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Music that transforms lives

Foto (CC BY-NC-ND): Lenon Reis/NEOJIBA

Music that transforms lives

The pianist Ricardo Castro started a network of community music projects with children and youth across the state of Bahia.

“A person who started playing the piano at three years old can’t just suddenly stop. Or decide: ‘I don’t want to play anymore,’ because it’s not going to work. It’s like eating and sleeping,” says Ricardo Castro, the first Brazilian to receive the title of honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society.

But this organic relationship that the Brazilian has developed with music goes well beyond his solid international career, reaching more than 4,600 children, teens and youth through the program NEOJIBA (Núcleos de Orquestras Juvenis e Infantis da Bahia). “In the beginning, I was just putting together a symphony orchestra, but there was already something unique growing from it,” says Castro, who founded the program in 2007, in Salvador. “The novelty here is using the orchestra to bring the practical experience of collaborative music to as many people as possible”, he adds.

  • The Bahia youth orchestra. Photo (CC BY-NC-ND): Lenon Reis/NEOJIBA

  • Ricardo and the so-called experimental pedagogic orchestra OPE. Photo (CC BY-NC-ND): Lenon Reis/NEOJIBA

  • Ricardo with some of the members of his experimental orchestra. Photo (CC BY-NC-ND): Lenon Reis/NEOJIBA

Born in Vitória da Conquista, in Bahia, the musician moved to Europe at a very young age. Trained at the Geneva Conservatory, Castro has been teaching masters students at the Haute École de Musique in Lausanne, Switzerland, since 1992. “But I never stopped being Brazilian. My family stayed in the country and, at one point, that social reality hit me,” the pianist says as he recalls the moment when he felt he could do “something more” as an artist. “Then it was a question of looking for partners. The Axé Project, Conquista Criança and the Belgais project, run by the pianist Maria João Pires, in Portugal, were my three main points of reference,” he says.

The audience on stage

In January 2007, Ricardo Castro’s adventure in NEOJIBA began. “What happens here is also new for me. I’ve really changed my ideas about being an artist. In these nine years, living everyday by our motto ‘learning through teaching,’ my own conception of music changed to bring ‘the audience on stage.’ It is my view that everyone can achieve a rather high level of excellence in art in general, if given opportunity,” the pianist asserts.

Castro believes that artistic practice cannot be a privilege of the few: “We know that art is transformative and essential to a community’s life. The question now is about convincing more and more people that it is possible for everyone and that it should be a priority in public policy.” And while access to musical training remains quite difficult for many Brazilian children, adolescents and youth, NEOJIBA is taking great strides.

Anything is possible

In 2016, the program includes ten Centers for Orchestra and Choir Practice based in Salvador and other Bahian municipalities, among others Simões Filho, which has the highest homicide rate in Brazil. The program also serves a range of partners in 15 of Salvador’s districts with the highest rates of violence in the metropolitan area, as well as 17 cities inside the state. The program is made up of music, philharmonic and school band community projects that offer activities in musical training, certification in pedagogy, and managing didactic concerts, all for free.

“The orchestra is the quickest and most efficient means for achieving a significant impact in little time. This happens because of the size, the repertoire and the demand for discipline. Choral singing is also a fundamental activity. We have grown using all possible training methods, like the Fingerpicking String Orchestra (Orquestra de Cordas Dedilhadas). Perhaps soon we will have a berimbau orchestra or just percussion. Anything is possible,” Castro says.

A more real experience

Some of the Brazilian musicians of NEOJIBA are part of a group of 104 musicians, between the ages 14 and 29, who will be playing starting August 2016 in France, Switzerland and Italy. There will be ten concerts conducted by Ricardo Castro and accompanied by two of the most respected musicians of our time: the pianist Martha Argerich and the violinist Midori Goto.

“I believe there is a desire to listen to these youth playing, for the way we play the repertoire, the dedication and the energy that emanates from these energies as they join together. The result is always very emotional,” Castro points out. For the European audience, “who are used to hearing professional standard orchestras,” the interest in the work carried out in Bahia opens the possibility for them to participate in a “more real experience,” the Brazilian pianist concludes.


    August 2016
    Brazil, Salvador da Bahia



    Christiane Sampaio  
    isa journalist and coordinator of projects in the areas of public policy,education, culture and human rights. She lives in Salvador.

    Translated by

    Sara Hanaburgh


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