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Jazz Students Travel to Cuba for Cultural Immersion Tour


A group of jazz percussion students from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) will travel to Cuba over spring break (February 25 - March 4) for a week of study and performance with Cuban musicians and students, as well as an immersive exploration of Cuban culture and history.  

Funded by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, the trip will allow the 12 students to engage in a cultural exchange with professional Cuban musicians and college students in the cities of Havana and Matanzas. The trip will include hands-on sessions in which the SMTD students learn Cuban musical styles, in Havana and several other destinations, and they will share their own expertise in other styles of jazz. In depth introduction to Cuban culture will also take place through walking tours; visits to museums, street fairs, and heritage sites and a reception at the American Embassy.

Led by Professor Michael Gould (percussion) in the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation, the students will also be accompanied by Professors Robert Hurst (bass), Jonathan Ovalle (percussion), and Ana Fernandez, who teaches art courses at the Residential College.

The students are enrolled in Gould's jazz percussion studio class, which has focused on basic playing techniques for Cuban instruments including congas, bongos, timbales and the function of clave in Cuban music. All students have developed a working knowledge of these instruments as well as background on the culture, religion and history of Cuba.

"I think it is incredibly important for every undergraduate to leave the U.S. and experience another country and culture," said Gould. "This is an amazing opportunity for the students to witness first hand the rich culture that Cuba has to offer. Some of the students have not had an opportunity to leave the U.S. and this will be an opportunity for them to hear the music they have been studying right from the masters, while gaining a much deeper understanding of the country itself."

Musical highlights of the trip include a master class with Yissy Garcia, a young female percussionist considered at the vanguard of mixing jazz with rumba, reggae, funk and electronic music to create a fresh new approach to Cuban jazz. The week will conclude with a workshop and lunch with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, the most famous rumba group from Matanzas, and one of the most beloved rumba groups of all time; the artists have been recording music since 1956.

This is the first time in U-M history that SMTD student musicians will visit Cuba as part of an official trip. The closest precedent was 52 years ago, in 1965, when the U-M Jazz Band was sent on a 14-week tour of Latin America and the Caribbean, thanks to sponsorship by the U.S. State Department seeking to solidify relationships through cultural exchange The band toured 15 countries and performed 100 concerts. As it took place at the height of the Cold War, Cuba was not included. 

That tour followed the 15-week 1961 University Symphony Band (USB) tour to the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, also sponsored by the State Department. More recently, the USB went on three-week tour of China (2011), and the U-M Chamber Choir went on a three-week tour of Australia and New Zealand (2014), both funded in part by the Global Tour Fund, launched by alumni of the 1961 USB Russian tour.














past news

September 2017
March 2014

U-M UpstART Festival Begins 03/31/2014

Students Present "Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival" 03/27/2014

First-Ever SMTD Chamber Music Competition Launches April 5 03/27/2014

Doctoral Fellow Named MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year 03/26/2014

Theatre Student Lands Major TV Role 03/25/2014

Elizabeth Batiuk (ethnomusicology) has been chosen as a fellow at the Sweetland/Rackham Dissertation Writing Institute for spring 2014 and James McNally (ethnomusicology) received a summer and academic year FLAS for the study of Portuguese.    03/17/2014

Musicology graduate student Elizabeth McLain has been awarded a prestigious Lurcy Fellowship for research in France during the 2014-2015 academic year.   03/14/2014

December 2013

SMTD students Zoe Kumagai, Stephanie Aboukasm, and Adam DesJardins are among students profiled in an LSA article about the "Michigan in Washington" program, in which students intern at various Washington, DC organizations and businesses, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center, and the Washington Performing Arts Society.    12/10/2013

October 2013
August 2013

Evan Zegiel, a sophomore who studies with Fritz Kaenzig, was the First Place winner in the Tuba Student division of the 2013 Leonard Falcone International Euphonium & Tuba Festival.     08/21/2013

July 2013

Professor Ashley Lucas and three Theatre & Drama students are engaged in an intensive exchange program with UniRio in Rio de Janiero, Brazil this summer, where they are blogging about their experiences in UniRio's prison arts program and more.   07/12/2013

November 2011
August 2011
June 2011
Current Student News
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2018 SMTD Concerto Competition Winners Announcedmore

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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower