The Collegian
Thursday, March 30, 2023

Colombian musicians visit Richmond

Six musicians from Colombia, all in their early twenties, are in the middle of a two-week stay in Richmond and are scheduled to perform several times at University of Richmond.

These musicians are associated with the Knocking on Doors to Open Futures Foundation, which focuses on community development through music in Cartagena, Colombia. They connected with the Richmond community last October, when nine student members of the University of Richmond Symphony Orchestra traveled to Cartagena to perform and teach music.

The sextet will perform four times on campus. One of these performances will be the orchestra's spring concert, in which the Colombian musicians will join the larger ensemble.

In the orchestra's concert, Juan Camilo Gonzalez of the Foundation will perform a clarinet solo for the piece "Fiesta de Negritos" by Colombian composer Lucho Bermudez. Another Foundation musician, Camilo Villarraga, arranged the version that the Richmond orchestra will play.

Gonzalez was the only member of the sextet who had been to Richmond before. He worked with orchestra conductor Alexander Kordzaia in 2012.

"Richmond is my favorite city in the U.S. because of the people and the university," Gonzalez said.

The orchestra will also perform two additional Colombian pieces, including the national anthem. "To play the Colombian music is hard," Gonzalez said, "but they are doing so good."

Cristina Meehan, a senior and violinist who met the sextet in Cartagena last fall, led the process of bringing these musicians to Richmond.

"When we were there, they were talking about how they dreamed of this trip to go to America," Meehan said. "I had this genuine, deep-seated drive to make it happen."

She and other Richmond students began fundraising in the fall with a goal of $4,000 to cover the musicians' travel costs.

Meehan said they had used, which allows people to donate to fundraisers electronically, to acquire $2,000 from family and friends. The music department donated $1,000, and the students gathered the remaining $1,000 by announcing their project at orchestra concerts last semester and personally spreading the word on campus.

But Meehan realized she would still need money for the musicians' food and other expenses during their time in Richmond. Administration from Westhampton College and Richmond College also collectively donated $1,500 for these costs.

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Since the Colombian musicians arrived last Saturday, Meehan has tried to spend as much time with them as possible. She has introduced them to other Spanish-speaking Richmond students who share meals with them and show them around campus while she is in class.

Richmond students have also embraced opportunities to invite the Colombian musicians to activities outside of musical settings. Within three days of their arrival, some of the musicians had already played outdoor games with students who live on campus, attended a gathering at a University Forest Apartment and spent an evening at The Cellar. Four of them participated in a practice for Ritmo Latino, Richmond's Latin dance club.

Jennyfer Hernandez Austria, a junior who leads Ritmo Latino, said the four musicians who had gone to the club's practice had taught Richmond students a new dance called "Champeta," which is common in Cartagena.

"They were so energetic," Hernandez said. "Dancing with them was a workout. On our normal practices, we usually just learn choreography, but they gave us a chance to freestyle and explore new moves."

Meehan said one of her favorite parts of the project to bring the sextet to Richmond was how such a large team of people made arrangements for it to happen.

"You talk about orchestration of music and instruments," she said, "but this is the orchestration of people."

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, the sextet will play with the University of Richmond Symphony Orchestra in Camp Concert Hall. The performance is free.

Contact reporter Catherine Sinclair at

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