Studying Music in Havana, Cuba

Havana program is open to qualified juniors or seniors. Students may enroll in either the fall or spring semester. All courses are taught in Spanish. Students interested in pursuing courses in music need to demonstrate mid- to advanced-level studies in music. Music, dramatic arts (dance) and visual arts can be taken at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA).

Typically, a music student on the Cuba program auditions for and takes one course in music. Individual instruction (voice, piano, woodwinds, brass, percussion, classical guitar, and traditional Cuban instruments such as the Tres and Laud) is offered as part of a class format. Composition and electronic music are taught as weekly private tutorials.

Individual instruction centers on the classical western tradition as well as classical Cuban music and composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Cuban popular music has strong roots in the classical tradition, and ISA emphasizes crossover work in both disciplines. There are no offerings in jazz and other world music. ISA will recommend materials to prospective Sarah Lawrence students upon knowing of the students’ acceptance into the Sarah Lawrence Program. Areas of studies with recommended audition materials in some areas are as follows:

  • Piano. Audition materials: two works, such as a Bach invention or prelude and fugue, and another work by such composers as Schumann or Schoenberg, etc.
  • Voice. Audition materials: the student should choose works that demonstrate their lyric and rhythmic capabilities, intonation, range (at least two octaves); repertoire should be pre-classical and classical (the Italian Anthology, for example), works that are appropriate to their voice and technical abilities.
  • Woodwinds: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Saxophone
  • Brass: French horn, Trumpet, Trombone, and Tuba
  • Strings and Harp: Instruction for most string instruments is available, although classes are subject to the availability of professors and instruments.
  • Classical Guitar
  • Tres and Laud, two traditional Cuban folkloric instruments. Students who have previous training in acoustic or electric guitar may study these instruments.
  • Percussion. Includes all symphonic instruments (Timpani, Xylophone, Vibraphone, Snares, etc.; the student must demonstrate sufficient technical background in this area) and traditional Cuban instruments such as Bongos, Bata (small and large), Paila, Tumbadora (Congas), and auxiliary instruments such as Maracas, Claves, Guiro, etc. Performance ensemble opportunities may be possible if the student demonstrates a high level of technical and musical ability. Small class presentations occur in December. Rhythmic systems may be taught from the piano. Audition materials: the student must demonstrate basic stick control, rhythmic rudiments, solfège skills, and choose one piece that they feel comfortable to play. Books that deal with percussion rudiments by Chistin, Markovich, Pratt, and Wilcoxon are recommended as preparation to study percussion at ISA.

ISA’s faculty includes world-class musicians who contribute to the various cultural events in Havana. There are also a number of other institutions for students to experience the rich Afro-Cuban, experimental and concert music culture of Cuba. They include the Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas Cubanos (UNEAC) which is the Cuban association of writers and artists where students will meet a broad range of musicians and traditions, the Amadeo Roldán (home of the national orchestra), the Casa de la Cultura (concerts and classes), the Casa de la Música (concerts and store), the Museo de la Música, the Teatro Nacional (concerts and classes), and concert halls and other performing venues in Havana, including clubs such as the Café Cantante (hip-hop) and La Zorra y el Cuervo (jazz). Many concerts, including regularly held outdoor concerts, are listed in the weeklyCartelera de la Habana.

Students should familiarize themselves with the differences in musical notation systems between the United States and Cuba. There are numerous websites that compare musical terms in different languages. We recommend the following: