Student uses music to aid Colombia

  • Jul 14, 2007
By Bob Keefer The Register-Guard Published: Thursday, July 12, 2007 Music has many uses in the world, from selling products to celebrating the human spirit. For Danaila Hristova, it's also a way to repair some of the violence created by the illegal drug trade. Hristova, 35, is one of a dozen students who have been in Eugene from around the world for the past two weeks to study choral conducting at the Oregon Bach Festival with German conductor Helmuth Rilling, the festival's artistic director. Short, dark haired and energetic, Hristova is practically as international as the festival itself. She is Bulgarian but has spent the past 10 years living and working in the South American nation of Colombia - eight of those years in its notorious cocaine capital, Medellin. She moved to Colombia because a friend told her there were a lot of jobs for musicians there. She arrived in Bogotá not knowing a word of Spanish, but picked the language up quickly. "Spanish is such a musical language,'' she said. "Maybe because I am a musician I catch on so fast in Spanish.'' She also speaks Bulgarian, Russian, Italian and, of course, English, though she says she's least fluent in the latter. Hristova, who had a degree in music from her studies in Bulgaria, indeed found jobs quickly in Colombia, first giving private piano lessons to children. In fact, she learned much of her Spanish from her young students at the keyboard. She later joined the faculties of various universities. And she teaches now at Universidad de los Andes and at Juan N. Corpas University in Bogotá. It was during her eight years in Medellin that Hristova became involved in a government sponsored program to bring music to the homes of the extremely poor Colombians whose lives are wracked by the drug trade. "These people are living in very, very poor situations," she said. "You can't imagine. Their houses are made of cartons. "And there are a lot of gangs. There is a lot of domestic violence." Hristova never taught in these neighborhoods directly. "It is so dangerous to go there, I have never been," she said. What she did do was to teach young Colombian teachers, who would then take her techniques to those neighborhoods - each of which now boasts its own music academy and neighborhood orchestra. Meanwhile, she is working on her own career as a conductor. Hristova would like eventually to become an opera conductor, so she's working on her skills leading a chorus and soloists. Hence her trip to Eugene to study with Rilling, with whom she was already familiar from his Bach academy in Stuttgart, Germany. She is one of a dozen students who work with Rilling here during the festival and who conduct segments of choral works in the afternoon Discovery Series concerts at the Soreng Theater. The final concert in the series, Friday afternoon, will most likely be sold out by the time you read this. Although it's challenging for women to work as conductors in the United States, Hristova says she hasn't faced much of a gender barrier with Latin American musicians. "Is it difficult to be a woman? No. It's less easier,'' she said with a smile. "And I want to change that.''