5–20 May 2017 | PANAMA CITY & DAVÍD (CHIRIQUÍ)
From May 5–20, 2017, I served as a guest teaching artist at the Fundación Sinfonia Concertante de Panama (FUNSINCOPA) in their music-for-social-inclusion initiative, La Red. I also worked with one of FUNSINCOPA’s sister organizations, the Fundación de Mario de Obaldía Alvarado (FUNDAMOA) in the Chiriquí province, on the western border of Panama. (See Annex for more background on FUNDAMOA.)
My time in Panama offered a comprehensive, first-hand view of these two teams’ approaches to music for social innovation, as I was able to participate in day-to-day tasks as a guest clarinet teacher, woodwind section coach, and administrator. At FUNSINCOPA, I taught clarinet to 9 students; observed an orchestra rehearsal; and interviewed program staff, including Dr. Isaac Casal, the program’s founder and artistic director, and administrative director Valeria Perez. I also spent all of my free time eating meals and sightseeing with students, faculty, and administrators from both FUNSINCOPA and FUNDAMOA, which gave me many additional opportunities to pose questions about the programs’ histories and day-to-day operations.
Dr. Casal founded FUNSINCOPA in 2008 and currently runs the organization with a small team. He is one of three accomplished Casal siblings who, collectively, have worked to make classical music in Panama more meaningful to the community through social initiatives, outreach activities to encourage attendance at concerts, successful lobbying campaigns for long-term government support of different types of music organizations, more frequent visits and performances by high-level foreign musicians, the creation of professional opportunities for Panamanian musicians to work in their own country, and the elevation of artistic standards. Dr. Casal is also Professor of Cello at the University of Panama.
FUNSINCOPA operates two main initiatives in Panama City: 1) the Festival International Alfredo de Saint Malo (ASM), which brings internationally renowned artists to Panama every year and showcases professional and emerging Panamanian musicians; and 2) La Red de Filarmonicas Infantiles y Juveniles de Panama (La Red). La Red, the subject of this case study, is a music education program aimed at children and young people from 3 to 25 years of age who live in high risk districts—such as Chorrillo, Santa Ana, San Felipe, Arraiján, and Calidonia—marked by resource scarcity.
According to its mission statement, La Red uses music as a tool for social transformation, seeking to empower children and young people through positive values to achieve their maximum potential in order to positively impact their communities. Through education and musical practice, La Red strives to promote alternative life paths and a better quality of life for children, youth, families, and communities. For instance, FUNSINCOPA team members explained that, when La Red first started, some students refused to be in the same room with certain other students because their families were part of rival factions in the neighbourhood.
Program participants receive a tuition scholarship, meals, transportation to concerts, and instrument loans (according to availability, attendance, and academic evaluation). In 2012, La Red created Panama City’s first youth orchestra for vulnerable areas, which made its debut on the steps of the National Institute of Culture. As of 2017, the program had awarded 627 scholarships and it currently includes two orchestras: the Initiation Ensemble Narciso Garay and the Gonzalo Brenes Orchestra.
La Red is currently in a rebuilding phase. The program lost almost all of its funding several years ago, as a result of a shift in priorities within the Panamanian government, and FUNSINCOPA could not afford any teachers or staff in 2016. Rather, all funds went towards facilities, equipment, and other operational costs. La Red remained in operation only because Isaac Casal and his wife volunteered full-time. As funders have slowly renewed their commitments to La Red, FUNSINCOPA has been able to hire teachers and staff again, and re-enroll some students. The weekly programming schedule is divided into after-school and weekend activities, and those activities were back on a consistent schedule as of 2017. During my time with La Red, the program served over 30 students from primary school through secondary school.