Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra Premieres New Comissioned Composition by Pablo Mayor

Dear Friends,

Harbor Conservatory is pleased to announce that the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra under the direction of pianist/composer Arturo O’Farrill will be premiering a newly commissioned composition by long time Harbor Conservatory faculty member pianist/composer/bandleader Pablo Mayor, as part of the Wall to Wall Sonidos festival at Symphony Space. The free event is part of Wall to Wall Sonidos, the culmination of a yearlong multi-disciplinary programming initiative focusing on Latino arts and culture at Symphony Space, located at 95th Street and Broadway.

The marathon’s closing segment, “Si Cuba,” …will feature the world premiere of O’Farrill’s “A Still Small Voice,” a New York State Council on the Arts commission that explores the central beliefs and tales of many religions and philosophies. O’Farrill describes “A Still Small Voice” as “a hybrid of classical, jazz, and Latin elements focused on the idea of a conscience, a voice inside of us that knows right from wrong.”

The work will feature the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra with the 115-voice LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts Senior Chorus, under the direction of Ms. Jana Ballard. The concert will also feature other new works and guest artist/composers, reflecting the future of jazz across the Americas, including Afro Peruvian vocalist Corina Bartra, Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato with famed accordionist Victor Prieto, In addition, pianist Vijay Iyer’s “Mad Hatter,” his first work for big band, will be performed.

Pablo Mayor – Composer, arranger, pianist, Pablo Mayor was born in Palmira, Colombia, and holds both a B.A. and an M.A. in Jazz Arranging from the University of North Texas.  Mr. Mayor began his personal investigation of the native music of Colombia while Professor of Jazz at Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1998.   He has taken his knowledge of Colombian folklore and has combined it with an extensive knowledge of jazz harmonies and arranging which can be heard in the work of his popular group Folklore Urbano. Beginning in 2003, he founded the annual “Encounter of Colombian Musicians in New York,” an annual event uniting Colombian musicians. A pianist and arranger for Orquesta Broadway, Mr. Mayor is an active pianist in the Afro-Cuban music scene. He wrote and produced the music for “A Clear Midnight,” “El Patio,” and “El Pesebre,” three live theatre productions by the ID Studio performed throughout the New York area. In Spring 2006, he wrote and produced music for the popular theatre production, “Allende,” that had its opening run at the Theater for the New City.  Mr. Mayor has produced and arranged for musicians, such as Toto La Momposina and Armando Manzanero, in Dallas, New York, Colombia, and Mexico. For more info go to

The Afro Latin Jazz Alliance and Symphony Space present

Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra as Part of Wall to Wall Sonidos

FREE! No tickets required.

May 14, 2011, 9:30 PM

Symphony Space
95th Street and Broadway, NYC


Celebrating Tito Puente

Dear Friends,

It’s been almost 10 years since the passing of one our country’s greatest multi talented musicians, the great El Rey—Tito Puente, but his music and memory are being kept alive by Joe Conzo, Sr., Ramon Rodriguez, Director of Harbor Conservatory’s Latin Music Program and Codigo Records with their new release of the complete Tito Puente TICO 78s and Tito Puente El Rey. To learn more about the maestro’s enduring love for Harbor Conservatory– the leading school for Latin Music and his great friend Joe Conzo’s memories of the man behind the music as told in his upcoming book “Mambo Diablo My Journey with Tito Puente”, and the new Codigo release– set your television sets for WABC Channel 7’s “Tiempo” scheduled for November 21st at 11:30 am.  Hosted by Joe Torres, “Tiempo” is a weekly round-table discussion show about topics affecting and relating to Hispanic citizens.

A master timbalero, arranger, composer, bandleader, and proud son of East Harlem, Tito Puente cared deeply about education for young students and the need for youngsters to continue and/or begin their musical studies, as well as to reaffirm pride in Hispanic culture. Up until his death in 2000, The Conservatory was an annual recipient of Mr. Puente’s own scholarship Fund, and with permission from the Puente family we have continued the scholarship in his memory. The Tito Puente Scholarship Fund provides support for Latin percussion students as well as piano students through the Charlie Palmieri Memorial Scholarship which was established by Mr. Puente at the Harbor almost twenty years ago.

Nina Gale Olson
Senior Portfolio Manager

Updates and News

Dear Friends,

The fall semester is quickly approaching, with registration taking place September 7th and classes beginning September 20th.  As always, there has been lots of activity at the Conservatory, and much exciting news to report.

We are proud to announce Conservatory Director Ramon Rodriguez has been awarded a 2010 Bobby Capo Lifetime Achievement Award. The Bobby Capó Lifetime Achievement Award was created by Battery Park City Authority in 1997 in honor of ‘Hispanic Heritage Month’.  There will be an awards ceremony on September 8, 2010 at 6:00 pm  followed by a concert at 7:00 pm featuring the California based Central American group, Opa Opa. The ceremony and concert will be held at the Battery Park City, Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park, and are free and open to the general public.

The award honors Hispanics within the State of New York who have distinguished themselves in the public, cultural, social sectors and in the arts. Joining Mr. Rodriguez in receiving this prestigious award are Susana Tubert, Co- Founder and Executive Director of the Latino International Theater Festival of New York, Shirley Rodriguez Remeneski, Founder and Executive Director of 100 Hispanic Women and Inspector David Colon, Community Affairs, New York City Police Department.

Serving as a testament to Rodriguez’ gifts as an educator, the Harbor Latin Youth Ensemble has been invited by Jazz at Lincoln Center to participate in their October 22nd and 23rd Afro-Cuban Jazz Celebration entitled, “Jazz Meets Clave.” The weekend celebration features Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in the Rose Theater, and Chucho Valdes performing in The Allen Room.  This is an exciting opportunity for Harbor students to share billing with such major figures in the world of Jazz.

Keeping the music playing, on November 6th, the New York Historical Society will present the Harbor Conservatory Latin Big Band under the musical direction of Louis Bauzo in a tribute concert honoring the great King of Latin Music – Tito Puente. Produced by Puente’s right hand man—Joe Conzo, and featuring Ronnie Puente, the concert is part of the society’s programming in conjunction with the historic exhibition, Nueva York which opens this fall at El Museo del Barrio and examines Spanish speaking New York from the 1600s to 1940s.

The year ends with the December 26th Kwanza Celebration at the Museum of Natural History produced by Communityworks featuring Harbor Conservatory’s GESTURES Dance Ensemble. Joining GESTURES for this program is the world renowned Dance Theater of Harlem and other outstanding New York arts groups.

Nina Gale Olson
Director of External Affairs

Harbor Conservatory in the Daily News!

Hello Friends,

Yesterday, the Daily News featured an article about the Harbor Conservatory!  The focus was the conservatory’s history of teaching and carrying on the rich legacy of Latin music.  Conservator Director Ramon Rodriguez, Director of External Affairs Nina Olson, and Berklee bound piano student Angel Echevarría were all interviewed for the article.  Click here to read it!


Ed Morand Interview

Dear Friends,

I recently interviewed adult music student Ed Morand.  From his previous career in musical theater to finding Latin music years later, Ed had some fascinating insight on music, and how it has affected his life.

(D: Daniel, E: Ed)

D: Ed, according to your background you had a brief career in musical theater and dance. Care to elaborate on this?

E: Well what’s funny is I had access to music growing up.  My father was a city music teacher, a choral director, a church organist, and even now he works as a cantor.  So I had music in the house, but I did not get along with my father at the piano.  I grew up singing in church and doing shows in school and such, but the music studies as a discipline–in terms of playing an instrument–didn’t really stick.  I ended up doing shows in school and then going to college for theater. I then took classes and then getting my first paying job with the Dance Theater of Harlem.  That led me into a career in performing and began a wonderful time of my life where my horizons just opened up.  I ended up going into more musical theater eventually because of the opportunities to work, but I have to be honest.  My career wasn’t the most outstanding, but I did get the chance to tour through the states and a little bit in Europe.  It was really a great experience and opened up my mind, seeing the way the different people lived in different areas of the country and abroad as well.  But you know that was a really brief time period, really only a few years.  I soon found that it wasn’t necessarily where I wanted to be, but I always found myself gravitating towards the piano in the orchestra pit when I was on tour doing shows.

So what’s funny is that I ended up stopping the dance and performance career, and starting a new career in fitness.  At the time I was just trying to make a living between gigs.  Then it swallowed up my time.   It got to the point where I had no time for anything else in my life.   Now I run a Pilates studio, my own business, full-time—the fact is I could squeeze two full-time jobs into the hours I work.  But right after I stopped performing I really needed to find another outlet of expression for my artistic side. So I started to dabble with this developing interest I had in salsa and mambo.  I had no idea what it was about at the time.  I really didn’t get it.  But I had these illusions based largely on TV series’ I saw as a kid, Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze, some Latin cliché characters in movies.  And I wanted to be part of it; there was something I couldn’t put my finger on, but I found it infectious and contagious.

So I started to take salsa and mambo classes with Eddie Torres, who is considered the salsa king, or the mambo king.  And he had toured with Tito Puente for three years, so the music was really held up in high regard in those classes and in the dance scene.  It was only a matter of years before I wanted to go and study this music, because I knew I had some music background from childhood and never really made it work for myself.  I really felt like all the steps from that journey were amazing, and I made some revelations at each stage.  When I found out about this place, it was an incredible realization that I could study at a relatively low cost, because these lessons would be much more expensive downtown, at some places easily double the cost of what they are here.  I came in here not knowing what kinds of opportunities existed, and what I found was a series of opportunities.  And these were not available to me in the place I grew up at the time I was growing up.  There was the opportunity to really begin to understand rhythm because I started to take conga/music reading classes.  Soon after I started to study piano trying to free myself from my previous hang-ups about what it all meant.  I think I stuck with two classes for a while and the idea was that I wanted to play piano the way you play in a salsa group or a Latin ensemble, and to do that I had to learn my jazz basics.  So I had this great class with Gustavo Casenave, where he started to build this Jazz vocabulary which really called up a lot of my music fundamentals.  At the same time I studied the basics of playing the Conga with Steve Lopez, but more so emphasizing the reading of music rhythms.  So I got to sort of fill in all these things that had kind of been left by the wayside as a kid.   And I’d have to say that as a kid nothing really caught on.  I was at the church in this intimidating, conservative music environment. I knew I liked music and I got a great start having a musical parent in my Dad.  But at the Harbor I got to free up and explore what I think is much more advanced harmony in jazz and then I started to learn rhythm without thinking about it too hard, which is what I thought I was doing all along.

And there were deep issues connected to this; this was a father and son relationship where it was a lot of pressure to be the student of my father.  For some reason…sometimes…we hear stories where this doesn’t always so smoothly as expected, and mine was a perfect example of that.  I’m glad to say now, it’s a little therapeutic because I get to sort of bridge that relationship back and show an appreciation for what my dad was trying to do with me and resume what didn’t quite take at that time.  What’s funny is that as a performing artist in our current culture, in comparison to Europe and other countries where performing arts and artists are subsidized through unemployment and are paid fairly well when they you perform, here in this country you’re sort of an out of work actor,  an out of work dancer.  And knowing I’ve sung, acted and danced my entire life it was kind of put away all the years I was actively working as a performer.  During that time I found that I couldn’t afford to be a performer, and there weren’t opportunities coming up for me.  I mean this is a field where you have to actively make your own opportunities.  So being able to sort of very carefully and very gingerly walk back into the arts in this way, and to feel protected and very sheltered in this environment was amazing.  And what happened was that I said, you know, I love to sing this music, and I’ve dabbled on my own with singing a little bit of Latin music, and I thought since I had a little bit of vocal training in some different languages I would try to sing this stuff.  So I picked up a lesson with David Oquendo, who is a Maestro here, and that was meant to be a Latin vocal class.  But when you study with David you realize he is bringing in this culture of  Cuban Son, boleros and baladas and kind of light popular music with the rumba tradition, the soul tradition, the roots of today’s salsa and much older Cuban “country” music.  That class is like a percussion class, where you’re tapping this and banging that before you get a chance to do any bit of singing because he wants to know that you’ve got the rhythms down, internalized; so you’re getting the roots, the roots and the fundamentals of these Cuban rhythms.  So when you layer all these lessons together it’s amazing.

And what finally happened was it was mentioned to me that there existed a space in the ensemble where I started as a vocalist, and then a piano spot seemed to open up, and in this workshop on Tuesday nights here I get a chance to play the piano.  It’s basically a class in being a completely new start up salsa band, only under the guidance and supervision of two great musical directors like Ramon Rodriguez and David Oquendo.  These guys are both really good at developing students in there own ways because they both have expert eyes and ears for this work.  They see exactly what you need and work to mold you.  They only push you to the degree that you can be pushed, then step back, observe you and then come around from a different angle.  So I’m enormously grateful to them for this opportunity.  Once my lessons turned into playing with this group of people I just felt like it all took off to a new level.  My practice, the discipline I put into the practice, looking to show up prepared for the next class, the next rehearsal with improved material and being able to handle those tricky parts that might have posed a problem on first viewing.  And you know…the group becomes a little family: some of my friends play conga, one of my other friends plays bongo, this other guy plays timbales.  It’s a group and you want to look good in front of your friends and make them look good too.  So we are slowly improving, and we’ve got a hot little group vibe going on and we’re hoping to continue moving forward.  I have to say as a kid I had three years of piano lessons; I was a singer; I could practice for a while; I could put it down; I knew I could always go back to singing.  As a kid I practiced…once a month I think.  And now, you know before beginning this workshop, I was probably practicing at least four days a week for an hour to two hours.  Now that this workshop is happening, there’s so much more motivation to pile on the practice hours, there’s really no limit to what you can strengthen in terms of your rhythmic chops or finger dexterity, or rhythm where I’ll play clave or the drum in practice and sing and work on some of the rhythms.  Although it’s a lot of work and it’s constantly trying to keep all the irons in the fire, it’s endlessly rewarding.  It’s an amazing adventure.  I really feel so indebted to this program, the existence of it, and all the work Ramon has done to keep it together and keep it going.

D: How did you hear about the Harbor Conservatory before you got started here?

E: You know that’s a funny question.  It doesn’t come immediately to mind how I heard about it… I remember wondering whether it was open to everybody, whether you had to be Latino or very young, at least school age, to take lessons.  I remember somebody telling me there were Salsa and dance classes being held here a number of years ago, five or six years ago.  And I knew about the existence of it but I thought it was more of a kids after school community project, I didn’t realize the extensiveness of the program.  Ah you know what!  I just realized those things were all true, but they never really made the connection for me.  What happened was I got very interested in playing and I said “I’ve got to learn to play this music on the piano. I want to play Latin music on the piano and I want to be able to sing and accompany myself.”  And in that instant I basically contacted this woman who wrote the “Salsa Guide Book for Piano and Ensemble” Rebeca Mauleon.  She’s an internationally-renowned pianist and Latin music educator.  I’ve read her books and they’re recommended by many teachers here.  I had found these books on my own and her contact information was there, so I wrote her an email and asked “Who do I study with in New York?”, and she recommended Oscar Hernandez.  Now this took some nerve because I knew about Oscar Hernandez.  He’d worked on The Capeman with Paul Simon, he’d been Ray Barretto’s pianist and arranger for years.  And he’d recently started his own big band, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

So I took a deep breath and found Oscar Hernandez’s contact information online.  I had seen him in shows with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, so I stopped him during a show and found out how to get in touch with him.  So when I did he said, “Go to the Harbor Conservatory, Sonny Bravo teaches there”.  Then once I called the school they told me Sonny Bravo only takes advanced students so Ramon suggested I take lessons with Gustavo Casenave to work on Jazz fundamentals.  So that’s how it all started.  It was literally like finding some famous pianists who were hot players and asking from the source where should I go?  It was very gratifying that it happened; that I had access, I could pick up the phone and talk to somebody who could tell me “yes he teaches here, but his schedules full” and that was really gratifying. What’s great about this school is you’re linked in with the people that do play this music.  I’ll literally go out salsa dancing and I’ll see my piano teacher on the stage, and that’s amazing.  Or I’ll go to a gig that David is playing in, he’ll be playing guitar and singing, Gustavo is always playing out doing his jazz thing.  You’re studying with working musicians who are at the top of their craft.

D: Must be an awesome experience.

E: You know what I think is even more awesome is being an adult student and having access to this.  To get pulled in to this extent as an adult, you feel like your brain works better. You feel like you’re sleeping deeper, you’re living life more fully, you feel like you’re percolating and using all your synapses and your whole brain better because we always hear about how little of it we humans use.  And it really feels like, when they say older folks benefit from taking dance lessons or keeping limber and trying new things, playing sudoku and brain twisters and puzzles; in a sense it feels like when you’re doing this you’re in that mode constantly.  It makes you feel like a little kid.  It is truly a joy.

D: That’s great.  So how has taking lessons here affected your relationship with music?

E: I would say I listen to music a lot more intently.  I can hear things I’ve never heard before.  I would say I bring that enthusiasm to other people in my life, when I recommend music lessons to friends, their kids, or young people I know.  I feel like in the Latin music and dance scene which is a BIG trend right now, that twenty or thirty percent of the people I meet would love to study this music.  In a sense I feel a certain compulsion, a certain desire, to keep this music alive because it is roots music.  I’ve thought for a long time, long before going this direction that Latin music and Latin jazz is the best music in the world.  I had no Latin music growing up. I was in that strict kind of church and classical music environment.  All very square harmonies, with no bounce.  It wasn’t like a soul or a gospel chorus or choir, it was a traditional church choir.  When I say I think Latin music is the best music in the world, it’s the sophistication of the harmonies, combining these U.S. based jazz harmonies with the complexities of these Afro-Cuban rhythms, you’re basically layering all the tradition, all the richness that African and Arabic music has brought us, and when you look at the history you realize all the Eastern stuff including Asian, Persian, and Indian music found their way into this mix through early trade routes like the silk road.  And similar traders carried stringed instruments into North Africa where they inevitably ran into forest African drumming traditions.  Then you have the harmonic stuff that came from some of the same hybrid roots but became what we think of as European music.  Some of which came to be called romantic music and then more contemporary music.  You have all this breadth of rhythmic and choral and melodic and chordal music that is really the best elements of each of those kinds of music brought together.  Harmonic perfection.

D: Great way of putting that.  You mentioned that you play with the ensemble here.  Do you play with anybody else, and do you hope to potentially play gigs with the Harbor Ensemble in the future?

E: Those guys get excited, they talk about it.  The other day one of them told us of a place who wanted to use us as a band.  They asked Ramon about it afterwards and he said that we weren’t quite ready yet, that he wouldn’t want to throw us to the wolves right away.  The guys all have their delusions of grandeur, you have this one guy who’s ready to start this group with one singer, this other singer also suggesting a group of others become another separate group.  Then some of us want to keep this workshop and keep the same personnel and start a group.  Even David said the same thing a few months ago, that we should be a group and start something.  I dunno if we have the glue to make it stick, there’s something to be said for the sense of authority and the sense of trust that David and Ramon instill when they’re there administering that workshop and leading it.  Without our leaders, I don’t know if we’re strong enough.  I write my own songs and would love to start my own group playing original popular music, but they have these new jazz workshops here, a sort of renaissance of the jazz program here where they’re starting new things and having new ensembles, and I hope to get into one of those.  So it’s possible that much like the teachers here, maybe if I’m able to do this Latin workshop, then a Jazz workshop, then I can do my own music once I get my skills up in all those musical disciplines.  That would be the best outcome I can imagine.  It’s most gratifying when you’ve written something yourself and you also perform it. That puts together my singing, my writing, and my playing.  So that’s most definitely on my mind.

D: Cool.  Lastly do you have any advice you’d like to impart to somebody who wants to learn more about the conservatory, and possibly take lessons here?

E: I most certainly do.  I think that sometimes people think it’s a good idea to take lessons with a friend of a friend or a neighborhood person because it’s the economical choice, or it’s nearby.  The classes here are extremely affordable, especially with the high quality of working professionals they have teaching here.  I think it’s fair to say the teachers here go out of their way to serve this community, this institution, this conservatory.  If it was only about money you wouldn’t see the kind of character in the teachers here.  And I am extremely grateful for that.  I do know that in downtown Manhattan you might find these classes going for 3 to five times as much with the same teachers, so it is a big deal that they’re choosing to serve the school, and this community.  I think it is a good idea NOT to take lessons from  a friend of a friend, or a person down the block.  I think it’s a good idea to come here because there is a structure and as I just said the way that things worked for me is I had two classes first, then realized I needed more and different skills, so I took a workshop.  Then once I took a workshop I felt part of a community here, and you start to know this player, and this singer.  And that’s the way to get a true artist to flower.  It’s not just one trait, one discipline; it’s really kind of that music has these different arms, these different wings.  Your skills really hang on your ability to both network socially and as a musician.  So there’s a network of teachers, there’s a network of peers, and there’s a family feel here, which is really, really awesome.  That’s why I recommend this kind of a place, this place specifically, over studying with a friend or neighbor.  So you asked “Do you have any advice?”  This is the advice I’m constantly giving people.  You know, my friend’s son might want to study guitar, another friend’s son might want to study percussion, another friend’s daughter might want to study piano.  I have spoken highly of this place because I believe in it.  I will recommend it time and again, and deep down, I just want everyone to experience for themselves just how special it is.

Conservatory Founder Sandy Owen Interview

Dear Friends,

Several weeks ago I interviewed Conservatory Founder Sandy Owen.  I found our conversation mesmerizing, as I learned both her individual story and how the conservatory grew into the arts education mecca it is today.  Read on to see our discussion…

(D: Daniel, S: Sandy)

D: Sandy, when did you begin working at Boys Harbor, as it was then called, and what were you originally hired to do?

S: I began working in the summer of 1970, and I was hired to teach piano.  That was the start of things.  And then because I had been trained in several other areas, as things progressed, we expanded.  I had started a class… kind of a little kids’ music appreciation thing with all kinds of different symbols and ways of teaching music and notes and things like that, which was fun.  Then we started the chorus, and that grew to about 60 voices at one point.  We played at the Apollo, then we did a gig at Carnegie Hall.  We were backed up by the Harbor’s own Jazz band, which was great.  That was the era of Vista Volunteers.  Jutta von Tiesenhausen came as a Vista Volunteer and, because she was musically trained, she began working with the chorus.  I had hired Ramon away from Third Street Music School by then; he and Jutta took over the chorus, Ramon started teaching band, while I continued teaching piano.  So that was sort of how it grew, as we got more kids wanting to do more things, we gradually started getting some money to hire other people to do things.

D: What’s a Vista Volunteer?

S: That was the internal counterpart of the Peace Corps.  If you wanted to do work of that sort, you joined the vista volunteers. It was a two-year stint where you worked in the United States in communities such as East Harlem.

D: When you originally began teaching piano and dance, were these classes just a part of Boys Harbor?

S: Yes… and then it grew.

D:  As more programs developed over time, when did you consciously begin focusing your efforts towards building a comprehensive performing arts program separate from Boys Harbor?

S: You know, I don’t think, at least for the first five or ten years, there was really a conscious thought of saying “Let’s make this a separate conservatory”.  We were too busy just doing what we were doing.  Plus, we were always integral to the rest of the place.  Several of us were on the daycare budget.  You found ways of paying people because we were serving day care kids and were legitimately part of the Boys Harbor Program.  I think probably after I left and became part of the development department was when they first started.  That was when Ramon, Nina Klyvert,  Nina Olson, Rob Blumenthal and Bertin Rowser really started thinking of it as being the Conservatory.  The leaping man logo, that was Bertin’s, that was the first real logo for the Conservatory, as it was named.  It wasn’t like “ok we’re putting out our shingle today”; it was very generic and just basically happened.  But we realized and they realized that the training our students were getting was really… superb.  So, since we really were a conservatory, let’s think of ourselves that way.  It’s a little bit like behaviorist thinking; if you do it, it becomes so.

D:  When you first started here, what were the original classes offered?

S:  Well, when I was by myself it was just piano lessons and the music appreciation course for kids.  Oh, and the chorus.  We used to do chorus on Saturday morning.  Then Vince Henry, you might have heard of him, he’s pretty well-known in the jazz circles; he and his best friend “Bumpy” and John Adams (not the composer), started a group and that became the Harbor Band, or the Harbor Ensemble.  Vince was and is a reed player, plays all the reeds.  Actually he taught himself just about everything else, including sitar I would imagine by this point.  Bumpy was on drums and John was on piano.  So they started doing arrangements for the music we were already doing with piano, and it was fun!  Then Ramon came and we expanded; we’d even have the band tour with the children.  We’d get the van and go to different places, and then we’d take the kids home at night, walk them up the stairs.  Then there was camp… it was more or less 24/7, 365 in those days.  In the summer you finished teaching on Friday, went out to camp and taught, came back Sunday night at midnight and started over again.  But it was a very idealistic time, it was the ‘70’s.  Everybody was out in the community and it was wonderful.  There was always something more to do, to be done, to build.  It was fabulous.

D: That’s fantastic.  What was your background before you came to the Harbor?

S: Well I graduated from Julliard, I was a piano major and a voice minor.  I had been on stage as a dancer since I was four.  I got to use just about everything I had ever been trained in here, which was fun.  That was the beginning of the dance company. It wasn’t GESTURES then, but I had a dance company.  We had some outside choreographers come in, Diane Macintyre for instance.  It isn’t like GESTURES today, what Nina has done is unbelievable, but they were pretty good!  Some of them actually performed with Pearl Primus when she reset “The Wedding” at City Center.  They danced on stage with the Ailey II Company and held their own.  They were really good.  Now at that time, I had already started the Harbor Junior High School on 109th Street, the Harbor School for the Performing Arts, so those students also performed.  There was always something going on over here!  That was the time when Tony Alvarado was superintendent of District 4, and he was very supportive of small schools.  His wife started the first one, also a performing arts school, but hers used an arts and education model; she merged the arts with everything they did.  Ours was more of a conservatory style, you did your academics, and then you did your arts.  So ours was the second mini school in the district actually, started in 1973 or 1974.  And it lasted until maybe four or five years ago.

D: Changing gears a bit, I wanted to ask you about Ramon.  Ramon Rodriguez has been the Executive Director here for over 25 years.  I doubt this place would still exist if you had never hired him.  How did you meet him, what was your initial impression of him, and why did you decide to hire him?

S: I’m trying to think of how I met him.  I don’t remember!  I remember hearing a lot about him, but I honestly don’t remember how I met him.  Well, this is what happens when you’re over sixty.  Anyway, I had heard that he was a really good teacher, that he taught several different instruments, bass, percussion, piano; that he was into Latin music.  I needed somebody who could do things that I couldn’t do and share the load.  We were getting a lot of kids who were into different things.  I remember working at it for a while.  He didn’t want to leave his previous school, but he finally did, and… that was that.  It just built from there.  He took on his share of things and more, and we started hiring other people, reed people, brass people, percussion people.  Louis Bauzo came at some point… it just… you know… grew!  All the time we were trying to raise money.  That’s how I started, as a fundraiser actually.

D: When the Conservatory was first getting started, could you fathom that it would one day grow to house over 800 students and a large, diverse, international faculty?

S: Well we never thought about it.  Of course I never imagined it, along with the size and importance Raices would play.  As I said, it wasn’t like we had a five-year plan, we never did that, probably should have, but it worked out very well.  But of course it’s an amazing thing to look at now, and when I go to performances it’s… amazing.

D: That must feel incredible.

S: Oh, it feels fabulous.  To know that this wasn’t here before.  The Junior High School is the same way.  You know, these teachers wouldn’t be here, these kids wouldn’t be as happy as they are now. To see something that you started is worth… everything.

D: What was the thinking behind extending the music program to adults?

S: That was probably more Ramon’s thinking than mine.  It also might have been that we thought we could charge, and raise money.  We weren’t charging children at first, they were part of the Harbor Program.  And even when we did bring kids in from outside the Harbor, we charged them a very nominal amount.  It just seemed like the logical next step.  I think it was in large part an aspect of the people we were hiring.  They drew adults.  Louis never in my memory taught kids, except one little one that was so unbelievable you just couldn’t bear it.  His expertise and his fame was through adults.  I think the guitar people, the reed people; those teachers taught adults predominantly and they brought their clientele with them.  That’s my best recollection, but by this time Ramon handled more of the music program, and I had focused on furthering the dance program.

D: Last question: What do you think it is that makes the Conservatory so unique and special?

S: I think it’s a place where people can really find and do what they want to do without hassles, without someone looking over their shoulder, without the unnecessary paper work.  A couple of teachers used to say to me “You know, I have to work elsewhere to support my habit here”.  Because they loved being here despite the fact we couldn’t pay the salary that they deserved, but stayed on because it was such a special place.  The teachers were surrounded by great colleagues, they were able to teach the way they wanted to teach, able to put their students into ensembles.  Rob Blumenthal created the jazz ensemble, Louis started the folkloric ensemble, Ramon had a couple of Latin ensembles…  you just had everything here.  It’s just a group of exceptional people who are still very idealistic, and were never beaten down by academia or bureaucracy.  People believe in this place, and they believe in what they can do for kids, they believe in what they can do for the community.  That’s how we started, that’s what kept us going, and that’s what we – they – still do today.  When you have people like Ramon, Louis, Nina and Bertin… it’s infectious.  The people are so talented and have so many ideas and are doing so much for the kids at such a professional level that it just makes it a… very very special place.  For a while we had a music camp for the summer and… that was fun.  We just sort of went in all kinds of directions… whenever we came up with a new idea that could get funded and benefit children, we’d do it.  It’s just a very special place, it just is.  It doesn’t equate with any other place I can think of.  It’s still very collegial, very low-key in terms of hierarchy, bureaucracy, all those types of things.  It’s a very special place.  The people who are here feel that way and that’s what keeps it going.

Late October Events!

Hello Friends,

The semester is in full swing here at the conservatory!  Beyond the daily excitement of students perfecting their performing art, there are several upcoming events that are sure to pique your interest.

G Pic 1Harbor Conservatory has been invited to participate in a very special event, the Cross Cultural Youth Festival scheduled for October 27, 2009 from 10 am to 12pm at the 168th Street Armory. The event will be headlined by the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland, a 130 piece children’s orchestra from the North and South of Ireland. CBOI is returning to NY (4 years ago they sold out Carnegie Hall) to perform at Lincoln Center.

The Conservatory’s GESTURES Dance Ensemble and Harbor Latin Youth Ensemble will be joining the following outstanding NYC arts organizations: Harlem School of the Arts, Dance Theater of Harlem, Pierre Dulaine’s Mad Hot Ballroom, The Keltic Dreams, and The Wendy Hilliard Foundation.

Group with Singer

On Thursday, October 29th Conservatory Director Ramon Rodriguez and Conservatory Artistic Director Nina Klyvert-Lawson will be featured on WHCR 90.3 FM Harlem Radio as a part of “Black Beat New York“, hosted by Flo Whiley at 6:15 PM. This popular arts and entertainment talk show airs on Thursdays from 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm. WHCR is a community station providing informative, educational and cultural programming that speaks to the diverse populations of Harlem, Upper Manhattan, and some sections of the Bronx, Queens and New Jersey.

Ramon PicNina headshot

Did you know?

Did you know…

Conservatory Director Ramon Rodriguez was a child musical
prodigy, who began his piano studies at age 4.

Ramon Nina and Others

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