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The Perennial

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Pinewood Choirs Sing and Learn in Brazil Trip


   The humid heat of Brazil clung to us as we stepped out of the Galeão International Airport to begin the choir performance trip. Because we arrived after Carnaval, the country’s biggest festival, we escaped most of the thick crowds, but we could still feel the sheer power of Rio’s immense population swirling around us.

   The impact of music first hit us when we landed at the airport. Its full name, Rio de Janeiro — Galeão Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport, is a tribute to one of Brazil’s most influential songwriters of the 20th Century, commonly known as Tom Jobim. Later in the trip, we would go on to perform one of his songs, “Wave,” known as “Vou Te Contar” in Portuguese, and we would ride past the Ipanema beach where the global hit “The Girl from Ipanema” was written. 

   After gathering our luggage and piling aboard a bus, we began the four-hour drive to Paraty, a small city on Brazil’s east coast. As we wandered the cobblestone streets, we listened to the colorful hangings above us as they rustled in the mild wind and the gentle bustle of tourists moved about. Stunning displays of indigenous crafts lined the streets, and, wherever we went, we could hear the strains of a live music performance or the sound or a whistle mimicking a bird call.

   Our first performance was at Paraty’s community center, which included a visual display of the town’s history on the second floor. After touring the display and listening intently to our Paraty tour guide’s English translations, we practiced nervously for the concert. It turned out that we had nothing to be worried about, and the audience enthusiastically sang along to our clumsy Portuguese as we performed the popular songs “Flor de Lis” and “Mas Que Nada.”

   Our visit to Quilombo Campinho da Independência, a small independent community of families of African descent, was also filled with music. We participated in Jongo dance, an exciting tradition with longstanding spiritual roots, accompanied only by the ringing boom of the drums and loud chanting. Later in the evening, back in Paraty, we tried the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, a practice in Brazil with African roots. Capoeira, both a fight and a dance, involves two people fighting together in the middle of a circle. Sweat dripped from our foreheads as we tried to mimic the fluid grace of the movements, which were also accompanied by chanting and music. 

   We left Paraty for the bustling metropolis of Rio, where we had our second performance and the chance to meet two different groups of local Brazilian teenagers. We played beach volleyball under a light drizzle with a group of English learners, sang an impromptu rendition of “Born at the Right Time” and ate dinner with them, asking questions about every topic we could think of. The next day, we had a samba class followed by an shared concert with Rocinha Music School, in which both groups sang their set and performed together at the end. We joined the choir on their last song, singing syllables and smiling out of sheer excitement and energy while they sang the lyrics we didn’t know.

   Our last few days were spent visiting some of the most iconic sights of Brazil, including the Christ the Redeemer statue and the top of Sugarloaf mountain. As we toured a samba school, we were able to see the massive floats only a week after Carnaval, learn about the intensive process of preparing for the festival and briefly dance the samba together. The experience was followed by a percussion workshop as we tried to match the unfailing rhythm of the drums.

   From the music on the streets to the bar performances on the beach, from the dances we participated in to the performance we saw at dinner, this trip gave us the chance to dive into the fascinating role of music in the vibrant tapestry of Brazil’s diverse culture.


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