Performing with the University of Richmond Jazz Combo and Schola Cantorum has taken Dan Schauder, ’11, to Mexico, Australia and Eastern Europe, and he says that everywhere they’ve played he’s been astounded by how much audiences have appreciated their performances, despite their inability to converse.

“We were playing at a packed hall in Hungary one night and we couldn’t talk to the audience at all,” Schauder said. “But the amount of support they showed us was tremendous. It was really great to see that music can cross boundaries like that.”

These experiences led him to view music as a system of communication that transcends language. Schauder planned to study business in Sao Paulo, Brazil the fall of 2009, and decided to take the summer before to explore his theory further.

And so after applying for and receiving a Carole Weinstein grant through the Office of International Education, he found himself boarding a plane to Rio de Janeiro in July 2009, armed with only his guitar, a small backpack, and a few Portuguese phrases. He was going to spend six weeks working at a community samba school in Rio de Janeiro.

“I wanted a chance to develop my Portuguese before I started my studies in the fall, but I also saw this as a chance to experiment with how I could be of use and impact the community without verbal fluency,” Schauder said.

The school where he worked served as a before and after school program for children ranging in age from 6 to 14. Schauder says the majority of children in the program come from low-income families living in the slums of the city.

“I was a little nervous about how the children would react to my presence, being an outsider,” he said. “But they were all so open as soon as I started playing my guitar and showing them what I could do. They had such an appreciation for hearing different musical styles. We had a great time.”

The samba schools serve as a great source of pride for the poor communities of Rio de Janeiro. Every year during Carnival the children put together a performance that allows their neighborhoods to showcase their history and values. The students spend all year preparing for the event.

Schauder says that the children learned to play from a young age by observing adults and older students. This was how he instructed them in the beginning, but after a couple of weeks, he set about finding a way to teach the children to read and write music.
“I wanted to provide them with some exposure to the concept that you can learn and play music with people that you can’t even talk to when it’s written down,” he said.

Schauder would record the children’s performances and spend hours replaying and transcribing them while they were at school. He visited local libraries and gathered additional information from instructional books and the Internet — resources the students don’t have access to.

And so, with only a few weeks of exposure to the language, Schauder composed an instructional guide in Portuguese designed to teach the children to read music.

“Looking back now, my Portuguese wasn’t perfect,” he said. “It was just really important for me that they be able to take copies of their music home to practice it and really take a look at what they’re actually playing. The guide allowed them to do that.”

At the end of the summer, Schauder left Rio de Janeiro bound for Sao Paulo, sad to leave his students behind, but pleased with what he had accomplished in just six weeks.

“I felt that at the end of the program that I’d done something valuable for them, as well as for me,” he said. “I think it did show that despite cultural differences, despite the absence of a common language, that you can communicate. There are some things that transcend language, and it’s possible to relate to anyone based on some of those common factors.”

In May, Schauder will take another trip with the Jazz Combo, this time to Costa Rica, where he’ll have another chance to put his theory to the test.