An interview with Clarinet player Camila Barrientos and Trumpeter Bruno Lourensetto
Picture: Children from Children's Home making hearts to Bruno and Camila after their performance
2020 - the world fell into deep anguish and anxiety with pandemic-induced multiple crises. By the end of the year, more than 1.77 million people have died from COVID-19 related illness worldwide. At the same time, the pandemic is estimated to push an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty. With rising cases from the second and third waves on the horizon as well as economic uncertainty and social unrest compounded with continuing climate change and conflicts around the world, what kind of future are we headed?
Bright or Bleak?
Extraordinary time calls for great people as can be seen in the emergence of constellation of engaged citizens working for solutions, demonstrating the true and essential power of human beings. They retain the capacity to light the flame of hope to dispel the darkness of other’s suffering. They bring out their gift in devotion to live in their inspiration and to inspire humanity forward, safeguarding our common future.
Música para Respirar 24/7 (Music to Breathe 24/7) came into being against the backdrop of ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The grassroots initiative started by talented young musicians delivers free live mini-concerts to whomever in need for an entire week of the month. Over the past five months since its inception in August 2020, 2147 concerts (for 5538 people) has been offered on demand and among the beneficiaries are COVID patients and their families, healthcare professionals, children and elderly people as well as individuals in a vulnerable condition. The session comes with live performance often accompanied by one-on-one dialogues between musicians and audience, which creates authentic human connections that are most needed to go through such a difficult time. LEFLI sits with Clarinet player Camila Barrientos and Trumpeter Bruno Lourensetto, the leaders of the project, for a fireside chat.
LEFLI: What courage and compassion it entails to operationalize Music to Breathe 24/7! What inspired you to start the initiative?
Camila: Música para Respirar 24/7 is a brainchild of Bolivian Chamber Music Society (La Sociedad Boliviana de Música de Cámara) that I belong to. It was originally launched in Bolivia in August when, for a week, mini–concerts were performed through WhatsApp video calls all day long for anybody that reached out on our social media pages. We have continued since. It is ultimately the heartwarming feedback received from our listeners that keeps us going.
I am part of the Bolivian diaspora living outside the country. COVID hit hard in my country where medical capacity remains low to handle such a public health crisis. My father contracted the virus and was lucky to get recovered but many patients didn’t. In an earnest search for what I can do as an artist in front of great pains I witnessed and how to relieve another person of suffering, Music to Breathe 24/7 came to existence. Breath is life; it is spirit. To breathe means to live. There is a great need to feel alive especially for people who are sick, isolated, lonely, scared and distressed. Music has innate power to revitalize human spirit and create communal experience of being alive with minimal shared language or understanding. As much as people yearn for good music to enliven their life, we, musicians, need them to unleash our talent fully. With COVID, many cultural institutions including classical music organizations become paralyzed. We lost contact with our audience and strongly desired to reconnect with them. The crisis necessitates a new way to reach people and create positive impact through music; as a result, Music to Breathe 24/7 was organized to be the bridge.
It is relatively low-tech innovation where any person can request a personal mini-concert through La Sociedad’s Facebook or Instagram pages (@lasociedad.bo) with their name and phone number. Within 30 min, they would receive a Whatsapp phone call from a musician who plays a live concert for them. It is such unprecedentedly embodied experience for both audience and musicians to get close to each other like this. La Sociedad’s core team of 11 musicians was joined by 38 other national and international musicians and a choir. Currently we are a team of 11 musicians and every musician is committed to at least one shift of 12 hours as a tribute to the doctors, nurses and all the health care personnel combating COVID-19. The amount of heart-to-heart resonance that rises through music and heartfelt exchanges is truly incredible. Sincere “thank you” from our listeners is such a powerful and miraculous expression to sustain us, performers, and mutual appreciation enables all of us to grasp a hopeful glimpse of what the world can be despite all the divisions and separation.
Pictures: Enjoying Bruno's performance at Retirement Home (Left), Personal concert (Right) and Music break for medical professionals in the hospital (Bottom)
LEFLI: Music to Breathe 24/7 is truly humanistic actions. Despite the fact that most of us intuitively know the value of music, art, in general, is often placed as non-essential programs especially among competing priorities in the crisis. How do you overcome financing issues? What do you think is the role of music to heal the society and build back better?
Bruno: No doubt financing for the project remains the biggest challenge. The Música para Respirar 24/7 week in August was completely voluntary as a gift to Bolivia. We received a generous contribution from the renowned German composer Stefan Heucke that made the weeks in September and October possible. It has been challenging to secure adequate funding to cover basic musician fees and administrative work; we have been working on grant application and crowdfunding to sustain the operation. It requires us to go beyond our comfort zone to gain skills and knowledge to run the program successfully to benefit more people.
Cultural and creative sectors are important in their own right to create social and economic impact. However, they are amongst the hardest hit by COVID with many musicians losing their jobs due to curfew and closure of concert halls, music theatre and other venues. The reduction in public and private funding for art and culture is obvious as people’s expenditures get constraint and governments cut many cultural programs in response to the tightening budget. Yet during the crisis, people naturally turn to music to stay calm and regain energy. Music also serves as an expression of inner emotions and social relatedness that contributes to individual and collective healing. There is renewed appreciation for live music and what musicians bring to daily life that was often taken for granted or undervalued before. We have many touching experience performing in hospitals, hospices and orphanages to reaffirm the power of the music. Musicians in our team play to give comfort and relief to them, encouraging them to live with courage one more day. It brings smile and tears to people’s faces. In the increasingly stress from all aspects of the society, each of us has feelings that have been suppressed and built up inside. We need something to restore our lost and distorted humanity. Music reflects inner expression to be free, expansive and whole. Musicians, through our vigorous daily practices to continue improving our skills and connect with lives of others deeply through music we play, do make a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the society – by restoring the invisible realm to improve the visible realm. However, just as many important things in life that are unmeasurable, the direct linkage of such intangible value of music to economic value is less understood intellectually and as a result, musicians like many artists are undervalued. There needs to be tenacious united efforts to elevate the status of music as essentials of life hence gaining enduring support and funding to sustain such cultural activities for our collective wellbeing. Leading the Música para Respirar 24/7 makes us realize issues underlying the financial challenges of the culture programs. It also offers opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and organizations to enact a larger change towards a more healthy, rich future in full aliveness.
LEFLI: What is your vision for this project?
Camila: Música para Respirar 24/7 has offered more than 2100 free concerts in a more intimate setting for the first five months due to sincere dedications of our musicians. Many listeners also show profound appreciation for the caring dialogues emergent in the sessions. In Bolivia, 80% of listeners enjoyed the classic music for the first time. We will work to deliver inclusive and accessible music to many areas of the country and around the world to improve quality of life and enrich the cultures upon which all other human endeavors are based.
Bruno: We are working to secure additional funding while raising awareness to develop the project in partnership with public entities such as hospitals and relevant government agencies to advance role of music in public health and wellbeing. This will be a paradigm shift requiring collective efforts. We also plan to leverage technology consciously to design an app to offer the one-on-one/peer-to-peer mini concerts in better sound quality and with interactive features. It is our wish that Música para Respirar 24/7 becomes the pioneering platform to attract humanistic musicians by healing and encouraging each person through their talent while more people experience genuine human connection and inner enrichment through the music.
For more information, go to
Facebook: La Sociedad Boliviana de Musica de Cámara
Support the project through GoFundme Crowdfunding campaign: https://gf.me/u/y39hau