Vermont school children get a taste of real Cuban music

Fifty years ago this month, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba, after Fidel Castro nationalized property and businesses owned by U.S. citizens. Eisenhower’s successor, President John Kennedy, imposed a trade embargo on the island nation the following year.

Since then, most Americans have had little interaction with Cuba and most know little about the Caribbean country or its culture. But a group of seven Cuban musicians is trying to change that — one New England school at a time.

The band, Septeto Tipico Tivoli, is named after the Tivoli district in their home city, Santiago de Cuba. It’s a Cuban neighborhood that’s heavily influenced by Haiti and, according to bandmates, a place known for having fun and getting together with friends.

Several years ago, while performing at a music festival in Cuba, members of a Vermont-based women’s chorus, the
Feminine Tone, met the band. Maricel Lucero the founder of the women’s chorus, grew up in Cuba, and says the two groups quickly became friends. Last spring the band e-mailed her about their plans to tour Canada. Since they’d be just across the border, Lucero saw it as a perfect opportunity to bring them to Vermont.

“I was thinking about what a great gift it would be for our kids in the schools to come in contact with these musicians because where else are they going to hear Cuban music in Vermont or New Hampshire or this whole New England area,” says Ms. Lucero.

Nina Salvatore, a member of the Feminine Tone chorus who teaches art at Woodstock Union High School, says the band spent three days working with their students.

“When they came to Woodstock we had an opening ceremony in the gym. And by the time it was done, almost every kid was off the bleachers down on the floor dancing around and I still have kids at the school asking how they are and if they’re going to come back.”

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