DC Youth Orchestra Program 2014 Concert Tour of Colombia

In the fall of 2013, the DC Youth Orchestra Program (DCYOP) was facing some major obstacles, many of which are all too common to nonprofit arts organizations across the country. They were adjusting to a change in leadership, suffering a decrease in funding, and, due to the gradual elimination of many Washington, DC public school orchestral programs, a decline in new membership. At the beginning of its 2013/2014 season, DCYOP’s top orchestra had 11 students.

So, it was nothing short of a surprise when the orchestra reached out to ACFEA to say it wanted to take a tour in 2014, and an even bigger surprise when the orchestra announced that the tour would be to Colombia, a place few American youth orchestras have ever toured. The small but mighty group of students and their parents had heard tales of the DCYOP’s illustrious touring history and decided that they would do what it took to get the group back on the road again.

Around the same time, the orchestra had appointed a new Musical Director, Mariano Vales, and a new Executive Director, Elizabeth Schurgin. They agreed that the group should travel and started to think outside the box about ways to make it happen. A native of Argentina, Vales was well connected in Latin America and had contacts with a Colombian organization called Batuta, an orchestra program based on El Sistema in Venezuela. Batuta’s mission is not unlike DCYOP’s – to provide high-quality education to children and youth of all backgrounds and economic status. Batuta officially invited DCYOP to travel to Colombia to perform a series of concerts together. This approach was the perfect way for the group to tour in light of its size and balance challenges.

With the project underway, the orchestra and its supporters launched a series of recruitment and sponsorship efforts, including a program where existing players brought in their friends to play along in rehearsals, many of whom eventually auditioned and joined the orchestra. Through word of mouth, media coverage and social networking, word spread about the tour and the orchestra was growing again. By departure day, they’d more than tripled the size of the orchestra.


DC Youth Orchestra Program performs in the cathedral in Villa de Leyva, Colombia

On June 24th, the DCYOP, a hearty 37 in number, landed in Bogota. The nature of this project meant that the orchestra would stay in Bogota for the bulk of its trip, spending the first week of its visit in intensive rehearsals and workshops with Batuta players and teachers. This was followed by three joint concerts, with nearly 130 players on stage at each performance, first in the Basilica in Tocancipa, then in the colonial town of Villa de Leyva, and finally in the Auditorio León de Greiff at the National University of Colombia in Bogota. The combined orchestra performed a program of Beethoven, Ginastera and Wagner, followed by an encore of the popular Colombian tune “Colombia Tierra Querida”, which never failed to inspire dancing in the audience (and the violin section!). By the end of the final concert, the bond between the two groups had become so strong that the DCYOP students had to be ripped out of the arms of the Colombians in order to make their flight home!

To learn more about Colombia as a possible concert tour destination for your ensemble, please visit our Colombia destination page, or contact us.