Con Sabor Latino: Latin Music Classes at the Conservatory!

Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts
12 Months a Year

Registration for Latin Music Classes began September 8, 2009, 1:00 pm–7:00 pm, classes begin September 21, 2009.

Since 1970, the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts has been the leading school to offer a curriculum ranging from Contemporary Salsa to traditional Afro-Caribbean folkloric music, taught in a comprehensive conservatory style by a world-class faculty of professional musicians.  In addition to private and group classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, the Conservatory hosts a variety of ensembles, master classes, and a two-week summer intensive for teens.  Along with ensemble work, students study theory, harmony and sight-reading along with private instruction in their instrument.  Our students study a variety of musical forms such as Danzon, Son, Cha Cha Cha and Mambo, as they learn music illustrating different periods and artists in Latin music history. Using the Raices Latin Music Museum’s extensive collection of parts, scores, and arrangements as its foundation,  Conservatory students enjoy the unique opportunity to learn while playing classic music made popular by artists such as Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco and others.

Ramon Rodriguez and Louis Bauzo

Ramon Rodriguez and Louis Bauzo

Each season a number of internationally renowned artists are invited to present master classes at Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts. Master classes give students the opportunity to supplement their studies through interaction with legendary guest performers whose insight and experience exemplify the highest levels of musical achievement.  Throughout the years, classes given by important artists have been regular events, including visits by the great bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez, NEA Jazz Masters Candido Camero and Paquito D’Rivera, bassist Andy Gonzalez, pianist/bandleader Larry Harlow, trombonist/violinist Lewis Kahn, vocalist Willie Torres, Cuban Folklorist/percussionist Vicente Sanchez, Cuban percussionist Roman Diaz, and composer/conductor Tania León.

In 1989, Tito Puente established The Charlie Palmieri Memorial Piano Scholarship for young pianists ages 12-25, awarded via competition. The winner of the competition receives a full scholarship for one year’s training at the Harbor.  Inspired by the memory of the great Latin pianist, Charlie Palmieri, the purpose of the competition is to stimulate the interest and promote the knowledge of Latin popular music in young pianists. The Conservatory also awards the Tito Puente Scholarship for Latin percussion.

Charlie Palmieri Memorial Piano Scholarship Recipients Angel Echevarria and Tony Suero

Charlie Palmieri Memorial Piano Scholarship Recipients Angel Echevarria and Tony Suero

Students demonstrating intermediate or advanced level ability may participate in Harbor Ensembles which study and rehearse the original arrangements of such great Latin artists as Rene Hernandez, Ray Santos and Tito Puente from the Orchestras of Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow, and others, which are kept in the Harbor’s Raices Latin Music Museum.

These ensembles and workshops include :

Latin Rhythm Section Workshop- Latin percussion group sectional rehearsal, learning functions of each drum and how they interact with one another in a band situation.  Basic chart reading with a focus on playing “TIME”.

Chart Reading for the Rhythm Section “Following the Road Map” A follow-up to the Rhythmic Reading Class, this class gives students the opportunity to practice basic chart reading skills while learning how to function in the band.

Latin Performance Ensembles – Top students in the Harbor Latin program:  two trombones, two trumpets, tenor and baritone saxes, Latin rhythm section and vocalists comprise the group.

Afro/Cuban Folkloric Workshop – Yambu, Guaguanco, Colombia, Abakua, Bakoso are some of the rhythms taught.  For Conga and hand percussion instrumentalists.  Intermediate Conga skills required.

Standards Workshop – This workshop is dedicated to learning the compositions that have become “classics” in the Latin repertoire.

Harbor Latin Big Band – A 21 piece Latin Big Band featuring advanced Harbor students, several faculty members and other professional musicians. The Big Band pays tribute to Frank “Machito” Grillo, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow and other musical pioneers and innovators.

(2) Latin Youth Ensembles: Introduces young students ages 11 to 19 both beginners and intermediate level to the functions of each instrument and the subtleties of group playing and chart reading. Students are chosen by audition and interview by Ensemble Director Ramon Rodriguez.

Oreste Abrantes, long time student and member of Harbor Latin Youth Ensemble

Oreste Abrantes, long time student and member of Harbor Latin Youth Ensemble

Latin Vocal Training Workshop Level I, II, – Vocalists work on basic technique, ear training, applied theory with melody and harmony relationships, and performance etiquette.

Latin Vocal Training Workshop Level III – Singers work on the development of melodic and language improvisational skills and the art of “soneo”.

Descarga Workshop – Descarga is the word Latin musicians’ use for a “jam session.”  The Descarga workshop is designed for the advanced student and professional musicians. The workshop covers a vast repertoire of standards as well as the vocabulary unique to this style.


First Student Interview: Jocelyn Alvarez

Hello Friends,

Last week I spoke with a percussion student here at the Conservatory, Jocelyn Alvarez.  Jocelyn is 31 years old and has been studying percussion at the Harbor Conservatory for five years.  Here is the transcript from our discussion:

Jocelyn Alvarez Photo 1

(D: Daniel, J: Jocelyn)

D: My first question for you, Jocelyn, is when did you first start playing percussion?

J: Five years ago.

D: And what made you decide to take up percussion?

J: I’ve always liked percussion, but never had the guts to actually play.  Then I met Jose Madera, musical director of Tito Puente’s orchestra, and he told me about this place, and I got started.

D: So your first lessons ever on percussion were here?

J: Yes, yes.

D: I saw you have a band now, and appear pretty serious.  What have you done with the lessons?

J: I liked them… I’ve played in bands, tried out everything I’ve learned at the Harbor Conservatory and the other learning’s from other people.

D: Who have you taken lessons with here?

J: Johnny Almendra and George Delgado.

D: How did their teaching styles differ?

J: Johnny would teach you the history, where it comes from and he continued the old way of playing it.  George Delgado would teach you the newer way of playing it.  So I learned a lot from both.

D: I saw that you took a few years off from lessons, did you play during that time?

J: That’s when I played the most actually.  I used what I had and recycled what I learned.

D: How do you think the lessons have helped you grow as a musician?

J: They’ve helped me as a musician because I didn’t know anything about music before taking lessons.  They are still helping me now because I’m at another level where I have to move forward and do other things I still don’t know how to do.

D: Cool.  My last question is, what advice would you give somebody interested in taking lessons at the Harbor who wants to learn more about this place?

J: It’s a good place to come and they don’t discriminate by age, they don’t discriminate by gender, and they treat you equally.  They’ll teach you just like they teach a guy.  You learn the basics, and you really learn everything.

Jocelyn Alvarez Photo 2

Gustavo Casenave Interview

Hello friends,

This week I interviewed the new Director of our Jazz Program, Gustavo Casenave.  Mr. Casenave joined the Conservatory’s faculty in 1997 teaching composition and Latin Jazz piano. Over the course of 20 years as an educator, he has lectured and conducted Master Classes and workshops at numerous prestigious institutions.  As a performer, he has played all over the world in a variety of different settings,  presenting his music with his different Tango, Jazz, and Chamber ensembles.  He has worked as Musical Director, Pianist, Composer, Producer and Arranger.  Here is the transcript from our discussion.

(D: Daniel, G: Gustavo)

D: Gustavo, my first question is: I was looking at your bio and I saw that you have traveled and played music all over the world.  So I was wondering how you ended up… here?  How you ended up a teacher at the Conservatory and how you became the director of the jazz program?

G: Well basically, I went to Berklee.  First of all, I’m from Uruguay.  I studied music there; I studied composition, I studied jazz, a little bit of everything. But in Uruguay there are not so many opportunities and I wanted to study more.  So I got a scholarship from the Organization of American States and I went to study at Berklee.  When I graduated from Berklee I said “hey, what do I do now?” So you know how it’s Boston and New York for Jazz?  Like, you go to Boston thinking that will be the place and then when you’re there, you realize that’s not the place.  And I guess I did the same thing many jazz musicians do, I went to Berklee.  When I was looking online for where to go, that was in 1994, it seemed like Berklee was the place, and then once I was there I was saying, “Is this really the place?”  So it turned out New York, there were more opportunities.  So I started mailing every college, University, and everywhere looking just to teach somewhere so I could get a job to move here.  Of course I was touring and playing, but you know as a musician but I wanted a teaching job.  So I sent letters, and there’s a funny story with Robert Blumenthal, who was the jazz director here, my very good friend.  It’s a funny story because you know he got my letter and he was reading that I was a jazz pianist from Uruguay and at the same time he was reading my letter the phone rang.  So he picked up the phone and said “Ah yes, you’re a jazz pianist, you’re from Uruguay, ah you studied at Berklee” and the other guy answered “No” so Rob said “What do you mean? I have your letter”.  “What letter?”  So what happened was at the same moment he was reading my letter a jazz pianist from Uruguay called and his last name was Casenova and my last name is Casenave.  So you know it was a really weird thing, and actually after that Mr. Casenova ended up being my student years later.  And he was a jazz pianist from Uruguay calling at the same time. Rob had never heard of anybody from Uruguay, we are a very, very small country.  Only 3 million people in the whole country.  I guess it was meant to be, I guess he said “Ok I have to call this other guy”.  So he called me, that was late in ’97 and I came here for teaching, took the job, and I’ve been teaching here for 11 years.

D: Wow.  When did it become apparent that you were going to take over the jazz program?

G: Well Ramon offered me the position about three years ago and actually I didn’t take it because I was touring a lot and as a touring musician, with gigs everything I thought it wasn’t the right time to do it.  And now, it is the right time because I expanded my family and I have a four moth old baby, actually she is five months old today.  And you know, things change. I want to start touring less so I can be home, and be more steady here.  It’s really crazy to be a touring musician, it’s crazy.  With my first daughter, she’s six now, I had that experience.  For almost two years I was touring non stop; touring two months, then coming back home for two weeks.  And I was missing a lot of the changes with my daughter, and I had that experience and this time I think it’s time to start settling.  I’m of course glad to keep playing concerts and touring but, not so much.

D: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.  My next question is when did you first start playing music, and when did you realize that was what you wanted to do with your life?

G: I started playing when my father bought the piano when I was 6, and you know we were five kids, I have two brothers and two sisters. The piano arrived and we’re kids so everyone on the piano playing together for the first day.  The second day, we were four playing the piano.  The third day, we were just three of us.  And three weeks later, it was just me… until now.  And yeah, that’s the only thing I ever did in my life, was just play the piano, and teach.  Well, anything related to music, you know.   But that’s how it started, and I decided I was going to spend my life doing music at 13.   When I was 13 I realized “what do I do?” So I started putting my band together, and I started classical piano.  First I started classical piano, and still practice until today.  But when I was 13 I said “Ok this is it for me, I cannot do anything else but play music” and that’s what I did.  You know, playing music, I did a lot of different stuff, like music for movies.  I played all different kinds of music.  I played classical concerts, I played punk music, on electric guitar when I was 13, distortion, heavy metal, reggae, jazz, pop, a little bit of everything.  I think music is one whole thing and yeah you have different styles but… music is the same.

D: Agreed… that’s great.  So, what have you specifically found challenging about being a teacher and working with students of different ages?

G: What do I find challenging? Hmm.  Well I guess in teaching I am very confident, when I teach I know exactly what I want to do, I am very specific.  So I do not find that challenging, not the teaching process because I’ve been teaching for many, many, many years so somehow I’ve found a way to explain to the students and get them to learn.  And the way is very simple; I’m a student myself so I sit on the other side.  I’m a student so I think “how would I want the teacher to explain this to me”?  So I try to give them a very specific way to go, perhaps before it was a little challenging but now it’s become habit and I know how to work towards that.  For me, the most challenging thing is to teach my daughter.  I try that, and it’s almost impossible.  She definitely has to go with another teacher.  Father child is never the same as teacher student.  So that’s the most challenging thing.  And I guess also teaching children, that’s a different story also, and that’s challenging.  It implies a whole other psychological and other skills that I did study at Berkeley, but that’s challenging, not the material itself but to deal with the children, to understand, that’s a different chapter.

D: Are you currently playing with any groups or bands in New York?

G: I’m playing with several groups and of course I have my trio, a jazz trio.  I’m very active in three fields; in jazz with different groups, they call me for sessions or recordings.  But steady, in the jazz group I play is basically with my band, I try to promote my music, it’s very hard to get do that.  I do a lot of solo piano also, I’m going to Puerto Rico now for a week of solo concerts.  And my other big thing that I do is tango.  I play in almost every major tango show that appears in the US because there are not so many tango musicians, so there’s a lot of work with that.  I direct many of the shows and I play as a pianist in Tango Fire, Forever Tango, Eternal Tango, Tango Connection, any kind of tango.  And now I also have a painting tango, that’s a show that I do with my wife who’s a painter and she paints live on stage and we do it with dancers, and I play with my tango ensemble, everything together on one stage.  And we have one big date coming, March 20th of next year at NYU and that’s called “Tango Casenave”.  This relates to my next field, which is composition.  I basically compose jazz tango and contemporary composition.  With this tango ensemble what I do is I write my own tangos, and it’ s tango show of only original music, which is very unusual music nowadays because every tango show is like the jazz standards, you have the tango standards, they always play the same thing.  So I’m trying to change that.  And I do my own music at tango shows, only Tango Casenave.  As a composer, I mainly write in three styles.  I do tangos, I do jazz, and I do contemporary classical music.  And I write string quartets, large ensembles, chamber music, and piano solo music I have a huge book for piano solo music.

D: Always writing eh?

G: Yeah, I’m always writing.  That’s basically what it is.

D: What do you like to do when you aren’t playing music?

G: What do I like to do?  To play with my daughters… and to be with my wife.  Basically the time I’m not thinking about music… no I’m always thinking about music.  It’s very hard you know I try to grab minutes and seconds for thinking of music and trying to develop something from wherever I can.  Even when I go to the bathroom, I take a book or something.  I cannot waste one second.  Oh, and I like surfing.  That’s the other thing I like.  But it’s hard to do, I have to go Long Island, it takes two hours… but I surf all my life.  So that’s one other thing.  Probably the only thing apart from music and my family that I really enjoy.  When I go on tour in Puerto Rico, I surf the whole day, and I play the whole night.  Not a bad combination eh?

D: Not bad at all.  Last question: any parting words you have for our readers?

G: Any last words? Yes. My last words are that there is a new program here at the Harbor.  There are some courses that were not taught here before.  A whole new program that I put together that was not here before; ensembles, arranging and composition courses, and that’s a new thing here, and they have to really take advantage of this.  The courses are at a very low cost of $15 per class, per time you come, and that’s really something new.  I think it will be really great.  There will be new ensembles, and I want to use this opportunity to explain the program.  Basically, the new stuff, there will continue to be ensembles like there were before, but now there are also different kinds of ensembles.  We have a student composition ensemble which is basically a writing course where we do compositions for each student, and the complementary course for this would be an ensemble where we perform the stuff that we create in the writing course.  Meaning a student comes here, writes something, goes to the ensemble and actually plays, we do a recording and listen to see how it actually works.  There are different styles, different levels, beginner, intermediate, advanced.  We offer it with different types of jazz also.  We also have a new course, introduction to tango, which is probably the first course offered anywhere, in any music school, where we teach tango formally.  So we are probably the first one’s to teach a writing course, with performance, teaching tango.  In composition, there will be a big band also.  The main thing is the opportunity to be in a jazz environment but also get together with the other departments, like Latin and classical music.  So when they come here they get a little bit of everything.  And even if they are only jazz musicians they can get in touch with people and start playing with people in the Latin programs and you start getting that mix.  And at the end jazz is for improvisation and this is obviously the jazz department, but I’d call it the jazz and improvisation department because what we study mostly is not only the jazz style; I focus on jazz because it gives us the freedom to improvise and to create your own voice even with the different  fusions of jazz with different cultures, with Latin, with Arabic, with any kind of jazz.  Really, if you check in jazz there are so many people from different parts of the world and you take elements from that and create this kind of world music that’s related to jazz.  So I think the focus of this program is more towards that, it’s more open.  It has all the traditional jazz studies but not only that.  It offers that fusion with all the cultures.  And it gives real opportunity to international students or anyone from different parts of the world to come with something of their own and learn the tools of improvisation so they can get something on their own with their own voice.  So that’s my vision of where to take the jazz department.


Did you know?

Did you know…

When the Conservatory was established in 1970 by Sandra Owen, the Conservatory had one guitar, one piano, and two dance classes.  We now regularly teach over 1,000 students per year, have four pre-professional ensembles (two in dance, two in theater), nearly 100 group classes, numerous workshops, and provide over 300 private music lessons.  Pretty amazing progress!

Sandra Owen Pic-1

Sandra Owen, Founder of The Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts

Fall Registration Newsletter!

Hello friends,

It is now September and the fall/winter semester at the Harbor Conservatory is almost upon us.  Registration and auditions for classes begin very shortly!  General registration begins September 8th and runs through October 31st.

Registration 2009

Without further ado, here is a rundown of everything coming up this fall at the Conservatory!

Dance Program Auditions


Auditions are being held for our LEAP Dance Program Friday, September 18th at 4:00 PM.  LEAP is designed for dance students ages 11 to 13, who are focused on applying to specialized high school dance programs. Applying students must have at least three years previous dance training. The LEAP Dance Program is a partial scholarship opportunity with a curriculum that includes: 4 hours of weekly dance training in Ballet and Modern, 1 hour of weekly training in Jazz or African Dance, audition preparation through practice auditions, quarterly progress evaluations from instructors, and counseling sessions designed to help students concentrate on specific areas of their individual technical development. LEAP classes are held on Fridays from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm and on Saturday throughout the day.  To register for the audition, please call Naomi Shimashita at 212/427-2244 ext. 553 or Nina Klyvert-Lawson at 212/427-2244 ext. 570.


Auditions for GESTURES will take place Friday, October 2nd at 4:30 PM.
GESTURES, now celebrating its 20 anniversary, is the pre-professional resident dance company of Harbor Conservatory. The ensemble is a performance workshop for students, ages 13 to 19. Five years of technical training is required in order to audition. Acceptance into the Gestures Dance Ensemble gives a serious dance student the opportunity to experience what it is like to be in a professional company. From challenging rehearsals to fully produced public performances. This is an intense, accelerated program. Only those with strong commitment and desire to pursue rigorous dance training need apply. Modeled after a professional company, ensemble members are required to attend: -weekly 3 hour rehearsals, participate in a full performance schedule and training includes: Ballet, Jazz, Pointe Variations, Choreography and working with noted professional choreographers. Gestures has performed at the Papal Youth Rally, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Central Park SummerStage, Dances at Wave Hill, Aaron Davis Hall, HOSTOS Center for Arts and Culture and The Ailey Citigroup Theater.  To arrange to audition please call Naomi Shimashita at extension 553 or Nina Klyvert-Lawson at 212/427-2244 ext. 570.

G Pic 1

Theater Arts Auditions

Auditions for this fall’s Theater Arts Program at the Harbor Conservatory are Saturday, September 26th. Auditions for the Musical Theater Production are from 10AM-1PM, while auditions for the Theater Repertory Company are from 3-7PM. Please contact Program Coordinator Michael Awusie for more information at 212-427-2244 ext. 558.

theater arts description 2009

Apart from registration, there is some exciting unrelated news at the Conservatory.  Harbor Conservatory is pleased to announce that its Jazz Program is now under the direction of pianist and composer, Gustavo Casenave. Mr. Casenave joined the Conservatory’s faculty in 1997 teaching composition and Latin Jazz piano. Over the course of 20 years as an educator, he has lectured and conducted Master Classes and workshops at such prestigious institutions as The Juilliard School, New York University, Yale University, Berklee School of Music, University of Florida, University of Uruguay, Waldorf Schule in Austria, and Klagenfurt Music Conservatory also in Austria.

Gustavo Casenave Pic

Finally, Classical Music Director Martin Soderberg has been invited by the Tian Jin University in China to perform recitals of Spanish Music and conduct a series of lectures on Spanish Piano Music from October 10th to 17th.  This will be Martin’s first trip to China.  Best of luck to him on his adventures!

music 21

Check back tomorrow for a new “Did You Know” and Friday for an interview with new jazz program Director Gustavo Casenave.

Until then,

Daniel Schwartz                                                                                   Special Projects Coordinator

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