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UNT bands invited to perform and collaborate in Cuba

UNT bands invited to perform and collaborate in Cuba

November 16
15:42 2016

The UNT Symphonic Band and Latin Jazz Band will collaborate and learn alongside Cuban musicians in May 2017. The historic trip will be the first UNT makes into the isolated island since the U.S. lifted bans on travel in March.

Since the 1960s, it has been difficult for anyone to travel from the U.S. to Cuba. For the first time in 88 years, President Barack Obama was the first sitting president to visit Cuba when he visited in March.

The travel restrictions to Cuba still exist. But the U.S. embassy in Cuba said traveling there for educational activities and public performances is allowed.

John Richmond, who was named the new dean of music this semester, said this trip had been discussed before he began working at UNT and expressed his interest in the planning of the trip.

“Dennis Fisher was a guest conductor about a year ago of the National Wind Band of Cuba, and they said they wanted him to come back and bring his band,” Richmond said.”We have a latin jazz ensemble that shows our involvement with that region. We visited with leaders in Cuba in September and visited hotels for students. We are going to go back in January to scout out concert locations.”

The trip was sparked by the interest in UNT’s College of Music from a retired commander of the President’s Own Marine Band, Col. John Bourgeois. He was scouting out for three university bands to participate in the Inaugural Invitational Wind Band Festival in Havana.

Symphonic Wind Director Dennis Fisher said he is honored to be performing in Cuba, but uneasy about going into a highly restricted political culture. He is also overwhelmed to transport all of the students, staff and equipment over more than a thousand miles.

“All that boils down to the reaction of gratitude for the unique opportunity to be a part of something that holds unbelievable long-term potential in addition to the trip itself,” Fisher said. “The festival is intended to be a goodwill and cultural initiative to continue to foster relations between our countries.”

Fisher said the bands are preparing for their performances, but they are also anticipating some unique cultural experiences, sharing his first-hand experience from what he remembers as the beginning of what could have been World War III.

“The officials in Cuba have given me some guidance on the type of music they would like to hear us play, largely Americana in nature,” Fisher said. “I put together a historical overview that outlined the causes for the Cuban missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the economic embargo that was put into place in the 1960s, all leading to broken relations with the Cuban government since 1962.”

As the 13th largest music school in the world, Richmond said he wants this opportunity to open up partnerships and exchanges for jazz education and to learn about each others’ cultures.

Administration and other music educators in Cuba will provide tips for the bands that will take the trip there, including proper instrument care.

“We are a prestigious place, and we have some great people on our staff,” Richmond said. “There will be components of study abroad, but this is more like a music tour.”

UNT President Neal Smatresk has been a part of the planning process and said he and his wife would not miss this trip for the world.

“It will be fun for students to go to Cuba, in the spirit of collaboration and exchange,” Smatresk said. “It is a tremendous accomplishment and with the new dean, we will go further. Our reputation will go further. I am excited about that. We are currently on the rise.”

Fisher wants to make this trip a long lasting one and hopes UNT will continue to keep relations with Cuba.

“I know from meeting the folks in Cuba that what we will bring to them will be immeasurable, we are making plans to give clinics in many areas in addition to concerts,” Fisher said. “Our people-to-people interactions will be essential. Having met with all of them twice, it is clear their excitement for us coming and sharing with them is equal to our excitement about going.”

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Julia Falcon

Julia Falcon

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