BY SOPHIE RAYMOND
While international musicians congregate in Bloomington each autumn for the Lotus World Music & Arts Festival, a special program for children brings that same diverse cultural experience into area schools. In September, one musical guest, Betsayda Machado y La Parranda el Clavo, visited Fairview Elementary School for a performance through the Lotus Blossoms Educational Outreach program.
Lotus Blossoms, part of the local nonprofit Lotus Education & Arts Foundation, exposes children to different cultural influences in its ongoing efforts to develop tolerance and acceptance of diversity. Machado, a Venezuelan woman who mainly performs a traditional Afro-Venezuelan drum genre called parranda, says that in addition to being energetic and lively, traditional music reminds children of their roots.
“That’s very important because children now, they see a lot of pop, and a lot of other cultures, and a lot of other influences. But they have to remember where they come from,” Machado says. “You have to know your roots to be a complete person.”
Sharon McGuire, 38, has served on the Lotus board of directors for two years. She says that when teachers learn an artist will visit their school through the Lotus Blossoms program, they often develop lessons about the artist’s homeland and culture. That way, students can first learn about a different culture, then experience it firsthand.
McGuire notes that while Bloomington may be diverse, Lotus Blossoms wants to make sure children who live in less diverse, rural areas are exposed to other cultures. “I think that’s really important for kids, because some of them don’t experience a lot of diversity, and so it kind of demystifies different cultures,” she says.
Maggie Olivo, the music teacher and arts coordinator at Fairview, says children benefit from exposure to world music because it can put them in touch with their own cultural backgrounds. “So when they see someone who maybe speaks the same language they speak at home, it’s going to resonate, and it helps them to find a place within their school community.”
The group’s performance involved Spanish singing, sign language, and English interpretations. Olivo says this process emphasized that, despite cultural differences, the common language of music has the power to bring people together.