Today was our second day in Argentina and the day of our first concert. It took us about an hour to get to the venue, St. Andrew’s Scots School. Typically when we think of an outreach concert at a school this far away from a major city in a South American country, we assume it to be a grand act of charity: us, an advanced group of young American classical musicians led by a conductor who studied at the same school as Leonard Bernstein, went an hour off of our promoted concert path to perform a full concert program for children as young as 13. With two American composers and a world premier in tow, one would think, we must be sharing so much of our culture with them; what an invaluable learning experience for the underprivileged students of St. Andrew’s School.
As we neared the campus, however, this notion quickly faded. We entered a community with four-story, paper-white houses wrapped with fruit trees and metal fences that seemed to belong to a small, wealthy town in Italy. The people looked that way too. As a Minnesotan person of color, I felt decidedly out of place.
What quelled my fears of this group of intimidatingly beautiful and apparently well-traveled people was the surprising discovery that many of them spoke perfect English; it wasn’t a shock that they spoke English, as they’d learned it in school, but what was surprising was how fluently and easily they spoke it. I asked about their classes, and it didn’t take me long to learn that St. Andrew’s Scots was an English immersion school. They told us of their experiences in America, their travels to New York, Orlando, and Chicago, how they didn’t think that our 10-hour flight was as incredibly long as we thought it felt. Sure, we played a concert, and sure, school administrators and students insisted, respectively, with words and ovations that our concert truly was an honor for them, but I think that the cultural exchange was more revelatory to us, the members GTCYS, than it was to the students of St. Andrew’s Scots School.