August 9, 2013 at 2:44 AMTo be honest, I'd not really heard of Curaçao until I met Nathania Muñoz last spring in New York at the Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies. Curaçao is the island where Nathania was born -- if you've never heard of it, here's a map for you:
Nathania, 24, moved to the United States when she was eight. Her mother, Soraida Muñoz, had always wanted to play the violin when she was young, but when it never happened, she hoped one of her children would. Nathania's two older siblings took up piano and voice.
"My parents had always played Christian, classical and violin music around the house, and I grew up enjoying it," Nathania said. "One day they asked me if I wanted to get a violin at a music store that was having a sale, and I remember saying, 'Sure, I’ll try out the violin.' I started lessons [in Texas] shortly after my ninth birthday, and my teacher told my mom that I was a natural at the violin."
"I came back to visit Curaçao for the first time at the age of 16," she said. "I thought that I was the only violinist there, since I had known no other!"
She wasn't the only violinist on the island, but it turns out that she was among a pretty small group.
"There are no music majors or studies in music offered in the colleges and universities in Curaçao," Nathania said. "There are some music grade schools, but most public and private schools don’t have any of the music programs that are common in the States, such as band, orchestra, choir and private instrumental instruction. There is a handful of teachers, but not enough to reach out to the wider population of students. Many students that do wish to learn an instrument cannot afford the cost of purchasing an instrument and paying for lessons."
After returning to the States from that first visit back to her native Curaçao, she told her violin professor at the time, Andrea Dawson, about what she had seen. "I showed her pictures of my beautiful island and told her how there wasn’t much classical music there," Nathania said. "She lightly said, 'I would love to visit there. You should do a music camp and invite me!' And that is where the seed for a camp in Curaçao was planted in my head. I never forgot about it, but kept planning it and making connections in Curaçao. That year, too, was when I began to have a real passion for music and wanting to pursue a career in violin."
A few years later she met some string teachers from Curaçao and discovered that there was also a youth orchestra there. She also met a professional violinist from Curaçao, Eric Gorsira. "Over the years he became my musical grandfather and invited me to perform with him several times," Nathania said.
The seed for a music camp in Curaçao continued to grow, and in 2012, "we were able to get sponsors and have the Curaçao Summer Music Camp for the first time -- my dream came true with much success," Nathania said. And true to her word, Andrea Dawson came to teach. That first camp was more of a weeklong orchestra workshop, she said. "With two teachers that we flew in from the States, we had a total of five instructors for 70 students," Nathania said.
This year, after some initial doubt over funding and feasibility, Nathania (with help from her mother) worked to expand the camp, which in 2013 lasted for two weeks in early July, with 60 students ages seven through 21, with all levels of playing.
"This year we flew in six teachers from the States: three were from Middle Tennessee State University (two professors and one student) and the other three were colleagues from Pensacola Christian College in Florida, where I go to school. Our band instructor, Dennis Aalse, lives in Curaçao. All the teachers gave up their time and effort to volunteer and help with the camp." Classes were held at the Kolegio Alejandro Paula (a school), with instruction in strings, brass and woodwinds, voice/choir and piano. They also held sessions in music appreciation, theory and ear training.
"One of the most satisfying moments for me was seeing how eager some of the students were to learn their new instruments and how fast they excelled," Nathania said. "We provided instruments for the beginning students to use during the camp. Some of these students had always wanted to play the violin, but they had never had the opportunity or the money to start off. It was amazing to see how, in just two weeks, their passion for music drove them to excel so quickly."
"We held Music Talent Show Competition the next week, and over 20 students performed," Nathania said. "I didn’t just want to limit it strictly to music,knowing that many students might not be able to perform on their new instruments yet, so it was more of a talent show. We had students sign up for ballet, acrobat, violin, guitar, voice, break dance, DJ, saxophone, recorder, piano, you name it! They performed for the entire student body and our faculty panel of judges. This was definitely one of the highlights of the camp. Winners won small prize and the opportunity to perform in the Gala Concert."
They held two official concerts to help raise funds and reach out to the community: a Music Extravaganza, with performances by the faculty; and a Gala Concert, with performances by both camp students and faculty. "The Gala was so packed that we had to go out and purchase more chairs to seat the audience!" she said.
The whole project involved a lot of fundraising. "Since this project is non-profit, we had to raise funds for the teachers’ plane tickets, housing and accommodation, transportation and camp facilities and materials. There was a small tuition fee for lunch during the camp," Nathania said. They also had some sponsors, including Nathania's parents.
But the results have been satisfying for Nathania.
"Just recently, I was told by a local music store employee in Curaçao that, shortly after the camp, many of our students flooded into the music store with their parents to purchase instruments for their continued musical studies. I was so excited to hear this!" she said. "It just makes it all worth it."
"There is so much hidden talent in Curaçao," Nathania said. "The vision I have for Curaçao is to help grow music education and appreciation of good music and classical music in Curaçao. Music is so powerful. It has the power to affect, touch and change lives. Since learning a musical instrument has so many benefits, I believe it should be regarded as any other academic subject taught in school. In fact, music itself teaches language, math, science, history, coordination as well as many or character qualities and morals such as responsibility, discipline, care and determination. It also helps students to express themselves and grow their self esteem. I can go on and on about why music education is important!
This fall Nathania will return to Pensacola Christian Academy to begin working on her Masters in Music Education for the next two years while also teaching there. "I look forward to more opportunities to keep helping Curaçao in the field of music, and wherever else there is a need throughout the world."
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