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The Music of Children: Engaging Rural Youth to Actively Participate in Concert Design and Programming
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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

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.

Photos Courtesy of Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Cultural Association


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.

Photos Courtesy of Carpe Diem-Enharmonia Cultural Association


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.

Figure 2: Population statistics for Altura, the Alto Palancia region, the Castellón province, and the Valencian Community. (Source: Generalitat Valenciana, Spain’s National Institute for Statistics)

“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.”


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