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Categorized | Development, TOP STORY
by Brian Funk, 22 November 2010.
Drum in hand and focus directed towards the circle of 20 students each equipped with drum and large drumstick, Professor Diego Cueto dictates to the class a basic and moderately manageable rhythm. Tapping the wooden block against a cylindrical painted bin drum, Cueto pounds out a recognizable Argentine drum line. After a few repetitions he counts down the beats until a rattling chorus of percussion adds to his banging reverberation.
Smiles grow on the faces of the students as they sit and pound with fluid motion the dictated rhythm. A couple of students excitedly stand up and gently throw around their legs and arms as if possessed by the infectious South American Batucada. The echoing reverberations sound like the same marching political battle cries which frequent the Plaza de Mayo, or the festive strikes heard during neighbourhood murgas. In fact, the energetic vibrations send the dancers into a Murga-esque trance.
When the drumming stops an astonishing silence quickly follows before the students break out in laughter and chatter. The euphoric vibrancy in the classroom is briefly subdued as the students set aside their drums. Some accompany their classmate carefully to their seats, others reach out and ask for their walking cane, and a few rummage through their bags for some medicinal pills to take.
For the elderly retired students and Professor Diego Cueto, this energetic jam session is just part of the weekly routine of percussion class at the Espacio Cultural Nuestros Hijos cultural centre located in the ESMA in Buenos Aires.
One of the various different workshops provided for senior citizens from distinct retirement homes around the city, the percussion workshop is a weekly three hour therapeutic experience which combines body exercises, singing, and ethereal endorphin release only obtained through pounding on a drum.
The workshop began as a proposition by its professor Diego Cueto. An experience and trained percussionist, Cueto approached the ECuNHi about teaching a drum class. The idea was proposed as an open invitation to all ages and skill levels, but even he admits he was taken aback when the centre suggested a class for retired citizens.
Cueto says he was nervous and unsure at the time, “I didn’t know the vibe,” he explains, “How do you teach someone who may even have a prejudice about playing a drum. Fortunately, it passed smoothly. If it were fixing heaters I think this group would still enjoy the class.”
Cueto says that when the group began in 2008 everything was a bit chaotic because different students were trying different workshops, but after the end of the first year everyone came routinely and the group started to get to know one another.
The fact that some students also travel in buses provided by retirement homes over an hour to get to the cultural centre indicates their passion for the drums.
Student Rosita Dubchak says her enjoyment of different music’s drew her to try the drums.
“The rhythm wasn’t too hard for me because I listen to music,” says Dubchak. “The rhythm enters my soul and I want to always move around, it’s something that I’ve now discovered. I like to move, to this music or to another.”
Drum partner Gloria Gonzalez also says her background as a dancer and performer helped her to get accustomed to the music immediately. 30 years since her last dancing days travelling the world performing traditional folklore steps, Gonzalez praises the opportunity she’s received to be able to participate in the distinct workshops.Besides the soothing relaxation she says she feels each time she participates in the drumming and body exercise workshops, she appreciates the ability to “feel alive” as she puts it through the support from the staff which encourages the students to learn.
“We’re surrounded by young people that work well with us; they sustain us well,” explains Gonzalez. “The people who are alone need this type of thing so there is an energy which is transmitted. They help us and have tolerance and understanding which is something that elderly people need so much.”
The drum workshop support staff which includes Maria Sanchez, the exercise instructor, Dolores Usandivaras, the singing professor and Cueto are patient when teaching and addressing the novice level of many students. While the professors accompany the students teaching the fundamentals of the musicianship, Cueto remarks that apart from the music, he, and Dolores are the ones who do most of the learning.
Cueto admits he’s learned about life, and the good and bad of dealing with the process of growing old from his elderly counterparts. In a sense, Cueto says that the majority of the students say they are living the best moments of their lives. Some have formed new love relationships which are better than some of their previous husbands or wives, others simple cherish the freedom of travelling and playing the drums.
“Some feel that in some things they are in the best moment of their lives,” says Cueto. “It makes you think, wow! I complain! It’s always the best moment of your life. It depends on where you put the focus.”
Packing away the drums the students are brimming with energy as they finish tea and crackers before heading back to their retirement home. It is one of their last practices before their final workshop presentation the 25th of November. A positive energy overflows the hallways which have a solemn feel and tragic history. It was just 30 years ago that the building was used as a torture centre.
Yet today the vivacious attitudes and resounding rhythm have replaced the past terrors with an effervescent atmosphere that Gonzalez describes best as “a feeling of euphoria.”