Changing lives

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  December 15, 2006

The YPO tour began by breaking our hearts with the concert by the younger Caracas student orchestra. It ended by breaking our hearts again, with performances at our hotel by more young Venezuelans. 11 cellists played Villa Lobos’s BachianasBrasileiras No. 1, in honor of Sebastian Bäverstam, the YPO cello soloist in DonQuixote. Maestro Abreu then talked to us about the music centers for handicapped children. Music, he publicly reiterated, can actually improve health. Some conditions, he said, even become operable. But the bottom line is that the joy these students take in performing improves their lives, their spirits.

A group of handicapped children from the city of Barquesimeto had been bussed in. A young blind boy, with exquisite delicacy, played a Beethoven Romance on the mandolin, then sang a popular folk song with an expressive, silky voice, accompanying himself on the quatro, a Venezuelan folk guitar. He could be a star.

But the most moving moment of the entire Venezuelan visit was provided by a chorus made up of 100 deaf, blind, and autistic children, some suffering from Down Syndrome and mental retardation. They sang three Latin American folk songs, an Ave Maria motet, and a Venezuelan pop song (“our second national anthem”). The Chorus of White Gloves accompanied the singers with rhythmic clapping and balletic arm motions, perfectly timed to the singing. One deaf girl was actually mouthing the words. Instead of clapping, we were asked to wave our hands, so the deaf children could “hear” us. The applause was thunderous. An encore, “Mariposa” (butterfly), with fluttering hands and fingers and multi-colored gloves, overflowed with the performers’ sense of delight, of release.

“If all the world leaders were in this room right now,” one of the YPO chaperones said, “how could there be any war or hatred.”

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