Highlights from the Stellae Boreales Trip to Cuba, 2013
The thrill of the first notes of the first concert that filled the sanctuary of the Iglesia del Carmen with rich, glorious sound. ~JH
Finding the culture absolutely thriving and diverse. I loved the turquoise waters of the beach, the waterfall and the caves. It was also such an eye-opening and enriching experience to meet and dance with the Cuban music students. ~EI
Insecticide on the airplane. ~EB
The colour of the cars, the jungle, the colour of the buildings, the old square, the colours of the clothes, the artisan market. The colours of Cuba! ~HL
Dancing! Spending time with such spectacular people! ~UM
Meeting the people at the music school and dancing with them. I also liked playing at the church and at the Canadian Ambassador’s house. ~SK
The last beach – 9 out of 10! ~AF
Swimming in the giant waves at the beach. ~RJ
Jazz Café or beach. Performing at the Canadian Embassy. ~BF
Talking to Cuban people, Cuban music and dancing at the Jazz Café. Swimming at the beach and at the waterfall. ~OB-L
Watching our kids learn salsa dancing from the Cuban kids’ expert moves. ~GH
Riding the CocoTaxi along the Malecon. Watching an appreciative crowd rise to their feet in a standing ovation for SB’s first concert. Alberto’s gracious hand as we disembarked the bus. Best of all, Martha’s smile. ~AL
I appreciated our tour guide, Martha, giving us such insight into Cuban life. ~LJ
Walking through the jumble of streets of Centro Habana with its density of Cuban life, crumbling facades, colour, old cars, hanging laundry, couples walking, children playing, card games and conversations. ~DH
Laughing with a wonderful group of people while learning about a very interesting country and listening to superb Cuban and Canadian musicians. ~SW
The great sense of pride I felt listening to our wonderful musicians perform in the beautiful venue of the Canadian Ambassador’s home. The warmth and enthusiasm with which we were received created a welcoming atmosphere and vibrant exchange between the Ambassador and our group. ~LI
Being entertained by the Canadian Ambassador to Cuba at his palacial, tropical residence. ~NL
Enjoying everyone’s joy engaging with all the Cuban musicians. ~SP
Improvising with students at A.G. Caturla Arts School. ~JG
The air, sea, beach, food, music and RUM! ~KS
Swimming, eating delicious food, playing cards and playing with Ensemble Alternativo. I love being in Cuba. ~DH-W
Getting sprayed with mist and water at the waterfall. The currents were very strong. ~AW
Dancing late into the night. ~JL
The enthusiastic locals, floating in the turquoise waves, and the friendly spirit of the group. Love Cuba! ~LA
Food, friends, amazing landscapes, Cuban music, dancing, meeting new people from an amazing but very different culture, and last, but not least, the beach and waterfall. ~AT
For me there was no highlight. This is my last trip with Stellae Boreales. I treasured every moment. Every day was special in its own way. ~SS-P
After a refreshing three-and-a-half-hour sleep, we headed down to the cafeteria for a hearty breakfast of bread. We had a last look at the hotel and its surroundings: the peacocks, the locals hanging out on the sea wall, the tiling patterrn on the lobby floor. Once we had loaded the suitcases crammed with tourist paraphenalia onto the bus, we watched the sunrise as we were driven to the airport. We unloaded our luggage and waited in the check-in line for a long time. The currency exchange centre had run out of Canadian money and instead we were given American money. Then we went to our gate. And boarded the plane. And eagerly watched the safety demonstrations. Fascinating. Our flight to Toronto had several confused or badly behaved passengers on it: one man refused to wear a seatbelt, another promptly stood up and began gathering his bags when we touched down. Every 15 minutes the pilot announced a period of turbulence that was to last 15 minutes. We passed quickly through cutsoms at Pearson. It was weird to be able to communicate so easily with the airport staff after a week of language barrier struggles. The airport's free WiFi was put to good use streaming The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 from YouTube. By trying not to look like criminals when passing security checkpoints, we ended up looking like criminals as a result of our forced neutral faces (at least I did. You know who this is.) After a delicious lunch at the airport, we went to our gate. And boarded the plane. And eagerly watched the safety demonstrations. One of the flight attendants burst out laughing while delivering an announcement in French and wasn't able to finish. The plane's take off sounded like dubstep. We flew to Ottawa at a "crusing altitude of 23 000 feet" with cabin-something Tyler. We were warmly greeted by friends and family and the weather (see what I did there?). What a comfort to be back in our rich country of standard plumbing and abundant toilet paper. Bye.
Today we visited the Santa Maria beach for one last mouthful of salty water. Luckily, the sun came out after the huge thunderstorm from the night before. To make things more exciting, there were some big waves! It was so much fun riding them as they pushed you back towards the shore.
Next, we headed over to the community centre to deliver some donations and get some Salsa lessons! The owner was so grateful for our donations as were we for the opportunity to learn how to dance. It was an amazing experience getting to meet the instructors and students. I think we were all wishing we could dance like them!
Next, we had some delicious food at a local restaurant.
After going back to the hotel and getting cleaned up, we headed over to a concert hall to perform, along with the Ensemble Alternativo and A.G. Caturla Arts School. They were all wonderful performances. We got standing ovations and fit in 5 bows! I think that was our best performance in Cuba!
After that, we went to a hotel for dinner with both groups. The food there was great and I loved bonding with the Cuban musicians. Leaving was hard; it felt like I’ve known these people forever! But, we had to go because we have an early start in the morning!
I’m writing this the day after I should have written it because there was no time yesterday (we danced until about 12:00pm). Anyway, instead of going to the beach, my mom and I decided to go to the Revolution Museum. We didn’t even make it to the front door because we were persuaded by a bike rickshaw driver, named Alexis, to take a tour of Havana. Alexis was extremely nice, and we ended up paying him more than 400% the rate, plus 2 cigars. Aftewards, we had Salsa lessons in the blazing sun before returning to our hotel. Then we had the concert and the dance with Cuban students.
(Please note: Certain elements of this documentation may be slightly exaggerated.)
The sun pierced through the clouds igniting them with a yellow glow. The yellow rays reached into the girls’ room as they slept. It was bliss! Then suddenly, a piercing screech broke the silence. Hailey was up in a flash having a silent heart attack. What was that noise? Allison rolled over sleepily and smacked the alarm clock. Thus ending the noise and beginning a typical day for the girls on their trip.
Groggily, the girls stumbled over each other and threw things into their bags. Hailey grunted, Allison yawned and their roommate Brooklyn slept. After cough medicine, the girls set out on their mission. After a bus ride into the depths of the Cuban jungle, they arrived at a small tobacco farm. “Black market, eh?” Hailey asked. “Let’s check it out”, Allison answered. The girls scouted out the land. Checking, always checking for signs of their mission. Tobacco leaves hung from poles in the barn and chickens wandered aimlessly around. Instructions from the commanders whispered in the girls brains, “always remember to document.” Out came the cameras, wildly clicking, capturing anything that could be used as evidence.
All seemed well among the gently swaying palm trees and clucking hens. But suddenly there was a strange rustling in the bushes. The hairs on the girls’ necks stood up. Danger was coming. Out of the foliage it came, pouncing and growling - a drooling monster with sharp teeth and claws. It slashed at the air and gave a terrible cry. In a flash it was charging at Hailey’s legs. Its claws sunk into her leg and the monster circled around her. Hailey cried out for help. Not a moment too soon, Allison came to Hailey’s rescue. She kneeled down and with one swift motion, started petting the puppy. “I gotcher back”, Allison reassured.
After quickly testing and examining the coffee and tobacco, the bus rolled on and they continued on their mission. However, in what seemed like merely seconds, the girls woke from their quick slumber and stared anxiously out the window. Hailey let out a cry of horror, “We’re rolling backwards!” The bus was currently on a narrow winding road that was hugging the mountain side, and it was indeed moving backwards down the mountain. The girls grabbed their seats, their hands getting white at the knuckles. There was a car that sat motionless behind them, getting closer by the second. When death seemed to be closing in on them, the bus driver put the brakes on. Relief flooded the girls’ bodies and they began to relax. But tension was rising among the crowd on the bus. What lay ahead? What was looming up the winding road? Apparently nothing, because the bus was moving forward again shortly after.
A short stop to investigate a lookout and a restaurant followed. Next, was an endeavour so intense it had never been attempted by humans. Exploring Cuban caves. A steep incline to the opening lay ahead. Inside the cave darkness crept in and surrounded the girls. Water dripped from the cavern walls and ran down the girls’ backs. Hailey bent down and began to crawl through a narrow passage. The walls seemed to be closing in on her, and panic rose within her. When all seemed lost, she emerged from the passage and the space around her ballooned into a yawning cavern.
But their adventures were not over. A mysterious man in a boat beckoned them to come in and explore. The girls felt it their duty to investigate, so they embarked on the journey. After a short ride a light emerged at the end of the tunnel. It grew until it was no longer a mere light, but their hope of escape. Slowly putting out of the cave, the boat had charted its course straight for the sharp edge of a waterfall. At the last possible second, the boatman turned the boat full circle and the girls’ lives were once more spared.
The bus hurried away from the cave as they were told their final destination would be unreachable after a certain hour and it was still more than sixty minutes away. The girls thought that it would be good to take advantage of this time to rest so they would have maximum energy for their last endeavour of the day. They arrived with just under an hour to complete their last task. A narrow bridge led them across a trickling stream, and after paying a small fee, they began their trek up the mountain. The stairs were numerous, with multiple ups and downs, steep and dangerous. An ominous road could be heard in the distance getting louder as they approached. After one final flight of stairs they had arrived. The girls craned their necks to look up at 250 feet of crashing water. The spray surrounded them and their hair began to cling to their faces.
Allison was the first of the girls to venture into the water. The current was strong as she struggled towards the waterfall, not sure what she was going to find. The rocks were wet and she slipped several times. After taking a moment to catch her breath, she pulled herself over the last rock and lowered herself into the upper level of the rock pool. The flowing water was now powering against her, pulling her backwards. She looked up staring as gallons of water pounded towards her. The sight was phenomenal and mesmerizing but terrifying. Allison had never seen anything like it in her life.
She was about to turn and see where her partner was, when the rock beneath her foot moved. She lost her balance and her head slipped under the water. The fast moving water rushed around her, clouding her vision. She would not be able to hold her breath for much longer. Desperately she made one strong attempt to break the surface. As her head emerged, she found that she had drifted away from the falls. Hailey beckoned to her from the water below. Their time was up. The bus was waiting to take them back to base.
They padded onto the bus, tired, yet satisfied. But just when they thought they could relax, a note pad and pen was tossed at them. It was time to file mission reports. Hailey sat down and tried to find the words to say about the exciting day. Finally the bus rolled back to home base and the girls ran up to their room. In their room they saw their long black cases which contained items of instrumental value to their mission objective. They felt somewhat relieved that these items did not have to be used that day. Overcome with exhaustion, the girls reflected on their day and felt a sense of satisfaction with the exciting events that helped completed their mission.
~HL & AT
Preparing for Cuba has been a fantastic endeavour. Fundraising started at the beginning of the year with a bottle drive, and the latest fundraising event was the June concert, which was wonderful, if I may say so myself. (Yes, I’m slightly biased) We were fortunate to also include the Fine Tuners (the junior performance group of OSS) and soprano Anja Heyner in that concert. Shortly after the concert, group classes ended, but not for Stellae! We folks, headed for Cuba, hunkered down to some hard-core practicing, both individually and with our extra rehearsals at Karoly’s. Along with the repertoire we’d been practicing, we also received two new Cuban pieces, Rajando a la Mateodora and the Cuban national anthem.
Also in preparation for Cuba we have been collecting musical tidbits (strings, reeds, tuners etc…) to bring to Cuba for those in need.
I know that everyone in Stellae Boreales is busy packing for this imminent trip. I know that we’re all pumped, let’s just hope that no one forgets their sunscreen, hat, swimsuit or instrument when we leave on Saturday.
We’re on our way tomorrow! YAY! ~UM
Stellae Boreales is back and we're ready to tackle a brand new year! We had an absolute blast at the Sellae Boreales retreat in September, when we got to see old friends and welcome our new friends DB, PL, AF and RI. Though we had much fun talking, running around, making cookies and more, we also enjoyed learning and rehearsing our new exciting repertoire. I'm sure we are all appreciative of the time and effort our wonderful coaches and accompanist put in. You guys rock! For all the people that allowed the retreat to work so smoothly we also thank you.
We have also started a fresh year of rehearsals, this time in a new venue! After the first rehearsal I'm sure we can all agree that Woodroofe High School will be an awesome venue for the Stellaes and other group classes. Our whole group gets to rehearse in the auditorium under the instruction of Kit and Karoly and it is a wonderful spatious place to play. The acoustics are incredible! Stellae had a good solid first rehearsal and I think we're going to have an absolutely stellar year!
~UM (Senior Stellae Boreales Member)