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Music changing lives: Acclaimed Peruvian tenor’s dream

“I had a dream. I had the dream of helping disadvantaged boys and girls in Peru…“Juan Diego Flórez

An extraordinary social project in Peru is helping to change the lives of disadvantaged children through the power of music education. The project is the initiative of the internationally acclaimed Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Flórez.

Inspiration for Sinfonía por el Perú

Flórez was first introduced to this concept when he visited Venezuela in 2009 to perform with conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Venezuela’s El Sistema was an internationally lauded programme known to have helped children coming from a background of crime and drug abuse since its creation in the 1970s.

Inspired by this project Flórez then created numerous music schools throughout Peru, where children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds have access to free music education. They can learn an instrument or sing in the choir and the best of them make it to the Youth Orchestra which gets to perform with Flórez.

Some of these musicians from the music education programme, Sinfonía por el Perú, have embarked on an extraordinary journey, taking them from Lima to Salzburg. One of them is Gabriel Vera Correa.  Life hasn’t always been easy for the 15-year-old, but music has given him a purpose as his mother Nelly Mercedes Vera Correa, explains.

“He was bullied at school because he was chubby. There were kids who threw his backpack in the bin. Music has helped him to lose his fears, to feel more confident, to feel that whatever he wanted to achieve he was able to achieve.”

Gabriel plays with the Sinfonía por el Perú Youth Orchestra and explains how he discovered a passion for his instrument.

“I’ve always liked music and have always been interested in learning, whether it is an instrument or singing. I was thinking of starting the violin and then I came across the viola and fell in love with this instrument. My favourite moment is when I’m with Sinfonía because it just makes me happy. It makes me feel grateful to be alive because I’m learning to play an instrument.”

The power of music to change society

As well as his day job as a legendary tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, is also the Founder & President of Sinfonía por el Perú, and he explains the vision he had when he began this project.

“When I decided to do Sinfonia por el Peru I had a dream. I had the dream of helping disadvantaged boys and girls in Peru to you know, find a space where they feel secure, where they can develop, where they can find education, where they can have values for life.”

Seeing the impact his initiative has had on the thousands of lives of the children involved, has changed his perception of what music is and what it can achieve. As Florez describes.

“Before I understood that music can change society, for me, music was going to the theatre singing and everybody applauding and that’s great. But now I see music as a way to change the world, as a way to improve society, as a way of making a better world.”

Thousands of children throughout Peru regularly practice for several hours every day in one of the numerous music schools called nucléo, created by the programme.

Luis Castillo is the coordinator núcleos and a music teacher for the Sinfonía por el Perú.

“The impact of Sinfonia has been wonderful and marvellous. It influences their behaviour, their whole development, not only in terms of music, but it also encompasses the family and it even has an impact on society.”

Recent research also shows that the programme has significantly increased creativity, self-confidence, and academic success. As Florez explains. 

“The first study had amazing results. The prevalence of child labour was reduced in 90%. Of course, because they were at the núcleo making music together. Their parents were less violent towards them, but the results that struck me the most were that they wanted to continue into university studies.”

Diana Espinoza, is a flutist, with the Sinfonía por el Perú Youth Orchestra and is among those taking her studies to the next level. The 18-year-old is doing her post-graduate degree at Lima’s Universidad Nacional de Musica. Looking back, she says she values the important life-lessons she learned at Sinfonía.

“I learned teamwork, it helped me to take on responsibility, to know that I have to be organised and have a certain schedule. And then it gave me a passion for music. I want to do this all my life, playing in an orchestra and being a professional musician.”

Diana is also part of the Sinfonía por el Perú Youth Orchestra, where only the best students from the various music schools get to perform together.

“What I like the most and what I enjoy the most is playing with my friends and doing what we are passionate about. Playing symphonies together, enjoying melodies together. That’s what I Iove.”

A dream come true

The dream of Juan Diego Flórez when he started this project was to help disadvantaged children in Peru, and this dream is now being realised. However, exceeding his wildest expectations was an opportunity to take his orchestra on an extraordinary journey to the Festival of Salzburg, the most important in the world of classical music. He describes his unbridled joy.

“The Salzburg concert is so important for the orchestra, because it’s the first time they really travel as a whole orchestra. It feels great to be close to the kids of Sinfonia por el Peru, to the youth orchestra to work with them, to rehearse very hard with them for the tour that we are doing in Europe, especially for the Festival of Salzburg. I’m so happy, I’m so happy to be close to them. It’s really amazing, really.”

Viola player Gabriel Vera Correa, describes his excitement at this opportunity.

“I’m happy to be going to Salzburg and I’m excited that I’m going to be there with a lot more people who like what I do.”

For flutist Diana Espinoza, this is a very meaningful opportunity.

“Knowing that Mozart was there, that Mozart lived there and knowing that it’s the cradle of music and being able to walk through these little streets I can’t even describe my emotions.”

Violin player Diego Manrique, feels that this experience has implications that go beyond the musicians who are performing in Salzburg. 

“I’m really happy and grateful. It’s like a dream that every kid in Sinfonía por el Peru would love to experience and we’re representing them all.”

Sentiments that are echoed by the double bass player, Revoredo.

“We’re not only representing the 5,000 kids of Sinfonía por el Peru, but also the whole of Peru, showing that Peru has talent.”

For Flórez, it represents an opportunity to inspire and to give hope to future generations of young musicians and young people in general. As he explains.

“When they play in an orchestra, they feel, oh, I’m somebody. I am recognised. Imagine these kids now, they say, Yes, we made it. Nothing is impossible.”

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