Juniata College Visits Academy

Neil Donovan's Musical Balloon Note
Neil Donovan makes a G clef (Treble clef) and staff on a challenge.

The Juniata College Choir arrived in Xela and was welcomed with a feast prepared by the parents. What had been originally planned as a simple gathering for the college students after a long ride from Antigua, Guatemala turned into a full-fledged celebration replete with every kind of possible Guatemalan delicacy including pepian (long considered Guatemala’s national dish), chicken in vegetable sauce, tamales made from black corn, rice, black beans, fresh fruits, and sweet tamales for desert! No one complained of hunger. The evening was one of few speeches, but much fun. A particularly festive activity was realized when one of the students, Neil Donovan, pulled out a bag of balloons and began to make balloon figures ranging from flowers and lions to a birthday cake and this creation on the left. He was the most popular person in the building among the young and old.

Aley and Lauren at the welcoming party
Two mothers invite Aley and Lauren to take a photo.

The forty seven students disbursed after dinner to play soccer, talk to students, family and staff. Lack of language skills did not detour the college students from trying to get to know the people around them and everyone associated with the academy felt them to be genuine. At the end of the evening, Jorge met with a group of the Juniata students who had prepared lessons for the next day.

The classes included teaching: basic music theory (to help the academy’s choir), children’s songs, the physics of sound, sports, health and nutrition, psychology, and mime. The next morning the groups rotated through the classrooms teaching the lessons they prepared. The Juniata students were impressed with how polite and well behaved the children were but we were more impressed with how these college students had thought carefully about what to present and moreover making it age appropriate for each classroom. The children’s songs class had a particularly interesting time since they taught every class except one. Kindergarten students were taught a song about “Head, shoulders, toes” and some rhythm using clapping while fifth and sixth graders were taught “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in rounds and vocal exercises that morphed into a beat box with harmony. All the teachers commented that these were the most interesting classes they’d ever had with volunteers.

Before heading out to for their concert in downtown Xela members of the Juniata Choir joined our children’s choir to help them prepare for the concert. The video shows the two working together at the school earlier in the day.

The Juniata Choir played a one hour concert with five sections at the Casa No’j Cultural Center. The songs were a thoughtful considered mix of baroque, religious, spiritual, and a bit of fancy. We were all impressed and thrilled to listen to the beauty and quality of the music. The final song of the evening was a beautifully arranged piece by Dr. Russ Shelley, Juniata’s Choir Director, titled “Set Me as a Seal” based on the Song of Solomon.  It was particularly meaningful in this time of lent. The audience seated in the courtyard below rose to a standing ovation in appreciation for the wonderful music.

Becca listens to Alfonso and prepares to translate for the group.
Becca listens to Alfonso and prepares to translate for the group.
Juniata College group photo from scenic overlook.
Juniata College group photo from scenic overlook.

Tuesday morning the Choir boarded buses and headed out to meet the family of one of our students, Alfonso and his wife, Enedina. The drive was about 35 minutes away in the village of Pachaxk Cantel in Canton. Their son, Melvin, attends InterCap and the Academy every day. The family, like many of our families, live a simple existence. Alfonso said he and his wife never attended school but they wanted to ensure their children were educated. Their first son attended the Academy and graduated with an electrical degree and now works for fixing electrical equipment. Alfonso showed the choir his vegetable garden and Enedina joyfully gave a tour of her kitchen. The choir then made a trek further up the mountain to get a view of the city.

Performing at the Municipal Theater
Juniata College Choir performing at the Municipal Theater to a packed house of children, parents, and school staff from Xela and one school from Nebaj some nine hours away!

On Wednesday the choir sang at the Municipal Theater in Xela (shown left) to a packed audience of students, parents, and staff from area schools. We gave the choir director, Dr. Shelley a certificate of appreciation for choir’s help and t-shirts for everyone. Then he announced that the choir has decided to fund a scholarship to the academy next year! It was a gift we were not expecting, we are truly a fortunate recipient of their generosity. The choir went on to play two more concerts on the same day! One was at an outdoor Amphitheater in San Marcos de la Laguna and the other at gymnasium in Panajachel. The children’s choir accompanied them to both concerts. It made for a very long day, but a joyous one. We can’t wait to visit with them again!