On June 23, I boarded a direct flight to Bogotá, Colombia, a place I’ve never had the opportunity to visit before. I’m fortunate that my job took me to a country I’ve always wanted to visit. I knew going in that Colombians were great people, so I never once doubted that this would be a good experience.
The next day, I was taken to Paipa, Boyacá, just northeast of Bogotá. That’s when the magic began. Little did I know that Boyacá had so much history, let alone mind-blowing scenery. As a Spanish speaker, I was able to enjoy many conversations with the locals: from Bogotá to Paipa, my driver, like the good Colombian he is, gave me a proper tour, giving me some context into each town we passed, and in between his fun commentaries we talked a little bit about everything…including fútbol! We were on the Bogotá-Tunja highway (110 km east of Bogotá) when he told me that he wanted to show me Puente de Boyacá, the place where Spanish and Colombian forces fought during the famous Battle of Boyacá. Led by Simón Bolívar, the Colombian soldiers fought in what became the decisive battle for the liberation of New Granada (now Colombia). I couldn’t resist: I had to take a selfie with Puente de Boyacá in the background!
We got back on the road, and a few hours later, I was at my final destination: Estelar Paipa Hotel & Centro de Convenciones, a place where nature is the way of life! With 102 acres of forests and hills and the incredible Lake Sochagota, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with joy. I immediately got to work, greeting our incredible musicians who had traveled thousands of miles the night before to be in Paipa for Day 1 of our residency with the Colombian Youth Philharmonic. Then, without even checking into my room, I got together with the Colombian Youth Philharmonic staff to discuss our plan of attack for the next few days. I immediately hit it off with my counterpart at the Colombian Youth Philharmonic, Juan Andrés Rojas Castillo. Right away, we started discussing ways in which we could help each other to tell the story of the partnership between the musicians of the Colombian Youth Philharmonic and those of the Houston Symphony.
What happened after Day 1 is something I can’t quite describe with words. The bond created between our musicians and the Colombian Youth Philharmonic musicians was evident right away, despite the language barrier. The ten- to twelve-hour days didn’t feel like work. The young musicians were learning and absorbing everything their mentors were teaching them, and their mentors were doing everything in their power to make the experience worthwhile—from learning a bit of Spanish to practicing longer hours with their students.
I was fortunate enough to meet most of the young musicians and had very fun and deep conversations with them—everything from discussing their goals and career aspirations to simply sharing a few laughs. I can’t quite describe how rewarding this experience has been. These musicians in their twenties are more dedicated than I ever was at that age. The structure and intensity of the residency allowed for some real quality time with their mentors and great one-on-one coaching. But despite the long hours and intensity, what was even more powerful for me to see were the friendships we all created in this place. A lot of our musicians scheduled time with their students for extracurricular activities, like running and coffee breaks. These friendships were developing at a fast pace despite the language barrier and intensity of the practice schedule. It must be true what they say about music being a universal language!
Now let’s talk about our fourteen musicians and their experiences. First, I think all of us can agree that the cool temperatures and amazing scenery were incredible bonuses. I’d occasionally find some of our musicians staring into the horizon, at the trees or horses while sipping on a cup of espresso—because if you’re in Colombia, coffee is the way of life! The food was incredible to say the least. In fact, our harpist Paula Page thinks the food came from our backyard. Check out the photos! But the scenery, horses, and lake aside…for me personally, I feel grateful and thankful to have gotten to know these musicians that I admire and respect so much. We also had some good laughs whenever we had free time during meals or breaks.
I will miss waking up every morning to the sounds of violins and flutes; these talented musicians were practicing day in and day out. Walking the halls during the day and seeing them lug around their instruments from room to room was fun to watch. I thank the students and the staff for their hospitality, the great conversations and for allowing me to intrude during sectionals and rehearsals to capture the experience and share it with everyone in Houston and beyond. Check out my photos at houstonsymphony.org/ColombianYouthPhil!
Thank you, Colombian Youth Philharmonic and Houston Symphony, for giving me one of the best experiences of my life.
Learn more about the Colombia Youth Philharmonic’s upcoming residency in Houston here!