Batutas mission is to give children throughout Colombia the opportunity to play classical music, improve their opportunities in life and strengthen communities with a network of 193 regional orchestras. The program began in 1991 and now includes over 40,000 young musicians.
Professionally, whats fascinating is being able to work with music for a cause, Hazelwood says from his home studio on the Old Mission Peninsula. Usually the cause is making a living, if you are lucky. This is an opportunity to actually make a difference.
Hazelwood is already familiar with Colombia. After graduating from the Mannes School of Music in New York, he auditioned and won a position with the National Symphony of Colombia as a percussionist. In Colombia he also directed symphonies, operas, and met his wife Constanza. I got there and I loved it, Hazelwood says. I thought I was going to stay two months and I stayed there nine years.
When Constanza had a chance to pursue a graduate degree in education at Michigan State, the Hazelwoods moved to Michigan. Hazelwood became director of the Michigan State Opera Theatre and the Battle Creek Symphony before beginning his tenure at Interlochen. He also became director of the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra in Petoskey and will continue in that capacity, splitting his time between Colombia and Michigan.
For many in the United States, Colombia is thought of as a dangerous country, rife with drugs. In reality, violence has subsided - homicides are down by almost 50 percent since 2002 - and with 45 million people (second in South America to Brazil) and 32 states, Colombia is more diverse and complex than most North Americans realize.
Its not like going to a poor country where they dont know what they
are doing, Hazelwood says. Its quite the opposite actually, especially in the larger cities. They know exactly what they are doing.
Many of Colombias young orchestras are technically proficient. Hazelwood sees his role as teaching the finer points and nuances of the music or as he describes it, taking it up another notch.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
One of Hazelwoods responsibilities is organizing and conducting faculty concerts throughout Colombia to give the regional orchestras an idea of how the music should be played. Carefully prepared packets with CDs and scores of music are sent ahead; then it is up to Hazelwood to show up and pull it all together.
Its pretty amazing, Hazelwood continues. We were in this small city in the southern part of Colombia, down near Ecuador, a couple of weeks ago. The concert was at a lovely old opera house about 100 years old. The kids that came were from a very poor part of the country and they had never been in a theatre like that. I was walking in with them and they just stopped. They had no idea this kind of thing could exist anywhere, let alone in their country, not too far away. Theres a thousand people cheering and when you see that, all of a sudden its like Oh! This is a reason to get up in the morning!
The trip to Colombia involves getting to Miami and taking another three hour flight to Bogata. It is all in the same time zone, so it is not as wearing as his trips to conduct orchestras in Asia or Europe. He stays with his wifes family and seldom even packs a suitcase. But he will still be keeping his home base in Traverse City.
Ill still be here half the year, Hazelwood says. Part of my role is getting the word out about Batuta and to be a bit of a voice for them in the states.