Skip to main content

by Wren Williams, parent of Javier Irizarry, Violin

The journey to Cuba marked a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Cuba with a select group of American peers and nationally recognized teaching artists, including Desirée Ruhstrat. Desirée extended the invitation to her students and their parents to join this cultural exchange program to Havana.

Cuba trip 1

Beatrice Valenzuela and Javier Irizarry with another student who joined the trip from the US.

This unique experience was organized by Dr. Rena Kraut the Executive Director of the Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO), a non-profit organization which promotes US-Cuba cultural diplomacy through collaboration, music performance, and education. CAYO not only concentrates on musical education and collaboration but also places a strong emphasis on supporting the musical and humanitarian needs of students enrolled in Havana’s schools for the performing arts.

Traveling with the US-CAYO music artists and parents was an amazing experience. The itinerary was well-planned, not only did the students have the opportunity to perform but they were also able to immerse themselves in the rich Cuban culture. Various cultural activities were scheduled, offering options for parents to either observe student activities or participate in daily excursions with a dedicated guide. Visits to private businesses and artist studios provided a unique opportunity for everyone to learn directly from Cuban business owners about their way of life. One of the trip’s highlights was the exploration of the local Cuban food scene, with visits to some of the most amazing restaurants in the city to try out different dishes.

Cuba trip 2

Cuban and U.S. student musicians performed at Escuela Nacional de Música, October 27, 2023, under the direction of Desirée Ruhstrat, violin, and Dr. Melissa Kraut, CAYO Cello Faculty.

The students’ schedule was packed with classes, practice sessions, and private lessons at two of Havana’s most prestigious music schools – Escuela Nacional de Música and Conservatoria Amadeo Roldán. During this experience, they not only had the opportunity to improve their musical skills but also to immerse themselves in a different culture and form connections with peers from a range of backgrounds.

The program was designed to encourage the students to step out of their comfort zones and take on new challenges. For instance, the students volunteered for improvisation and had the chance to join in and enjoy a Cuban traditional dance. The trip was a remarkable opportunity for everyone involved to learn, grow as musicians, engage with a new culture, and form lifelong friendships. Overall, this program provided an unforgettable experience. We feel grateful for having had the unique opportunity to be a part of it.


CMPI students in Cuba

Would you like to make a gift to support CMPI?

Donate today