My toy is my song: Organization uses dolls to teach traditional music

Andrea Paola Márquez was a child when she fell in love with music. Born and raised in Vargas, on the Venezuelan coast facing the Caribbean Sea, she studied traditional Venezuelan music at a young age.

Now 28 years old and living in San Antonio de los Altos, an hour from Caracas, Márquez has devoted herself to making sure children in Venezuela can get that same experience.

Márquez was worried new generations would lose connection to Venezuela’s music icons, musicians like Cecilia Todd, Gualberto Ibarreto, Voces Risueñas de Carayaca and Serenata Guayanesa. Those were the sounds of her childhood.

She said today’s children don’t know those artists anymore because they’re not played on the radio and they’re not learned in schools or from families. She and her husband, mandolinist Jorge Torres, felt they had to do something.

“We were alarmed by the influence of reggaeton on the one hand; and on the other, we were surprised by how well our music suits for when we’re young,” Márquez said.

One day on a walk they saw a craftswoman who turned children’s drawings into rag dolls. A lightbulb went off in both of their heads. Icons of Venezuelan culture – Gualberto Ibarreto, Aquiles Baez, Simón Díaz, Conny Méndez, Aquiles Nazoa – could be made as ragdolls; children could play with them and learn their music.

Márquez got together a group of seven children between three and eight years old. All were children or nieces and nephews of people involved in the music scene.

“Musicians with children dream of giving them another choice, some alternative to all the external musical bombardment,” she said.

In November 2015 they performed a concert of the music Márquez learned as a child. Playing with the dolls helped the children learn and connect to the older musical genre.

The presentation was so well-received Márquez decided to repeat it. It grew into an artistic and educational project involving dancing, singing and acting.

As of September 2017, the group consists of 17 children between five and 11 years old. They spend many hours of rehearsal learning discipline, respect and friendship. On stage, the children are accompanied by high caliber musicians directed by Jorge Torres.

“They present the music and legacy of these icons; moreover, they do it through the dolls. They leave us with the impression that instead of having a Spiderman, they have a Simón Díaz or a Cecilia Todd, and they love it. This has been effective, we have had a response from the public,” Torres said.

The success of the program may lie in the play-based learning strategy.

“It’s easier to reach the children’s audience through play. It has been a project that, without our realizing it, has been interesting to many generations: adults because they’re touched by what the children do, and children themselves because they enjoy it. That’s why we say it’s a show suitable for people from zero to 100 years old,” explains Márquez.

Márquez and Torres, proud of the sound they were achieving, decided to record an album, made by children, for children. In mid-2016, they went to a recording studio.

“I had no resources, but I didn’t care and we started recording anyways,” Márquez said.

Little by little, she got sponsorships that allowed them to complete the record. The record is packed in a colorful box decorated with digitized drawings the children made themselves. In September of 2017 they premiered it in a spectacle where the students shined.