July 30, 2020 / 1:07 PM / 8 days ago

Can't stop the music: Argentine child orchestras play on amid lockdown

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Marcela Sosa has her own private escape from the tedium of a coronavirus lockdown in the small Buenos Aires home the 12-year-old shares with six others: her violin and a computer connection that lets members of her youth orchestra play together online.

Ivan, 12, member of the Buenos Aires children's and youth orchestra program, practices his violin during a video call at home during the coronavirus pandemic in Buenos Aires, Argentina July 17, 2020. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Argentina’s capital city and the surrounding area have been under lockdown since March 20, one of the longest in the world, with strict restrictions on movement and gatherings to try to limit the spread of the pathogen. But coronavirus infections have jumped in recent weeks, now exceeding 175,000 nationwide.

“I always look forward to the time I can get on (video chat app) Zoom, see my classmates, my teachers and learn new things,” said Sosa, who plays in the orchestra of La Boca, one of the 13 that make up a children and youth program around Buenos Aires.

Some 1,500 youngsters, ages 6 to 19, from low-income areas participate in the 22-year-old music program. When the pandemic hit, teachers had to reinvent their classes to deal with slow internet and getting the children to play together online.

“They are super plugged in. Really, they learn more, they are playing better than when we saw each other,” said Clarisa Orfila, a viola teacher at the Mexico Balvanera Orchestra, adding that music has become a way for many of the children to unwind.

The classes use music along with video to engage the children and help create a sense of community at a time of enforced social distancing, even if some of them do not have spacious accommodations.

“It’s complicated, because you can only use the instruments according to the space you’ve got. In other words, for the double bass you need room to set it up,” said Juan Martín Alfonso, 12, who plays the bulky string instrument. “But it’s still fun to be in a video-conference playing.”

The orchestras, which set many on the path to play professionally or become teachers, help level the playing field for many youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds, said Oscar Albrieu, a percussionist and coordinator of the program.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are or what your family or history is. Here you are welcome and you have the same right as your partner sitting next to you,” Albrieu added.

“Teachers and directors,” Albrieu said, “are amazed that so-and-so, who at school is doing very badly ... yet here, they clean their violin each time after playing and keep it in its case, they study music scores at home and come to concerts looking impeccable.”

Reporting by Lucila Sigal and Miguel Lo Bianco; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Will Dunham

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