Teacher Spotlight: Finding Music Inspiration

orchestraMusic inspiration can come from anywhere, even if it doesn’t seem conventional – traveling, or even exposing yourself to new experiences in your own city can give you a fresh attitude toward creating, learning and teaching. Read on as New York City music teacher Jesse S. shares how a trip to Brazil changed his outlook…


In the winter of 2008, after playing a concert at Juilliard, I was asked by a cellist in the orchestra if I wanted to go to Brazil that upcoming spring break.  Without even thinking about it, I said yes.  I then realized that I should probably ask what we would be doing in Brazil.

Annie, the cellist, knew a conductor in Salvador, Brazil who had started a youth orchestral program called Neojiba.   The conductor and founder of Neojiba, Ricardo Castro, had invited Annie and other musicians from Juilliard to fly down to Brazil during spring break and spend a week working with the students in the youth orchestra.  Neojiba is an amazing program provides instruments and musical training free to low-income youth.  The students range in age from early teens to early 20s.

That following March, on a freezing blizzardy day, nine of us boarded a plane headed for Brazil.  After being picked up at the airport, where it was over 90 degrees and thick with humidity, we headed to our amazing hotel, which overlooked the Atlantic Ocean.  We then walked to the Castro Alves Theater to hear the orchestra rehearsal and meet our students for the first time.  Before going to Salvador we were told that most of the students spoke English very well, and there should not be a problem regarding language.  This turned out to be false.

As a teacher, this week turned out to be the most amazing musical experience of my life.  The language barrier tested my ability to teach without verbal communication.  I grew as both a teacher and a player in ways I didn’t think I was going to.  Despite not knowing much about classical music, these students had Brazilian music coursing through their veins.  I tried to channel that amazing, effervescent rhythm and energy to Mozart and Beethoven, and they in turn showed me how to bring exciting new life and energy to my classical repertoire.  I was experiencing a true cultural exchange.

Although I thought I was going to Brazil to teach, I was the one who became the student.  The students in Neojiba taught me so much.  They showed me true hard work.  After a full day of school, some traveled up to two hours to go to rehearsal every day.  This completely blew my mind.  They taught me a kind of music I had previously not been exposed to.  They showed me passion.

The following year we returned to Brazil.  The orchestra had completely transformed.  They were playing beautifully and preparing for an upcoming tour.  I felt I was there more as a fan and observer than a teacher, cheering on a group of amazing musicians and people who had welcomed us into their homes and showed us love.  In Portuguese “iluminado” means enlightened, I can’t find any better words to describe my experience.

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New York flute lessons - Jesse S.Jesse S. teaches flute, piano and music theory lessons to students of all ages in New York, NY. With a Master’s degree in Flute Performance from The Juilliard School, Jesse has several years of experience performing and teaching. He joined the TakeLessons team in November 2012. Find out more about Jesse,  or search for a teacher near you!


Photo by Mosman Council

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