February 2, 2016 -- 87 student musicians from North Shore High School will be off to Cuba this coming February recess, serving as cultural ambassadors to the island nation only a year after the United States government lifted some of the travel restrictions that had been in place for more than half a century. The tour will no doubt offer those students, and their teachers Choir Director Michael Kerschner, Band Director David Soto and Orchestra Director Jason Domingo, along with the six additional faculty chaperones, the experience of a lifetime as they will tour a society and culture that so few Americans have seen first hand, and that will likely change dramatically in the coming years as a result of the developing rapprochment between the United States and the only communist country in the Western Hemisphere.
Choir director Michael Kerschner said it was exactly that development that led the Music Department, which sponsors an overseas trip bi-annually - last having gone to Italy, Croatia, Slovenia in 2014, to leap at the opportunity.
“Art has always been part of the vanguard of social change,” Mr. Kerschner explained, “In Cuba, our students will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Cuba as it transitions into this incredible and new political reality.
"We intiated the tour after it was clear that the political situation was thawing," he said. "We then received an official invitation from the Cuban Ministry of Cultural Affairs."
The pieces that the Music Department has selected for the three concerts it will perform in three different cities (Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santa Clara) represent a cultural exchange in itself, with a mixture of works by both prominent American as well as Cuban and South American composers.
The exchange will not only involve performances and touring the island learning about its culture and history, but also meeting with Cuban high school students. On the last full day of the tour, the North Shore musicians will visit a Cuban school and perform for its students, and those students will then return the favor performing for the Americans.
Over the past several months, the students and their teachers have been both raising money to offset the cost of the trip, and learning about Cuban culture and society in the process.
This past October, the Music Department and the North Shore arts booster, Arts Angels, sponsored "Danza Cubana Social Club" a fundraiser at which which participants learned to Rumba, Cha Cha and Mambo.
Last month, area resident and Hofstra University Professor Warren Bratter, co-founder and former director of Latin American Studies at Adelphi, and his wife Dale Bratter (NSHS’63), who have travelled extensively throughout Cuba, offered students a lecture and presentation on the history and culture of Cuba.
And just this past Monday evening, the students gathered in the high school auditorium for a final meeting to discuss the logistics of traveling to and within the island country, skyping with trip planner Sylvia, who has done much of her arranging of the tour shuttling back and forth from her home in Mexico to Cuba.
The Music Department has now been organizing cultural exchange tours for a decade that, along with those of the foreign language department, help to advance the overall school district's goal of promoting global citizenship.
"I am delighted that our students are able to participate in this cultural exchange," said School Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick. "The trip fits beautifully with our shared valued district outcomes. This is a wonderful opportunity for an exchange of ideas, and a view of how others live."
Opportunities such as these are rare, and dependent upon not only interested, curious, adventurous and committed students and teachers, but also local support.
"We think it says so much about our community that there is support for our young musicians taking their skills abroad in the name of cultural diplomacy," said Mr. Kerschner. "Our students come back with opened eyes and renewed artistic energy."
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The Performance Tour Chaperones - Michael Kerscher, Michael Kleba, Dean Miller, Jason Domingo, Ashley Hasset, Rachel Resnick, David Soto, Janice Nunziata, Christine Halloran, (Not pictured - Jodi Larson)