A Missive from the Field: Musical Growth and Joy in Papua New Guinea

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A Missive from the Field: Musical Growth and Joy in Papua New Guinea

Maestro Jesús Briceño, Music Director, Queen of Paradise Orchestra


The author with a violin section. Photo: Queen of Paradise Orchestra.

As a violinist and conductor born in Trujillo, Venezuela—the birthplace of Maestro José Antonio Abreu—and raised within Venezuela’s El Sistema, I know firsthand the transformational effects that immersive, cooperative ensemble music learning can have on the lives of young people and their communities. The El Sistema world in which I grew up struggled economically, but it was rich with orchestral possibilities thanks to Maestro Abreu’s accomplishments.

A very young conductor. Photo: Queen of Paradise Orchestra.

In my four years as Music Director of The Queen of Paradise Orchestra, an ensemble orchestra project in the economically stressed town of Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, I have been inspired to see that in this very different culture, the process is just as transformative. Our orchestra is unprecedented in this area—no one had ever seen anything like it before we tuned our instruments for the first time in 2018.

Since then, we have weathered the challenges of the pandemic and grown to new proportions; the Orchestra now comprises about 100 students and includes a Children’s String Orchestra, a Children’s Choir, and a Sweet Flute Ensemble. Along with growth has come a rise in the quality of the repertoire and pedagogy: the work of making musical connections gets better every day.

Our repertoire includes classical music from across the world, Latin American folk music, and a variety of Christmas songs. We’re always exploring new possibilities, new rhythms and sounds, to enrich and vary the musical experience of our students. They love to play every kind of music! They also enjoy the beautiful challenge of perfecting each piece in classes, workshops, and rehearsals.

The Christmas Concert. Photo: Queen of Paradise Orchestra.

And they were extremely proud to give their Christmas concert on December 8, 2022. As Music Director, I was most impressed by the way students from each section were able to take turns teaching, conducting, and helping the group perfect the repertoire prior to the Christmas concert. For more than a month, older students worked patiently with younger, newer students, imparting their experience and knowledge. This says a great deal about the transformational effects of the Sistema model in the places where it grows.

The President of the Queen of Paradise Orchestra program is Father Miguel de la Calle (IVE), with whom I cofounded the program. Sister Cielos and Sister Virgo (SSVM) are members of our musical team as well. Father Miguel, who was inspired by Maestro Abreu’s philosophy, contributes to the program in many ways—he does a little bit of everything, from transporting the children and their daily meals and snacks to doing all the administrative work, organizing the concerts, making contacts with the media, and keeping up fluid communications with children’s parents and families. Although he’s not a musician, Father Miguel even has a musical role to play: when I need to be away from Vanimo, he keeps all the stringed instruments in tune!