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The Indiana Daily Student

Jacobs alumnus promotes music education in Brazilian slum

André Micheletti, a Jacobs School of Music alumnus, instructs Luiz Fernando during a private lesson on November 10, 2014. At age 14 Fernando was the youngest Brazilian to perform at Carnegie Hall.

SAO PAULO, Brazil — When the student sets his bow to the strings, his cello fills the room with the sound of years of hard work.

Classes are on hold for the moment so the school’s professors can evaluate Wellington Ramos’ performance. The school’s teachers sit in the audience, each with a clipboard in hand. Ramos’ personal instructor, André Micheletti, is among them.

Before the evaluation, Ramos went to see Micheletti — who has two doctorates from Jacobs School of Music —in one of the school’s practice rooms. There was a broad but nervous smile on his face. The pair laughed when Ramos showed Micheletti his shaking hands.

It wasn’t hard to see why. The Baccarelli Institute is a private school and one of the top music programs in all of Brazil. It is the sort of place that people move close to so they may attend, which is exactly what Ramos did.

There are hoots and whistles from the audience when Ramos finishes. He takes a bow with a grin on his face.

Later, Ramos and Micheletti go back in the practice room and discuss the things he could have done better. Ramos nods as Micheletti talks.

Neither pay mind to the view out the window. Surrounding the school is a sea of shoddily constructed roofs packed close ?together.

Ramos relocated from a comfortable middle-income life outside of São Paulo to live in ?Heliópolis, one of the city’s densest slums.

For Brazil, the Baccarelli Institute is unusual, and not only because of its unconventional location. The school keeps standards that remind Micheletti of the quality of music education he found in the United States. He doesn’t think it can be found anywhere else in Brazil.

“Even though it’s in the middle of the slum, kids are coming from universities to have a better education,” Micheletti said.

This is frustrating for the São Paulo state government, Micheletti said, whose publicly funded music schools can’t seem to touch Baccarelli’s quality, in spite of the millions spent on music ?programming.

The state and federal administrations like to see numbers that reflect success, Micheletti said. They want to be reassured the money they have invested is producing top-notch results, and Baccarelli is undermining that.

***

It’s still hard for Micheletti to believe how much even one child’s education in music can change a neighborhood. He has watched the Institute transform the entire panorama of its community.

Heliópolis and its prevalent drug-trafficking ring used to litter the crime pages of the newspaper before the Baccarelli Institute arrived. Since then, there have been noticeable changes. Nowadays, if Heliópolis makes headlines, it is usually concerning the Institute.

The Institute has benefited the community by enriching the area with much-needed culture, said Edmilson Venturelli, the Institute’s director of relations.

The World Bank reports a 7-percent decrease in the population of impoverished since 2007, a number the government is proud of.

But income inequality is still ?extreme.

The top 10 percent are still making 50 percent of the country’s total earnings, according to the Getúlio Vargas Foundation, a private university in Brazil.

Naturally, this translates to limited social mobility. When Baccarelli first opened its doors, many families took their kids out of the music school after one or two years so they could help support the family. Most people simply didn’t see music as a viable career path for poor kids.

Today, things are different.

“They thought that it was only a joke for a child to pass one or two years at the school,” Venturelli said. “Today, they realize that it’s ?possible to win and have a profession through music.”

The Baccarelli Institute is funded in part through a program called Lei Rouanet, which allows tax deductions for cultural investments.

The programs Lei Rouanet supports must have some sort of a social impact, which is why the school is eligible to receive the money.

The Baccarelli Institute is free and open to everyone. Its 1,400 students are a mix of people from all social classes. The school’s model of teaching is based on social inclusion, Venturelli said, which is uncommon in the Brazilian schools.

“The conditions that we have today in the music classroom cannot be found anywhere else in Brazil, and we are inside a slum,” ?Venturelli said.

By all appearances, the São Paulo government is not overly pleased with what Baccarelli has set out to do. The Institute consistently produces better results, Micheletti said, and that frustrates the ?administration.

The São Paulo government spends $120 million annually on music programs, according to Venturelli. And yet, they cannot get the same results as Baccarelli, a school run on social programming in the middle of a slum.

The governmental solution to the Baccarelli problem was to attempt to lure the school’s professionals away with higher salaries.

This was eight years ago, ?Venturelli said. No one took a government deal. None of them would give up the teaching experience ?at Baccarelli.

***

When it was finally time for Micheletti to return to his birthplace in Brazil, he had a master’s from Northwestern University, two doctorates from the Jacobs School of Music and had started a family in the U.S.

He was used to high standards after all those years studying music abroad. In Chicago, he used to spend as many as 14 hours a day working with his cello.

Bloomington was a little different. His son was born and he learned to become a family man even with the weight of two doctorate degrees on his shoulders, one in cello and another in early music.

It had been his dream for 15 years to study under János Starker, a professor at the Jacobs School of Music and one of the most ?renowned cellists of the century.

Starker was special. Micheletti recalls him smoking during every class he gave.

“I think he was the only professor at Indiana that could smoke on campus,” Micheletti said. The prestige Starker brought to the Jacobs School earned him something of a special smoking permit.

The Fulbright scholarship Micheletti had earned required him to return to Brazil after his studies in Bloomington were completed.

He fell into a job teaching at his undergraduate alma mater, a São Paulo state ?university called UNICAMP.

But he became increasingly frustrated with the disparity in standards between the U.S. and Brazil. His fellow teachers relaxed in their tenured positions, and he found the environment of apathy disheartening, he said.

On one occasion, a friend asked him if he could substitute teach for him at a ?different school.

Micheletti agreed. What he found was Baccarelli. Teachers there loved their jobs, and students enjoyed going to class.

The Institute offered Micheletti a job. He immediately accepted.

“I fell in love right away,” Micheletti said.

He has considered moving back to the U.S. now that Fulbright has released him from his obligations. His son is already certain he wants to attend college in the States, and sometimes he worries about burning out in Brazil.

But with so much work to be done at Baccarelli, Micheletti’s not so sure he wants to leave.

***

The education system in Brazil is in need of major changes, said Vivien Okret, another IU graduate working with nongovernmental organizations in the area of education. She is the ?president of Esperança Educação, an organization that works to give scholarships to kids in low-income areas.

School management is poor. Okret said many administrators are actually politicians without backgrounds in education management.

The system works against kids with disadvantages. Because it is impossible to flunk out or be held back in public schools, there is a lack of incentive for kids to do well.

The failing education structure particularly affects kids from poorer neighborhoods, who Okret said are much more likely to struggle with learning disabilities. Because students aren’t separated based on specific learning needs, kids with disabilities are kept from accessing the resources they need to succeed.

In 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported only 53 percent of the young adult Brazilian population had completed secondary school. The OECD global ?average is 82 percent.

The Brazilian government totes expanded education spending and wider availability of schools to low-income students in recent years.

The problem likely isn’t spending, though. According to the OECD website, “the quality of education has not kept pace with the impressive expansion of the system. There are severe shortages in physical school ?infrastructure.”

“I don’t think they’re doing enough,” Okret said.

She believes the government needs to improve quality more than it needs to increase spending.

The same problems plague government-sponsored music schools.

“We have a lack of education in Brazil,” Micheletti said. “For music, it’s not different.”

Okret and the administrators at Baccarelli would agree education needs to start at an early age in order to be ?effective.

At the Baccarelli Institute, the most promising students usually start at the age of four or five.

In the rest of Brazil, students commonly begin the learning process in their teens.

Micheletti said music schools in Brazil struggle with quality and the Institute holds its students to standards not commonly found in Brazil.

Funding remains scarce. Still, Venturelli has big plans for Baccarelli.

He talks about opening two more schools in another state further north and the Institute having its own ?auditorium.

Space has been cleared away to make room behind the Institute, and the auditorium’s foundations have slowly started to emerge. But, for the moment, construction is on hold.

As is the case in the rest of Brazil, development happens slowly.

When the school first opened, Venturelli said they didn’t have a plan and were not sure the idea would work.

Every year they try something new in order to improve.

“In music, if you don’t risk, if you don’t take chances, what are you, André?” Venturelli asked.

“Nothing,” Micheletti said.

Editor's note: Some of the above interviews were conducted in Portuguese. 

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