Spotted in Manila, 2014

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Next stop: NOLA

I recently found out I was accepted to the Juilliard New Orleans Service team for the 2012 project. The team will include actors, dancers, and other musicians all from Juilliard and there will be 22 of us.
The project is a week long residency. During that week, we will live in New Orleans and work for Habitat for Humanity for 8 hours each day to build a house for a couple who lost their home in Hurricane Katrina. Immediately after, we will continue to the Y working in an after school program leading arts immersion classes in drama, dance and music for kids who have been displaced or orphaned by the hurricane.
More when I find out more!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Going to the Philippines has been something I've known I HAVE to do for several years. So it occurred to me: "why don't I just go??" I mentioned it casually to a friend and fellow teaching artist at Juilliard. She suggested I get in touch with Chelsea Ainsworth, a Juilliard dance alum who led an outreach trip to the Philippines in 2008. I emailed Chelsea and we met for coffee.
I went expecting to get advice about how to start my own project, but instead left with plans to join her and 2 other artists on their revival trip in June. It looks like the team will be myself, Chelsea, Kendra Samson (another dancer), Kyle Netzeband (a visual artist who will document the trip), and Brian Gnojek (my musician colleague and friend).
The trip will be a month long, for all of June. We will spend 2 weeks in Catarman, Northern Samar, teaching in 2 schools with elementary schoolers who have little arts background. The 2nd two weeks will be spent at the Philippine High School for the Arts, working with advanced students and aspiring professional musicians.
I can't believe this is actually happening. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Back in NYC

I have returned from Guatemala refreshed and inspired. But...
I have ecoli. I must have gotten it from drinking bad water even though I was so careful. I'm on a dose of antibiotics, but no time to worry because I'm on to Maryland and the National Orchestral Institute.
I will never forget these last 10 days. I am completely reminded of why I am a musician and the amazing power music has to touch lives. I have learned how important outreach is and I am promising to continue doing it the rest of my life. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

aquí está el armadillo!

The team left the hospital yesterday for the last time. I said my goodbyes to my babies and it was heartbreaking so I tried to make it quick. I wondered, I know it's morbid, but if I'd ever see them again. I know I will be back here some day, but will they still be alive? I couldn't help but wonder. We all decided it was necessary for us to see the countryside and the pumas of Guatemala, and we figured we deserved a quick day trip after our hard work with the kids. So we planned our day trip to Iztapa--a beach town! We were joined by Hector, Dennis, and 3 of his school friends. Hector and the boys picked us up in his van from our hotel (we have been staying in Antigua's hotel in the center of town for the last 3 nights so we could be closer to work) and we were off on our 3 hour drive across Guatemala to the Southern coast.
We spent the day swimming, playing with the coconuts, and running around until we were exhausted. On our drive home, there was the biggest thunder and lightening storm I've ever seen and I was scared. So I fell asleep to calm myself. But about an hour later I was woken up to 3 teenage boys screaming at me in Spanish picking me up and lifting me out of the van. They set me down on the freeway next to a huge, snorting armadillo that they had just hit on the road. Dennis picked it up by the tail and handed it me saying something like, "you asked for it!". Once it was dead, they stuffed it into Dennis's school book bag and let me hold it all the way home. "My wife cooks the BEST armadillo. We'll eat it and then Ian can keep it as a drum!", explained Hector. We continued to drive and as we did, we looked out the window in awe at the lava we could see dripping off Antigua's famous volcano in the distance. I had my long-awaited armadillo in my lap as I watched Guatemala's night scenery pass by. I couldn't have been more happy and it was the best way to end my last day in the beautiful country.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My kids

I've grown very attached to the kids here at Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro. They each have such distinct personalities. Today, I'd like to share about the kids I've connected with most.
Carlitos: He can't speak and has little control of his movements, but I have grown to really love this little boy. He has the brightest eyes and actually looks eerily similar to the painting of Jesus in the convent. When I hold him, he looks up at me, confused, but content. And when I talk to him, he moans back in an effort to communicate with me. Then, he sighs, and laughs, and I just can't get enough of it.
Henry: Soft spoken, sweet Henry is probably the most developed boy in the ward. For the first week of my residency here, I didn't meet him because he was away for his bi-annual month long visit with his family in the East. Although his brain is totally developed and advanced, his disorder shows through his hands, which he cannot use. When he returned from home, I spent an afternoon with him coloring and he ended up getting more chalk on me than on the ground! But he apologized (in English) and we both laughed about it. He even drew another chalk drawing, this time on paper, and gave it to me as a gift. Then, I wheeled him around with his directions (he could say "push", "left", "right", and "faster" :)). Lesley, a woman from the UK who has permanently moved to Antigua to work in the hospital, explained to me that he has learned English by listening to the English speaking volunteers who have spent time with him. I think that is so amazing.
Maynor: Another one of the more further along boys in the ward, Maynor wheels around like he owns the place. He is from a region in Guatemala where a specific dialect of Spanish is spoken, so he and I share that we speak pretty broken Spanish. But he doesn't let it inhibit him. He is so curious. He constantly asks me, "¿dónde tá Dori?", a broken way of saying "where is Midori?". I think he knows he is being silly asking ME where I am. But I think he really means it when I don't have my bassoon out and he asks, "¿dónde tá fagot?", "where is the bassoon?".
Rosy: Blind and deaf, 3 year old Rosibely is one of the more sick children in the ward. When studying the board posted that listed each of the patients and their various medical issues, I immediately noticed Rosy's and was concerned. I was completely clueless as to how I could connect with someone blind AND deaf. But one day during a performance, I noticed her in the corner slumped over and bored. She almost look scared. I knew I couldn't leave the ward another day and not give her a chance to connect with our music. As to not scare her even more, I approached her slowly and gently tapped her leg. She perked up and could tell I was there, ready to play with her! I leaned over and softly played some low notes on the bassoon with my bell resting on her tiny thigh. She cocked her head, widened her eyes, and started to clap and giggle. I couldn't believe it. I continued to play and even played as much as a 5 minute etude, the whole time with her laughter as my accompaniment. This experience taught me so much. Music really is a language that everyone can speak when given the chance. So really, if I could make classical music accessible to someone with 2 of their senses gone, no one has an excuse not to at least give it a try. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lost in translation

I only have a few minutes at this internet cafe so just a quick post about a completely life changing event that happened to me today--I had a conversation.
I don't speak a word of Spanish. Well, I do, but this is all I know: "¿dónde está el armadillo", "where is the armadillo?" (I've been begging to see one since I landed in Guatemala). However with me speaking English and him speaking Spanish, I carried on a full 30 minute conversation with Dennis, our driver's grandson. We talked about everything. Food, music, love, Antigua, New York, and armadillos, of course. Just with hand signals and broken words in each of respective non-native languages.
Like I have been this whole trip, I was amazed. It was a beautiful reminder that people are people, no matter what nation, and we all have something important to say.
The team with Dennis

Friday, May 27, 2011

Guacamole every day. And some Mozart.

I don't think I'll be so happy with the food I'm eating ever again. Every morning, we eat breakfast at the only restaurant in San Juan, about a 3 minute walk from the convent. No matter what my breakfast is, whether it's chorizo in pita, friend plantains, or tostadas, there is guacamole. Fresh. Like, so fresh that I just saw the chef pick the avocado outside the window. My usual drink is orange juice mixed with soda water and about a cup of sugar. I can't believe how delicious every single thing I put in my mouth is.
We've been taking our instruments to the hospital every day. I feel pretty comfortable saying that I'm the first bassoonist to ever perform in Antigua, but I guess I could be wrong. The kids who are developed enough, see the bassoon and point and laugh. It's a reminder that it is indeed a ridiculous looking thing. I sit at it and practice so many hours on it, that I've forgotten just how strange it really is. I feel refreshed thanks to their reaction of laughter.
For those who aren't very far in their development, the children are split in half. One half being the kids who are inactive, unaware, and silent; the other half being those who are loud and not in control of their bodily movements. Unfortunately, both have in common that they are often orphans of teen moms and have cerebral palsy due to lack of sex education for these young women. However, a few of the children get regular visits from their parents who them very much, but do not have the financial means to support their mentally and physically ill child.
The team took turns splitting who would be performing for the ward and who would be walking around the ward interacting and playing with the children to engage them in the performance they were hearing. At one point, Matt, Caeli, Catie, and myself were performing a Mozart string quartet while Ian and Annalise danced among the kids. It was then that I noticed that the 2 groups of children had completely switched roles. The inactive, silent ones were dancing and singing along with our music, and the usually screaming, loud ones were silent and focused on our concert. I couldn't believe what was happening. Music really does have an impact on everyone. We passed out shakers to all of the kids and they shook them with smiles bigger than I've ever seen.
My usual breakfast and drink

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

First Impressions of Antigua

We arrived in Guatemala 2 days ago and I’m already convinced this is the most beautiful place on the planet. Soon after landing, we were picked up by Sir Hector, our hired driver, and his 15 year old grandson, Dennis. Because they are kind people, they took it upon themselves to treat us to lunch at Pollo Campero (Guatemala’s KFC, YUMMY!!) and show us around the town. I felt like I was driving through a volume of National Geographic as we drove the old town of Antigua. The cobblestone roads, tin roof shacks, ancient ruins, and women dressed in cloth with hundreds of colors splashed on gave the town this feeling. 
We are staying in an ancient convent just outside Antigua in the town of San Juan. It is called El Convento de Retiros, owned by nuns. It is so beautiful and well kept even though it is about 600 years old. All six of us have been staying is the same room with just enough bunk beds for each of us. It is crowded and we don’t have hot water or doors on the bathrooms, so the team is getting a lot of bonding time! 
Yesterday was our first day at the hospital. We were greeted by a mile long line of patients hoping to see a doctor at the free clinic. They all pointed and smiled us six Americans as we walked through (this is the one place in Antigua that isn’t full of tourists, so they were shocked to see us there. Or maybe it was our strange black backpacks that each of us carried…) We received a tour of the entire hospital from Mayra Torres, the volunteer coordinator. The hospital is run by nuns, nurses, and volunteers who come from overseas like us. We walked through the men’s ward, women’s ward, elderly room, infant room, and finally the orphanage where we will be spending much of our time. 
It was hard. So many of the patients were clearly not given enough attention. It’s no one’s fault, the hospital just has very little money to invest in these patients. I could see each of the team member’s sadness over the situation, but I knew we would all work to turn this into something positive with our music. 
El Convento de Retiros

Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro
Some women walking near Antigua's artisan market
View of San Juan
The team with our driver, Hector

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vamos a Guatemala!

I am totally packed and this could be my last chance at internet access for a while! Tonight we will cram into a shuttle and head to JFK for our 5am flight to Miami, then a quick late morning flight to Guatemala City! Vamos!!
Check out Rayos's website:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Testing, testing...

Is this working...? I've never attempted to do a blog....
As I embark on my first international outreach trip, I've decided to start this blog to keep family (mostly my worried mother) and friends updated while I am away. I have no idea what my internet situation will be while out of the country, so I will try to keep posts quick and informal sharing what I've spent the days doing and what I have learned. Since outreach and teaching has become so important to me, I plan to keep updating this blog for years to come as I (hopefully) continue to share my love for music throughout the world.
The Rayos de Cancion team has spent the last academic year tirelessly fundraising and planning to insure that this inaugural trip to Guatemala will be a success. My fellow team members are: Annalise Thompson (dancer and founder of Rayos de Cancion), Catie Longi (viola), Caeli Smith (violin), Ian Sullivan (percussion), and Matt Wright (flute), all Juilliard students. In a few weeks, we will travel to Antigua and volunteer at the children's ward of Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro, a hospital and orphanage for children with cerebral palsy. Our stay will be 10 days long and we will bring music each day to the ward as an experiment to see if the children have any reaction to our performances.
Again, since this is the first trip, it is a huge experiment. I am trying to go with ZERO expectations, but only with goals. I will strive to bring joy to each of the patients while breaking cultural barriers with something everyone can enjoy: music!