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Music and Immersion in Valparaiso

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 Some of the most profound connections that I have made throughout my life have been through the simple act of sharing music. This act was central throughout my childhood and remains important in my relationship with my family. My mother is a professional cellist, and hearing her play inspired me to start learning the instrument at four years old. Moreover, my father spent his childhood moving from country to country, and in each place he lived he picked up an appreciation for the local music. Since many of the songs were in Portuguese, French, or Romanian, I would not always understand the lyrics when he would play them for me, but the beauty of the music would always move me. Throughout my childhood, some of my fondest memories revolved around playing music with my mother or listening to music with my father.

The importance that music has had throughout my life and relationships was something that I discussed in detail in the form that matched me with my host family. When I arrived in Chile, I found that IFSA had matched me with a family that shared this appreciation of the art. At meals, I would listen to Nueva Cancion and Nueva Trova artiss such as Violeta Parra and Silvio Rodriguez with my host mother, Viviana. Some of the songs that I listened to with her had been shown to me previously by my father, while others were completely new to me. In both cases, listening to and discussing this music with her over each meal brought us closer together and helped me understand more about the relationship between music and Chilean culture, history, and identity. Musicians such as Victor Jara and Violeta Parra are national heroes for many in Chile because of their contributions to the culture and their political efforts for social justice. Thus many of these artists occupy a special place within the national identity. With my host siblings I listened to more contemporary music; through my time with them, I encountered a whole new world of Chilean rock music, such as the metal band Asamblea Internacional del Fuego. Finally, when my family visited me from the United States, I had the opportunity to share the joy of creating music together; when my host family met my family for once (a daily Chilean tradition of tea time) my brother brought his viola and performed a piece that he had been working on for the past several months. At that moment, I felt truly connected; we were all united by the shared appreciation of the art that was being produced.

Connecting with my host community: 

Throughout my stay in Chile, Patricio, my program director, has provided me with amazing guidance that has been crucial for my immersion within my host city. When I asked him where I could find live music he recommended Taller Blanco, a small jazz and tango venue located in the Puerto neighborhood of the city. On the venue’s Instagram page it describes itself as a “Factoría de arte en este puerto en ruinas” (“factory of art in this port in ruins”), a poetic description that perfectly captures the unique character of the space. Upon entering the building you first encounter a run-down lobby with a broken piano in the center, but after ascending the staircase you enter what appears to be a different dimension. The venue is a beautiful, old, spacious apartment that has been converted into a performance space, and with its fireplaces, tall bookshelves, and eclectic assortment of paintings, photographs, objects, and instruments on the walls, it retains the intimate quality of a private residence. 

It is this mixture of the private and public worlds within the atmosphere of Taller Blanco that made the place so special to me throughout my time in Chile. With a capacity of 40 guests, the venue is designed to be a very intimate performance space that facilitates open interaction between the artists and the audience. After each show ends, the artists tend to stay around for the next hour, chatting with audience members and venue staff. It was through these interactions that I was able to become more immersed in my host community. I met artists, organizers, and lovers of music from all over Chile and other South American countries who had made the port city of Valparaíso their home. In conversation with one of the event organizers, I told him how much I loved being greeted by the strange but quite poetic sight of a broken piano, and he told me that even though there were at least five other functioning pianos throughout the building he had intentionally kept it there because it reminded him of a song by Tom Waits. In another conversation with a bassist from Valparaíso and a singer from São Paulo, I discussed the poetry of the music of Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso, and the perspectives that they offered made me appreciate the art in a whole new light. Brought together by our love of music, I was able to relate to those I encountered on a much more profound level.

Music and immersion

A friend of mine in Santiago told me that in his experience as someone who speaks seven languages the best way to develop your abilities in any given language is to speak about topics that you are passionate about. His reasoning is that when you discuss these topics you feel a stronger emotional impetus to express yourself and in doing so you naturally push yourself to find the right words and form the necessary linguistic connections. My love for music is something that I have always carried with me and sharing it with others here in Chile has improved my ability to express myself in Spanish, connect with my host family, and become immersed in my host community.

Liam Crisan is astudent at Kenyon College and studied abroad with IFSA in Valparaiso, Chile in the Spring 2022 semester.