Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Venezuela, December 2009

I arrived in Venezuela at around 3am on November 30, and the next day was at work rehearsing as an accompanist for the Coral Infantil Empresas Polar (Children's Choir of Polar Companies.) During December, there were a bunch of performances at Polar, which is the main distributor for beer and soft drinks in Venezuela. Polar supports the arts wholeheartedly, particularly choral groups from around Venezuela. This was the 18th year of the Festival Coral.

The performances went well, and I was able to hear a lot of music performed by different choral groups who came from all over Venezuela. They performed mostly Venezuelan Christmas music, which is called aguinaldos. The music is infused with rhythm, melody and joy.

In between all of the choral concerts I wound up playing with a wedding band. I had no idea what I would be playing and totally flew by the seat of my pants. I haven't done a gig like this in a while. I enjoyed it very much, and was able to experience a lot of Venezuelan wedding traditions, such as the "crazy hour." This happens late into the festivities when stilt walkers, dancers, clowns, etc come out onto the dance floor and all pandemonium breaks loose.

We were up very early the next morning as there was a choral performance at a shrine out in the country. We drove about two hours in a bus with all of the children. We arrived at a small village called Betania, which I had never heard of. We were there a bit early so I was able to look around. There were a lot of messages of thanks along all of the rock walls surrounding the outdoor chapel. Some people also left photos, id cards, flowers, candles, hair (!) etc. I soon started to realize that this was no ordinary shrine, as more and more people were showing up with huge bouquets and cradling statues of the saints of all sizes. The mass was soon underway, and the kids performed a few songs. Then we were back on the bus to Caracas. (We broke down on the way back, but it was still fun!) Here are some pics from the shrine:

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When I had some down time I looked into Betania and learned that it was one of only four sites in the world where apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been officially approved by the Catholic Church in the 20th Century. People from all over the world travel to Betania hoping to catch a glimpse of the Virgin. All of this started with a woman by the name of Maria Esperanza.

My research led me to this outstanding video, which is narrated by none other than Fantasy Island's Ricardo Montalbán!!!



A few days after Christmas I ran into a decoration of Santa Claus playing an accordion at a travel agency. After I left, I stumbled upon the graffiti in the photos below right around the corner. A lot of the graffiti in Caracas is beautifully rendered. This one is my absolute favourite. I mean how often do you encounter a Santa Claus playing accordion followed by an incredible work of graffiti featuring a dazed monkey and another old man playing accordion??? Venezuela! I love you!

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