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Teaching in Brazil, Part 3: The National Viola Competition of Paraíba

 

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The final component of the I Encontro Nacional de Violistas in Brazil was the Concurso Nacional de Violas, a competition for young violists, with three grand prizes: a master’s degree scholarship to Valdosta State University, a performance with the Paraíba Symphony Orchestra, and a beautiful bow crafted by Brazilian maker Willian DeMarchi. I had the pleasure of being a judge for this competition, whose five finalists played extremely well. I was also truly impressed by the integrity and excellent work ethic of my fellow judges. Every aspect of the competition went extremely smoothly, and should be a credit to viola competitions anywhere. Given what one hears lately about the shenanigans of international competitions, I found this really refreshing, and was proud of my colleagues for doing such a great job.

Here is a picture of the three prize winners, Gabriel Polycarpo (Concerto prize), Jessé Pereira (Bow prize), and Fábio Saggin (Valdosta prize.) Bravo to each of you!!! Parabéns, Queridos!!!

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I sat down during an airport layover and subsequent flight to interview our Brazilian colleague Hella Frank about the importance of these events:

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Hella and I have known each other since 1985 (!) but we began working collaboratively to organize viola events in Brazil in 2012. The first gathering we organized at the university where she teaches drew 52 violists and 4 guest teachers to the city of Porto Alegre. Two years later, we organized a second gathering with Professor Glêsse Collet at Universidade Nacional de Brasília, in the nation’s capital. This year, we had the great pleasure of being among the 19 guest teachers invited to the first Encontro Nacional de Violas in João Pessoa, which brought together nearly 100 participants. It was a very historic occasion for violists in Brazil, because it was the first event sponsored by the ABRAV- the Associação Brasileira de Violistas, which is newly established as a non-profit organization, and will be an official chapter of the International Viola Society.

Why is it important to have a national gathering of violists?

One of the most important reasons is to bring all the most important viola professors from around the country to meet each other, to observe each other’s work, to exchange ideas, and to come together around the idea that we are all rallying around a common cause.

All the invited artists have very different teaching styles and artistic backgrounds to share with the students, and this created a very rich learning environment for all of us to share.

For the students it was very important to see that even as teachers approach things differently, they ultimately had the same goals and outcomes in mind.

Brazil is a very large country, so it was also amazing for all of us to network and create relationships and connections that will bring people from different states together. Over time, this will energize the viola community from the whole country!

The level of playing in the country has risen dramatically in the last ten years. More and more students are playing, and they are playing at an ever higher level.

Perhaps most of all, for students from around the country, it was a huge stimulus and encouragement, to meet so many peers from other regions and cities, and fostered an amazing sense of camaraderie and mutual support.

With this in mind, do you think there is any particular value in bringing international artists to take part in this kind of event?

It’s very enriching for the students here to be exposed to new or different teaching methodologies. This year for example, with Susan and you, we were able to learn so much about Karen Tuttle’s teaching style– it was wonderful for the students to be able to work on Coordination over several days. Also, it’s really important for the students to have an idea of what they are already doing well– playing for a foreign teacher can be a really validating experience, it can show them that they are being well taught at home, and it can help them understand what level of playing they have, in relation to a larger peer group, and to see in what areas they still need to grow, or to make technical changes.

Were there particularly strong themes in the programming?

Yes, one really important aspect of the Encontro and the Competition was showcasing modern Brazilian viola repertoire. Twenty eight works were programmed over the four days, some of them standard and others new to the audience. This was great for the students, so they could be more widely exposed to the music of our composers, and it was important overall to highlight the diversity of styles in our country’s modern repertoire.

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A key element of the Encontro was the National Viola Competition of Paraíba. What was it like for you to have two student finalists who did so well?

Naturally I was very happy and satisfied to have two of my recent graduates place among the five finalists. It’s wonderful to see their work blossom and bear fruit– each of them was able to reach a new level of expression in their playing.

The competition took place in the far north of Brazil, and it was nice to have them perform so far away from home and receive validation for their work from our colleagues from other parts of the country. It’s easy here in Brazil for violists to feel isolated– a great outcome of the competition was having winners from different parts of the country, knowing how hard each of them worked to get to the point of winning, and celebrating the fruition of that work with their teachers. It is really something that brought me great joy!

Thank you Hella! 

Note: this post concludes a three-part series that attempted to to capture the rich experiences of this trip. Teaching and sharing these kinds of activities with musicians around the world is one of my chief joys, and certainly a huge reason for being a university professor. I am thankful to everyone who made this trip possible, including UNT, Susan Dubois, Hella Frank, Cristina Capparelli and Fredi Gerling, Ulisses Silva and ABRAV, and the UNT viola studio teaching fellow Michael Capone, who kept things running very smoothly at school during our absence. May these wonderful alto clef journeys continue!

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