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Day 6 in Matanzas, Cuba

After a great night’s sleep enjoyed by the entire group, we set out for another day trip today, May 29th, this time to Matanzas, Cuba. Matanzas was a two and one half hour drive from Havana. As we have one of the largest vehicles on the narrow Cuban streets, with every time a car that approached from the opposite direction, our driver had to slow down to make sure that both could safely pass. The Cuban lanes must be at least one foot narrower than in the U.S., so a 44-passenger motor coach is an enormous vehicle that almost looks behemoth by comparison.

We arrived in Matanzas ahead of schedule. The word Matanzas, named by the Spanish, means massacre. As the story goes, local people in the 18th Century attacked a Spanish boat one evening and killed everyone aboard. Upon arriving at yet another Cuban square in Matanzas, this one called Parque de Libertad, we immediately toured a museum like no other visited in life – a pharmacy museum. After the quasi-interesting museum tour, we walked around the city center for an additional hour. After taking a short stroll to purchase more Internet calls at a price of $2 per hour, some of us returned to the park to purchase refreshing pina coladas that must have been some of the best that we have ever tasted. Later, our guide told us that he believed the pina colada possibly originated in Cuba – with all Cuban ingredients – pineapple, coconut, nutmeg and rum.

We drove to our group lunch a few minutes away, again with some incredible Cuban music and energy. After lunch, we drove to a high peak outside of Matanzas, featuring one of that city’s oldest churches, built by people from Cataluna, Spain. From that perch, we were able to view the entire town. At this point, many choir members wanted to go see a beach, since we were in Cuba. We drove to a local beach just to have everyone get their feet wet, knowing that we had a concert a couple of hours later.

From there we went to our cultural exchange activity where we had a delightful rehearsal with a chamber group of about sixteen local choristers, who began singing a very well-known American composition by Randall Thompson, Alleluia. The Matanzas choir was very good. We were very pleased to see that the hall, although very intimate, seating only 200 or so, had air-conditioning that was stronger than any American hall. Having the robes on the bus, we decided to again return to our choir robes for the uniform of the evening.

At 6 p.m. the concert began. This particular concert, unlike the others, had free admission. The room was filled to capacity. Because the room was more intimate, everyone could enjoy a better music-making experience. Often the larger the space, the more difficult it is to control the sound, from both the audience and performance perspectives. This evening, the sound could not have been better. We sang with no amplification – went totally acoustic. Both choirs could hear each other better on stage, and enjoy the act of singing more than with microphones.

When the first choir sang, the MSU choir members were the most enthusiastic people in the audience. Subsequently, the Cuban audience wildly received the Morgan choir. Although I love enthusiastic audiences, every song that was sung this evening was so enthusiastically received that I found myself rudely interrupting their applause just to have flow to our program. There seemed to be a genuine connection between the choirs and the audience this evening – partly because the room was so relatively small, but also because both groups knew how to communicate to the listeners through their music.

The Morgan State University Choir has made such a huge impression on the Cuban audiences that tomorrow night’s concert venue was changed to the largest venue in Cuba. I have also been asked if our concert tomorrow night could be televised across all of Cuba! What an impact we will have on Cuba during our tour!



More to come…

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