn, Chocolate Armenteros in Plattsburg and now, Paquito D’Rivera playing with UVM’s own Jazz Band on the main stage at the Flynn this Saturday (April 26, 8 pm). This is yet another incredible opportunity that will be an amazing end to a semester of learning and cultural interaction. It’s been a long time since favorable words have been spoken about Cuba in the US political ring – same goes for Cuba. It’s time things changed – Cuba can’t be dismissed so easily. It is a place of subtle complexity with a people that have managed to endure through decades of hardship. Despite sanctions, and of course, the 40-year embargo that has only hurt the people, Cubans are still willing to embrace and try to understand their northern neighbors. The only thing that will ever help this 90-mile rift is to take a step in trying to understand and embrace our cultural differences. The opportunities are out there – this semester has shown that. The first step is remembering that in reality, we are all “Americans.” Special thanks to Alex Stewart and Marisha Kazeniac.Audrey LeducClass of 2005