Alberni high school students schooled in Cuban culture

Spring break for a group of Alberni District Secondary School band students was an unforgettable one this year.

Students from Alberni District Secondary School

Students from Alberni District Secondary School

Spring break for a group of Alberni District Secondary School band students was an unforgettable one this year. The group of 44 students, two band teachers and seven chaperones spent just over a week in Havana, Cuba for a cultural trip. They had the chance to share music with the locals and take in some of the tourist attractions for which Cuba is known.

The students, band members from five different performing groups in Grades 10–12, had been preparing since early in the school year for the trip. One surprise, though, upon arrival, was finding out they landed at the same time as American President Barack Obama, who was touring the country at the same time.

The group was accompanied by two tour guides who showed off and explained Cuba’s history, landmarks and details of the culture.

“While there were beautiful beaches, waterfalls, gardens, and sight-seeing, the brightest highlights were definitely in the performances we participated in and watched,” said band teacher, Michelle Dyler.

One of those was a reciprocal performance at two art schools. Another performance took place at a culture house. In return, the culture house students put on a show with a choir, a guitar group and traditional dancers.

The ADSS students also participated in hands-on workshops with a professional a capella vocal group and a local jazz group (shown below).

“The most rewarding performance we had was for an outreach program that helps troubled youth by providing them guidance and teaching them music and dance to help keep them off the streets and out of trouble,” Dyler said. “It was incredibly inspiring to be able to see incredible dance routines that had been created in the six months since the program had opened and what a positive influence it was having on the youth of the area.”

Although they learned before leaving Canada about Cuba’s rich music culture, the group saw it nearly everywhere they toured. There were musicians in restaurants and cafes, and each night in the hotel, groups put on performances. The band, in turn, played for hotel guests.

“Cuba is known for having a strong culture but knowing it and experiencing it are very different,” Dyler said. “We learned a lot about their musical culture and especially how dancing is so connected to music, whereas in Canadian culture we don’t immediately associate music with dance.”

Before they left Canada, the students and teachers also collected refurbished musical instruments, hygienic supplies and clothing, which were donated to Cubans in need. Dyler said the amount of support from the community was overwhelming.

“We are extremely grateful that we were able to bring so much to donate to our new Cuban friends,” she said.

“Our tour guides were quite moved at the generosity of our small Alberni group and we were proud to be able to provide so much for people who have so little.”