With the recent improvement in relations between the U.S. and Cuba, travel for U.S. citizens to our island neighbor just south of Florida is finally becoming a realistic possibility. Cut off for over 50 years due to political tensions dating back to the Cold War, Cuba has been referred to as a time capsule, where vintage cars drive between Spanish colonial style buildings down the cobblestone streets of Havana. Though it is now gradually opening up, it is certainly not your typical vacation destination. Visits from Americans are still officially restricted to a handful of categories, including performances, workshops, and support for the Cuban people. It is precisely in this spirit of cultural exchange that the Chicago Harp Quartet embark on their upcoming residency, beginning at the end of May, 2017. They aim to contribute not only their time and talents toward the development of the harp in Cuba but also essential supplies, such as instruments and music scores. Curious to find out more, I asked members of the Chicago Harp Quartet – Marguerite Lynn Williams, Julie Spring, Catherine Yom Litaker, and Emily Ann Granger – about their plans.
What is the Chicago Harp Quartet’s connection to Cuba?
During our residency at Indiana University, we were introduced to Annabel Gutierrez who is a student originally from the Cuban Music Institute, Havana. When we found out that they had such limited harp resources, the idea was brainstormed to form the musical-harp ambassadorship!
How did you come up with the idea to do a residency there?
After talking to Anabel and coming to the understanding that there are only four pedal harps in the country and with special consideration to the recent changes in Cuba-US relations, we got very excited and came up with a bunch of different ideas. After brainstorming, meeting and working with Anabel, we came up with the idea of a residency as the best way to offer our services and help grow the small harp community in Cuba.
How are you going to organize it? Is there an organization in Havana you be connecting with while you’re there, or is there an organization in the States supporting you?
We are on our own putting this together and funding it, which is why we need support from harpists and donors all over the country.
We are partnering with the Cuban Music Institute for our residency. We will be staying with host families and are arranging aspects of our journey directly with them.
Lyon & Healy is our official and exclusive instrument sponsor helping to match dollar-to-dollar any funds raised to acquire lever harps as well as donating half of the price of the harp. Also they are hosting our major fundraising concert, March 18th, at Lyon & Healy hall. [View event]
What exactly do you plan to do when you’re there?
We will be teaching master classes, leading an educational session with youth orchestra students on creative ensembles and creating your own path, performing with the youth symphony as well as in our own concert, and bringing supplies and harps to help bolster the harp education resources at the CMI and throughout Cuba.
What do you know about the status of harp education and performance in Cuba currently?
We are aware that there are very limited resources to play, practice, and learn harp in Cuba. At the Cuban Music Institute, there is a harp instructor, however, the number of functional harps is minimal. There are only four pedal harps in the entire country, and they are not brand new! A Lyon & Healy technician will be going to Cuba to regulate and service those pedal harps prior to our trip. The Cuban government is (partially) sponsoring Anabel’s education at IU to aid in her ability to come back to Cuba and enrich the culture with more harp knowledge, history and educational abilities.
Do you know any harpists in Cuba?
Aside from Anabel, we are not in close contact with any Cuban harpists. One of our friends in California, Alfredo Rolando Ortiz who is a Cuban born harpist, has been an immense help in providing knowledge of the community and harp resources there.
You mentioned that you are inviting people to donate to provide resources there. What steps can people take if they wish to give a donation? And what organization in Havana will receive it?
We are launching a donation campaign, for all harp resources such as strings, tuning keys, music, method books, lever harps; just about anything you would think is necessary for harp education! Resources can be sent to the address below, and we can provide a tax receipt. The resources will be utilized by the harp students at the Cuban Music Institute. As well we are accepting monetary donations towards our ambassadorship through our website.