By Hazel Kutkue
Who has ever heard of a an orchestra with an accompanying music school in the country? Much less one situated at a beachside village? Fr. Miguel de la Calle tells us about this music school that has gone beyond the guitar and drums and other more common instruments in the country.
The Queen of Paradise Orchestra is an orchestra of classical music and music school that was inspired by the model of El Sistema Choirs and Orchestras from Venezuela in South America. It was established in Baro Village, idyllically situated beside the sea, in West Sepik in August 2018.
The school was the brainchild of the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word working in Vanimo, that included the Priests of the Incarnate Word and the Servants of the Lord Sisters who had the help of Master Jesús Briceño, who works for El Sistema.
The Baro village is also the home of the Holy Trinity Parish. Fifty children from the five villages that the Parish serves participated in the earliest meetings. The orchestra has since expanded and children from Vanimo Town have now joined. There are 90 students to date.
“We are teaching the children and the leaders to read music and to write music,” says Fr. Miguel.
The music school and its accompanying orchestra is a social and cultural activity that systematically applies the collective and individual instruction and practice of music through the choir and the orchestra.
” The overall goal is to use music as a means of knowing and loving God, and a concrete means of evangelizing then beautiful cultures of PNG.”
“For some children, getting to the meetings involves a great deal of sacrifice, as some have to travel over 30 kilometres to reach the school.”
Parents, community leaders, and friends wanting to see their children achieve their music goals have been a great help in solving transportation challenges.
In October of 2018, the group was able to make definite arrangements for assistance and direction of El Sistema, founded by Master Antonio Abreu. The music program now became more official.
During a forty seven day period (October – December 2018), the arrival of Master Jesús Briceño, from Caracas, Venezuela, who pertains to El Sistema saw the beginnings of violin classes and the first official presentation of the Queen of Paradise Orchestra. More programs were introduced including: Musical Language Courses, Recorder Classes, Children’s Choir, and Violin Classes.
When Master Jesús had to leave in February 2019, Sister Cielos of the SSVM carried on the work conducting classes and courses until October of the same year.
Master Jesús Briceño returned in October of 2019 under a contract which will have him in the country teaching music until May 2022.
New programs were introduced including programs after the arrival of Master Jesús: Viola Classes, Cello Classes, and Double Bass Classes. In December 2019, the first strings Orchestra of the Country officially debuted.
It is a collective effort as Master Jesús teaches all the instruments and directs the orchestra and choir while Sr. Cielos teaches all of the children the flute along with music theory. The local orchestra leaders from each village help to plan and carry out the logistics for the group from their village as well as assist at practices.
Why music and not painting? It seemed to the religious family that music was the most accessible tool that they saw fit to aiding in the development not only of the individual child but for the country also.
“Music has a special quality that goes beyond words or languages and speaks directly to the soul, which is why is it such a useful tool not only for discipline and team work but also for the overall spiritual growth of individuals.”
“Throughout our years of mission in Papua New Guinea, we saw the important role that music has in the local cultures, and knowing that music is a powerful tool, we decided to develop this natural skill that lies within most children,” says Fr. Miguel.
The group classes are held every Saturday. The children learning stringed instruments have practice at least one other day of the week,sometimes they work individually and other times in small groups. In addition, students are expected to practice daily to refine their skills.
“This year with more than 90 students and the covid restrictions we divided the students in smalls groups. Master Jesús Brisenio, Sr. Cielos SSVM, Mama Loreta, and Felicitas two of the Leaders, divide their time and do rotations in the Saturday morning meetings in helping each group with their diferent practices.”
Children usually let the teachers know about the type of instruments they liked but with careful observations the teachers know which instrument is suited for each child and further helps him or her develop it. Amonsgt one of the best in a stringed instrument is Christina Pasika.
“Christina is our double bass player, and certainly she may be the only double bass player in PNG! And she plays it very well!”
The orchestra currently has the following stringed instruments, including the violin, viola, cello and double bass. The first instruments were donated by a catholic priest and his parishioners in Surabaya, Indonesia.
“They bought them there and shipped them to Vanimo. Now we are getting new ones. Some more of each, and in smaller sizes from Singapore, with the help a of Italian benefactors.” The group currently has one double bass, two cellos, twenty violins, and two violas.
Apparently the children have caught on pretty quickly for a very new concept.
“They are very fast music learners!”
So far the Queen of Paradise Orchestra has performed only within West Sepik Province.
“We have had Christmas concerts every year at the local villages, but last year, in 2020, we had 3 performances out of our territory.”
The first performance outside of the villages was a private performance for members of the Parliament that were gathered in Vanimo. Two other concerts were also held in Vanimo Town: a private concert held at Vanimo Beach Hotel, and the second one, which was also the largest concert ever had in December 2020.
” The Christmas concert, had over 700 people attend at the Medallion Hotel in Vanimo Town.”
Both of the concerts were private events and attendees were there through purchased tickets only. The show was also live streamed.
“The audience at both events were completely blown away. They did not expect to hear such a wonderful variety of music from a group of village children. Truly the performances were beyond anyone’s expectation, as the children gave impressive performances that included solos, duets, trios, the flute choir, the stringed orchestra and the choir and orchestra together.”
Despite practicing outdoors and having a long awaited classroom being built, the children’s spirits have not been dampened with performances continuing in this year.
The Orchestra has a YouTube Channel and other social media pages where the school continues to showcase the good it is doing for the children through music. They also have a GoFundMe Page where donations can be made -( link https://gofund.me/3e34a597 )
The government despite a promise to help in the construction of the classroom has still to help the religous family in completing the building. The children still make music and learn music sitting outdoors or in their partially completed classroom.