The Music of Children:
Engaging Rural Youth to Actively Participate in Concert Design and Programming
—about the author—
Adriana Ruiz Garcia is a Fulbright-Spain grantee. She is an active member of several youth orchestras and ensembles, such as Orquestra Camera Musicae, Orquesta Simfònica del Vallès, among others.
Elevating the Artistry of Teaching Artists: El Sistema Japan
Previous Evaluating Fieldwork in the Digital Space: A Case of Introduction to Evaluation Tools for Socio-Musical Projects in Latin America
The Music of Children: Engaging Rural Youth to Actively Participate in Concert Design and Programming
Authors:Adriana Ruiz Garcia (Spain)
The Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Cultural Association was born after a summer experiment that musical conductor Pablo Marqués Mestre and artistic director Raisa Ulumbekova conducted in 2011. Having met during their studies abroad of their home countries, they decided to join forces and bring Spanish and Russian culture together by inviting the musicians of Carpe Diem Chamber Orchestra St. Petersburg, the ensemble that Raisa had created and led as artistic director since 2008, to Pablo’s hometown of Altura in the Alto Palancia region (Castellón, Spain).
Altura is a small town of 3.601 inhabitants located in the interior of the Castellón province that perfectly exemplifies the phenomenon of La España Vaciada or “Empty Spain”. This term refers to the constant depopulation experienced by rural and interior areas of Spain, which amount for 60% of the territory but where only about 10% of the total population of the country lives. In these sparsely populated areas, the lack of innovation regarding job opportunities, infrastructure, social resources, and cultural events has forced young people to move to bigger cities, causing many towns to disappear when their aged residents pass away (Aguilar, 2019; EpData, 2021; Jones, 2019).
“Altura is a small town of 3.601 inhabitants located in the interior of the Castellón province that perfectly exemplifies the phenomenon of La España Vaciada or “Empty Spain.”
Figure 1: Geographical situation of Altura, the Alto Palancia region and the Valencian Community in Spain. (Source: The Guardian, Wikipedia). Photos Courtesy of Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Cultural Association
However, as many are realizing now, Empty Spain can be stunningly beautiful and holds a diverse range of medieval historic sites, natural parks, and delectable cuisine. Altura, for instance, despite its small size has 4 protected monuments that qualify as cultural heritage sites and 20% of its territory consists of protected natural spaces. And it is no exception in the Alto Palancia region, where 58% of the territory is protected and 40 cultural heritage sites are recognized (Generalitat Valenciana, n.d.-a).
As a local, Pablo Marqués was very aware of these charms as well as the incentives that draw people to experience a simpler life in smaller villages, but he also longed for access to richer, high-quality cultural experiences. Growing up, he did not have a chance to listen to a live orchestra performance until he was 15 or 16 years old. He was able to access music education in Altura thanks to Valencia’s renowned tradition of symphonic bands, but he quickly realized that he would need to study somewhere else if he wanted to become a professional. Having started graduate studies abroad in 2010, he was eager to bring back the knowledge that he had gained back to benefit his home community. The first edition of the Carpe Diem Chamber Orchestra St. Petersburg “Empty Spain Tour” was run on a minimal budget and planning. Russian musicians paid for their own travel tickets, food and lodging were donated by volunteers, and no payment was issued for any of the concerts. One of the questions Pablo and Raisa were looking to answer was whether the musicians would be interested in traveling all the way there, instead of going to your-typical-touristic-destination near-the-beach. What they found was that they were offering a new perspective for music playing: a different vibe and ambience, in a relaxed environment where people are hungry to listen to performances and grateful for the chance to attend concerts. They also understood that it takes a certain kind of person to volunteer for such a project: musicians who seek fulfillment beyond excellence in playing for unusual audiences.
The Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Association was founded the following year as a non-profit organization. Having a legal structure allowed them to formalize contracts and receive payment for the concerts, therefore being able to start covering some of the musicians’ expenses. Pablo’s background in Economics proved essential in shaping their business model and managing the financials (see IBMC). Raisa’s artistic leadership and network of musicians in renowned ensembles such as the Mariinski Theater Orchestra rapidly provided a status and standard of quality. Additionally, Pablo recruited young professional musicians from Valencia to fill up the orchestra roster as needed, quickly realizing that the cultural exchange among musicians and with locals in Altura was exceptionally rich (see Logic Model for additional details).
What started as an experiment in summer 2011 has now grown to be a cultural force in the Alto Palancia region, with a faithful base of followers that impatiently waits for tour details every season. Carpe Diem’s audience mostly consist of adult professionals (aged 30-50) living in rural areas and working in all sectors of the economy. Average people (including plumbers, agriculture workers, teachers, business owners, healthcare workers and more—who had previously not been aware of the lack of cultural programming available for them locally) now seek concerts as a necessary part of their leisure time. Open-air performances fill up and usually have people standing at the back, tickets sell out as soon as announced, and regional TV channels broadcast them full-length for those who cannot leave their homes (TV Alto Palancia Segorbe, 2020).
The unique value proposition also attracts musicians interested in community outreach. Impromptu performances for locals are common, as well as collaborations with other cultural events and festivals. There is a shared feeling of solidarity which is evidenced in the food and lodging arrangements: musicians usually stay in houses and apartments donated or rented by locals, and sometimes must take care of meal preparation and cleaning duties as equals. All participation is voluntary, meaning no one gets paid but costs for the tour are covered. Concert profits allow the association to pay even for airfare travel for Russian musicians (from their fourth year), and they have a healthy surplus which means no one needs to advance payments out-of-pocket anymore (which Pablo used to do until two years ago).
However, this unique value is dependent on maintaining a delicate balance between appreciating the opportunities offered and taking advantage of them. In 2019, Pablo decided that there would be no summer tour that year. Some complications had arisen the year before, and he felt that the musical quality of the project had been compromised by a combination of factors. Taking a break was necessary to think strategically about the future of the organization
and reassess logistics and, of course, no one was expecting 2020 to be the start of a global pandemic. Just as they were starting to plan the 2020 summer tour, Spain was placed in lockdown. Nevertheless, after a few months Pablo and Raisa’s unique determination and hopefulness proved essential: Carpe Diem’s unique model was ready for a Covid-19 edition, and their audience was in dire need of musical performances and cultural programming after the weary lockdown months. Thus, the first edition of the FEMCLAP (Alto Palancia Classical Music Festival) was brought to life against all odds (Torrejón, 2020b).
I first heard about Carpe Diem from some colleagues who had been invited to perform in previous tours, but I was not familiar with their mission or vision until Pablo contacted me to join their 2020 tour. They were to perform Beethoven’s 3rd symphony and, since travel from Russia was out of question for that summer, they were recruiting more Spanish performers. It seemed like a lifeline after months of cancellations, uncertainty, and restrictions so I immediately accepted the offer. I knew the musical quality would be exceptional, but I was not expecting to find such strong community bonds. Warm and welcoming environments are unfortunately not the norm for professional orchestra settings, but Carpe Diem provides exactly that: human and musical quality for all its beneficiaries. So, when I was offered a chance to conduct my fieldwork studies with them, I did not hesitate.
Having experienced myself what their model looks life for performers, I was eager to learn more about the business side of it. I conducted several meetings with Pablo in Altura, in which he shared all the necessary details to help me shape the logic model and IBMC of the organization. Anecdotes shared by other musicians during the summer tour and informal meetings helped me understand the history and progress that they had made, too. On summer 2020, only a few Russian musicians who live in Spain were able to come, thus making it more affordable for the organization despite losing some of its exchange relevance. I also was invited to sit in Pablo’s meeting with Altura’s mayor, Rocío Ibáñez, which was an invaluable first-hand experience to understand how the second edition of the FEMCLAP has been put together. Pablo also shared relevant documents with me, such as their concert dossier (which they present to mayors when looking for concert dates) and the organization bylaws. No formal data has been gathered quantitatively so far, but the breadth of qualitative anecdotes and just the experience of visiting Altura and observing Pablo’s interactions with local people (who regard him as an esteemed community leader) has been sufficient to assess the enormous impact and value that the Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Association is creating in the Alto Palancia region.
During my meetings and conversations with the Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Association leadership it was made clear that the organization has gradually scaled up and finds itself now at maximum capacity for the resources they have available. The tour usually lasts about 15 days in the month of August, and they perform 6 to 8 concerts every year. The 2019 break proved very useful to ensure demand from local councils, that suddenly realized they were taking for granted the orchestra’s contributions to the cultural landscape. Pablo Marqués acknowledged that they cannot go to every single town that would hire them every year, and having a waitlist gives them some leverage and prestige to negotiate with local councils. However, he did not think that lengthening the tour was a feasible solution to scale up their impact, since it might wear out the musicians and endanger the delicate balance between musical and human quality.
Since last year, Pablo is looking for new ways to expand the organization’s impact in a sustainable way. Some of the growth opportunities he mentioned as worthwhile included: securing some contributed income, touring to bigger cities and internationally to Germany or Russia, and promoting the musicians’ achievements on social media. We started exploring all these possibilities during our conversations, and I researched funding opportunities available and shared them with Pablo. However, we quickly realized that pursuing any of these would entail either adding a substantial workload on top of board member’s responsibilities or hiring new people with very specific profiles, who are not easy to find or retain. Public funding opportunities in Spain are quite complex and require a lot of bureaucracy, so the time spent dealing with paperwork would almost not be worth the money obtained. Private sponsorships have fallen to a minimum this year because of the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, so it would feel quite unsensitive to ask local companies and business to contribute when most of the region’s economy is accumulating losses.
Fortunately, Carpe Diem has a healthy surplus in their accounts which was in place before the pandemic, but also got bumped by the fact that they did not have to pay for any travels last year. It is quite remarkable how they have managed to become self-sustaining merely by earned income, which is not usually the case in Spain. Their product is also uniquely suited for Covid-19 times, since they already used to perform in smaller ensembles and outdoor venues. In this context, and given that international travel and touring have been put on hold for at least a couple of years, I made a proposal to look inwards instead of outwards for the Value-Added Concept. My question to Pablo, which I asked him to extend to all other board members and community leaders in Altura, was: forget about growth, expansion, and additional funding; given all the resources we already have and how well our model has been working, is there a way we could increase efficiency? In other words, who could we be reaching to that we are not currently? He really liked this vision and quickly started collecting answers from different stakeholders, which helped us identify a key target audience that has been missing from Carpe Diem concerts: young people under 30, especially school-aged children and teenagers. With this new awareness, we started to draft a strategic plan to increase the organization’s outreach efforts towards them.
IMPACT AND IMPLEMENTATION
Engaging young people with classical music is by no means a new idea, but it has special relevance in the context of Empty Spain and Carpe Diem’s mission: having a targeted cultural offer for younger audiences has the potential increase their interest towards the arts and retain them in the region. In Altura, young people amount for 30% of the total population, and more than half of them are under the age of 16 (Generalitat Valenciana, n.d.-a). Making them a part of the Carpe Diem community of beneficiaries is as important for the organization’s future as it can be valuable for their own enjoyment.
“Given that international travel and touring have been put on hold for at least a couple of years, I made a proposal to look inwards instead of outwards for the Value-Added Concept.”
Many of the consolidated audience members who attend concerts every year are parents and so they might bring smaller children along to the events but, as soon as children become a little independent, they rather just play with their friends nearby. I recall that happening in last year’s concert in Fuente de la Reina, which took place in a sports facility. All children were eager to jump in the pool even though the responsible person closed it because they did not want to miss the concert. Although small children and teenagers were curious to see what the music was about, the quiet ambience that the chamber music setting created felt somehow constraining, so they ended up leaving to run around and play loudly in the nearby fields.
It is clear then that, to engage younger audiences, their needs and interests need to be addressed. This is also the philosophy behind the movement “The City of Children”, inspired by pedagogue Francesco Tonucci, that proposes new models for citizen involvement adopting the child as the basic parameter and shifting decision-making power to Children-led boards (Tonucci, 2009). This initiative, initially conceived for medium-or-big-sized cities, was brought to the Alto Palancia region in 2019 by architect and teacher David Cuesta, who is working to adapt the model to rural areas (Torrejón, 2020b). It was Altura’s mayor, Rocío Ibáñez, who suggested in the meeting I attended that Pablo should reach out to David Cuesta and form a strategic partnership between Carpe Diem and The City of Children. This will allow both organizations to further each other’s mission: bringing the musical expertise of Carpe Diem to younger audiences and allowing these children to decide how musical performances should be for them to enjoy.
The proposal for collaboration has been received with open arms by The City of the Children leadership, and activities are already scheduled for this summer (see Implementation Timeline). Not only will this further Carpe Diem’s audience base, but children’s innovative and boundaryless thinking will undoubtedly have an enormous impact on the orchestra musicians. Formal and informal feedback will be gathered afterwards by both partners to evaluate, understand, and assess impact. I believe that this partnership provides an excellent example of efficiency and economy of resources, and I am sure the result will further both organizations’ positive impact for all stakeholders in the Alto Palancia region with minimum effort and waste.
“It is clear then that, to engage younger audiences, their needs and interests need to be addressed.”
Reaching out to younger audiences is always a challenge for classical music institutions, who are usually not as flexible or open to innovative ideas. However, innovation runs in the DNA of the Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Cultural Association since its creation 9 years ago. They have become an established cultural agent in the Alto Palancia region and influenced over 4000 local community members every season, bringing high-quality classical music concerts to sparsely populated rural areas who used to lack quality cultural programming. As they prepare for their ninth summer tour this year, partnering with The City of the Children initiative offers a unique opportunity for Carpe Diem’s musicians to experiment and learn from local youth. This collaboration will maximize their community impact, effectively furthering their mission and effectiveness without the need to radically change their business model.
Furthermore, these young beneficiaries will feel empowered to take agency in the cultural life of town, gaining a sense of ownership over the concerts in the tour. Because of the pandemic, remote work has become a reality and lots of families are considering moving back to small villages where they can have a big property and improved quality of life (Gutiérrez, 2021). Many Empty Spain areas are now experiencing a revival, and the demand for cultural events is increasingly growing in the Alto Palancia region. The Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Association is uniquely positioned to offer these new potential beneficiaries a vital role in their program and create sustainable change in local communities with the readily available resources on hand.
As international travel resumes, they will also be able to bring these experiences to other parts of Europe as part of their cultural exchange mission. We had identified several funding opportunities of interest that could support international expansion of Carpe Diem’s mission, such as the i-Portunus program, the Creative Europe partnerships, or the travel grants sponsored by Acción Cultural Española. Although the timeline did not match the needs of the organization at this time, it is worth noting that they could provide great value in the future.
It was an absolute pleasure to work with Pablo Marqués and Raisa Ulumbekova to conduct this fieldwork case-study. Their transparency and willingness to answer all my questions and doubts has been invaluable. I also need to extend my gratitude to Pablo’s family, who invited me to join them for lunch a couple times in Altura; Carpe Diem musicians such as Alfredo, Miriam, Andrea, Irene, Alex, and many more who shared their stories and anecdotes about what Carpe Diem means for them; local leaders and community members such as mayor Rocío Ibáñez and restaurant owner Mila who shared insights about the town’s life and impact of Covid-19; as well as all of the random people who knocked on Pablo’s door while we were conversing to offer him plants, produce, and other gifts.
The biggest personal lesson I take from my experience with Carpe Diem, both as a beneficiary and as an observer, is how community initiatives are in fact the only driving force for sustainable change that matters. One sometimes tends to think that a huge budget is a must-have in order to create huge impact, but Carpe Diem has proven in the Alto Palancia region that it is possible to profoundly change people’s lives even if all you have is a highly motivated cohort of individuals who share your dream. The Latin expression could not be more appropriated for the times we are living: the future is now, so let’s enjoy it to the fullest. Carpe Diem!
“The biggest personal lesson I take from my experience with Carpe Diem, both as a beneficiary and as an observer, is how community initiatives are in fact the only driving force for sustainable change that matters.”