Building bridges in pandemic times
Since 2009, CERCIOEIRAS – Cooperativa de Educação e Reabilitação dos Cidadãos com Incapacidade has been hosting the Orquestra de Câmara Portuguesa (Portuguese Chamber Orchestra – OCP), in a partnership that, with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in 2013, got under the name “Notas de Contacto”. This pioneering project in Portugal develops initiatives and guided musical activities for people with disabilities, improving their quality of life and promoting their integration in the community.
In the beginning of March, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced everyone to adopt preventive measures very suddenly and the weekly music sessions that everyone used to attend – teachers and clients, as the users of CERCIOEIRAS are called – had to be suspended.
But the team did not quit. “Our three teachers, Ana Maria Santos, Óscar Carmo and Rui Maia, who have done amazing work with all of them and have been with us for some years now, have had to suspend their activities. But we began challenging ourselves and started looking on the bright and creative side, even during this difficult moment. We started creating content and thinking “how can we communicate with them so that they can continue the activities we proposed?” explains Teresa Simas, project manager at OCP.
This way, the teachers started coming up with short videos and a variety of contents: miniconcerts played by them, exercises and musical tasks to remember the creative process that was being developed, but also fun activities and other suggestions. These are simple contents that aim towards a certain degree of interaction by posing challenges, playing with rhythm, colours and words, bearing in mind the technical restrictions and the limitations of the users because all of them have different needs and abilities.
The reactions were immediate: “The feedback from the families and the therapists from CERCIOEIRAS states the importance of affection, of the happiness on their faces when they receive new contents and hear the voices of those working closely with them” says Teresa. In truth, the initiative was so successful that videos were made accessible to everyone at CERCIOEIRAS so that even those who are not a part of the initiative can access these contents. “It is a sort of private Telescola (broadcasted school) of the institution” suggests Pedro Carneiro, Artistic Director of OCP, for whom “this step is very important in order to keep nourishing the artistic and affective bond” between teachers and clients, and also shorten the distance (not physical, but emotional) inherent to social confinement.
As for future plans, there should be a national tour with 5ª Punkada, a Portuguese band composed of members of Associação de Paralisia Cerebral de Coimbra (the Cerebral Palsy Association of Coimbra), to begin in October. Even if for now the tour still seems uncertain, the team refuses to be discouraged and remains optimistic. “This pandemic is obviously a big obstacle, but projects like ours suffer from all sorts of pandemics. This is just another crisis” assures Teresa. Conductor Pedro Carneiro, for his part, says: “Our mission, as artists, is to build bridges. If we are the first to abandon the tools, how will people cross from one side to another?”.
The Portuguese Chamber Orchestra was founded in 2007 with the purpose of developing pioneer musical work in Portugal with people with disabilities. The partnership with CERCIOEIRAS, in 2009, was the beginning of a 11-year long path with several awards won. Besides providing the clients of the institution with access to culture and art, the project works with this population in order to help them become creators, improvisers and cocomposers of their songs. They are now “a mini orchestra, a contemporary music ensemble, a band playing creative, experimental and exploratory music”. In July 2019, they attended the festival Young Euro Classic, in Berlin, where they premiered the song “Reach”, by João Godinho, who won the European Composer Award for the best world premiere.
“Notas de Contacto – a OCPsolidária na CERCIOEIRAS” is one of the projects supported by the PARTIS programme.