Tag Archives: music

Winter Festival in Guaranhuns

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Last weekend, I had the great opportunity to travel to the city of Guaranhuns, Pernambuco, which sits up on a hill about an hour away from the capital, Recife. Every July for 23 years, Guaranhuns has hosted a Winter Festival (Festival de Inverno): ten days of music, art, cinema, theater, literature, dance and workshops. The most incredible part is that all events are completely free.

During the three days I was there, I mostly stuck to the music scene—the main attraction, there being five separate stages for music. I was able to see some incredible and quite diverse performances: from Caetano Veloso to the Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda to pianist André Mehmari. Believe it or not, I even saw a medieval/baroque performance group (Grupo Allegretto), complete with traditional instruments, dance, and miming.

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Caetano Veloso

The festival was, in a word, fantastic. In Petrolina, sometimes one falls into the habit of forgetting that higher culture exists when surrounded by arrocha blaring out of every bar. The festival was refreshing in that sense, presenting an impressive spread not only of MPB, folkloric/alternative, pop and forró artists but even, as I mentioned, extraordinary pianists and other classical and instrumental music. The mood is one of deep cultural appreciation, and the crowd looks the part—lots of long flowy skirts, handmade leather goods, and colorful scarves. (And did I mention beards? Guaranhuns is relatively cold compared to elsewhere in Pernambuco.)

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Furthermore, apart from the seriously inadequate number of bathrooms near the main stage (and I do not deny that this is a major problem), I was extremely impressed with festival logistics. Programming was made widely available through pamphlets, large posters at every major event site, and even a smartphone app with a map function. Event areas are clearly and attractively identified, and overall not too crowded—exceptions to this were only to be expected; what else could happen when you offer a free Caetano concert? Glass bottles are not allowed into the main stage area, but empty plastic ones were provided free of charge at the entrance for visitors arriving with wine or other alcohol. (I asked the guard if the bottles were recycled—he said no, they were new, which is not surprising for Brazil which hasn’t developed much of a recycling culture. Certainly I would recommend that option for future years.)

Finally, I have to mention the festival art—this year’s logo and other promotional art was simply stunning, with bright colors and animated figures all in a traditional folkloric theme.


Obviously, the “Brazilian party” to which most tourists are attracted tends to be Carnaval above all others. But for those who insist on local and off-the-beaten-path kinds of experiences, I would highly recommend the Festival de Inverno.

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Happy April Fool’s Day!

I’ve never been much good at April Fool’s Day jokes, but today I think I pulled off a pretty nice one.

Jónsi, the Icelandic musician, was asked a few years ago to write a theme song for the animated movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” The song, “Sticks and Stones,” is catchy and good for driving fast. The first few verses plus the chorus are in English, then he switches to Icelandic for the third and fourth verses–but the key (for my purposes, as you’ll see) is that both the English and Icelandic parts could believably be English. The English verses are fast and hard to understand in the first place, and even as a native English speaker, if you told me the Icelandic was English, I might believe you.

With this in mind, I copied a sheet of lyrics for the students and we listened to the song. The English parts had a few words missing here and there (“Orange and white, dark red, green and _________”). For the Icelandic verse, I left only four blank lines on their sheet.

Of course, they wouldn’t be able to understand enough to fill in the blank lines just from listening, so I used a technique from the wonderful English Fellow Laura Mihuza: leave a large-print master copy of the lyrics on the floor on one end of the room, and conduct a “lyrics relay race.” One student from each team is a “writer,” and two are “runners.” The writers sits on the opposite side of the room as the lyrics, and the runners must run to the lyrics sheet, memorize a word or two, then run back to communicate them to the writer, who fills in the students’ lyric sheet (the one with blanks) appropriately. If someone doesn’t understand, they must express that in English: “Can you say that slower?” “How do you spell that?”

Of course, in this case, the last verse is in Icelandic. (Inn um ermar, upp hryggjarsúluna is just an example.)

It was so funny to watch them running frantically, successfully carrying English words and phrases back to their writers–until slowly they all begin to look at the Icelandic, make outraged noises, and panic. “Is this English?” “I’m so confused!” My answer, of course: “Well obviously it’s English! Have you been paying any attention in class? These are words we use every day!” (In one class I even pulled in one of the school’s directors to corroborate–“You guys obviously have to study more, because this is definitely English!”)

After an appropriate period of outrage on my part, I said “Ok fine–I’ll tell you what chapter all this vocabulary is in,” and wrote on the board, “Happy April Fool’s!” After we all cleared up what that meant (in Portuguese it’s “Dia da Mentira,” Day of Lies), I was rewarded with some very satisfying sighs of relief and exclamations of offense/delight. Especially when a class curriculum is based out of a book, it’s always important to throw in some silly moments.

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