ARPATUR 2009 Summary Report

ARPATUR, a mission of Harping for Harmony Foundation in Venezuela

I spent the month of November, 2009, in rural Venezuela, chiefly in the region known as the llanos, in the states of Apure, Barinas, and Portuguesa. This was my fifth sojourn in the region; we have come to call these trips ARPATUR (harp tour). Over several seasons, ARPATUR has helped to draw attention and prestige to the strong traditional music of harp, cuatro and maracas.

During the first week, I traveled with four companions, visiting traditional musicians in towns and villages, and on farms. The party consisted of Adolfo Cardozo, singer and professor of agriculture; Fernando Guerrero, lawyer and pedal harpist from Caracas; Adolfo's wife Erika Escobar; and my brother Dan. See details of "La Baecera Initiative" below.

After the first week, I settled in Barinas and studied intensively with harpist Jose Gregorio Lopez, better known as "Goyo." I also attended harp classes at the Casa de la Cultura. Also, on several occasions I visited Caney del Arpa in Guanare, where harpist Aurelio Rodriguez (better known as "Longo") performs with other musicians in a longstanding circle of friends.

La Baecera Initiative

The focal point of ARPATUR 2009 was on the first Saturday night at La Baecera, a rural settlement of scattered ranches near Elorza. Adolfo and Erika had taken me each year to spend a couple of days to her family farm, El Coromoto. On this occasion about 50 friends, neighbors and relatives had gathered to celebrate the inauguration of a folk arts school, called the Semillero de Arpa y Joropo de La Baecera "Tio Esteban y Juana Romero" (workshop for harp and dance at La Baecera honoring Uncle Stephen and Juana Romero). At this stage, the school is not a physical place but rather a meetingplace of minds interested in cultural preservation. At the celebration, a harp, a cuatro and a pair of maracas were presented to the new school.

The turnout was very satisfying to Adolfo and Erika, who proclaimed the event a resounding success.

Tio Esteban was a harpist, a neighbor and relative, who played for dances a generation ago. Juana Romero, also a neighbor, was a beloved dancer and teacher. Tio Esteban and Juana Romero are both remembered in the lyrics of a song recorded by popular singer Alfredo Parra.

El Tuco, the local harpist at the celebration, learned to play from Tio Esteban. Tuco will be the first  harp teacher in the new school. According to Fernando, Tuco's style of harping is very authentic, simple, and typical. A landless leatherworker, now in his 50's, Tuco cultivates a garden with a wife and daughter. Tuco's harp has been in disrepair for some time, so he can only play when another harp is available. His harp was sent for repair, and another harp left with him for his use. Recently, Adolfo reports that Tuco and his wife and daughter all play the harp on a daily basis.

Barinas Harp School and Private Study

At the government-sponsored Casa de la Cultura in Barinas, various classes are offered for children and adults, including harp as well as guitar, dance, puppetry, painting and more. I was readily accepted at the Oswaldo Zapata's harp classes which are offered two days a week for 2 hours. I was also referred to Jose Gregorio Lopez as a private harp instructor. Given my limited time, I resolved to take advantage of both opportunities.

I attended about 6 harp classes. These classes attracted as many as a dozen participants, mostly male children and adolescents, but also including two females who appeared on one or more occasions.

In Zapata's classes, I saw a great enthusiasm for the harp from these young people. Most of them were technically advanced well beyond my level. Classes were held in a small patio, with everyone playing at once. It was difficult to hear oneself over the din. The teacher went from one student to another, observing technique and making suggestions. In this situation, I did not command much attention from the teacher. As days passed, I got a bit more attention from Zapata as I began to display what I was learning from Goyo Lopez. I was never asked to pay for these classes. Quite properly, Zapata dedicated his attention to his young students and not to me, an outsider who would likely never amount to much. I later discovered that Zapata himself was a student of Goyo Lopez.

Concurrently with Zapata's classes, I studied privately with Jose Gregorio "Goyo" Lopez, who turned out to be an excellent teacher and generous spirit. In the days ahead I had a lesson almost every day, and twice on some days. Goyo also encouraged me to make video recordings.

My experience with Goyo Lopez was much more productive in personal terms. However, Zapata's harp class at Casa de la Cultura deserves a great deal of credit for sustaining the cultural tradition.

Harping for Harmony Foundation Involvement

Harping for Harmony Foundation invested $5552 in ARPATUR 2009. $1000 was earmarked by the board specifically toward the purchase of a computer for Adolfo. Airfare was $1252. The balance of $3300 is shown in the accounts as per diem for 33 days at $100/day.

Actual per diem costs were lower, offset in many instances by private hospitality (room and board). Funds  thus saved were in turn used to offer reciprocity including meals, supplies, remunerations and donations of various sorts. Harpist Tuco received $50 for lessons he gave me; Goyo Lopeze received $300; Tuco's harp was sent for repair at a cost of $200; the La Baecera folk school initiative received $300.

I give much credit to the harp class at Casa de la Cultura, but did not offer any financial support as it is a governmentally funded institution.