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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — It's an understatement to say there hasn't been much to celebrate here since Hurricane Maria devastated the island three weeks ago.
But while the island remains physically beaten down, some of its residents' spirits may get a lift Friday as the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra is set to perform for the first time since the hurricane forced it to suspend its regular schedule.
Rehearsing in San Juan’s symphony hall, the orchestra has been preparing to give free concerts across the island, and according to conductor Maximiano Valdés, the group is playing with extra purpose.
“Our idea is to play for those who need more," he said. "There are many people left with nothing here."
The orchestra will perform both classical compositions and popular Puerto Rican music. The theme of their performances will be loss, survival and rebuilding after the hurricane.
“There is first two pieces related with those who left, those who died, those who lost everything," Valdés explained. "And then we go into works that we all love — the beginning of Mozart No. 14, and then Beethoven No. 5 — as the will of man to reconstruct and begin again.”
Then, there will be a medley, he said, which will include important bolero folk music. Trombonist Miguel Rivera, president of the local musicians' union, said he hopes hearing Puerto Rico’s classic anthems will inspire people to contribute to the reconstruction.
Rivera said the needs of the Puerto Rican people go beyond food and water. They need culture, too.
“The people of Puerto Rico need food for the soul, I think, and music for me, is the best art because it goes right to your heart,” he added.
The goal is to bring music to the hearts of many who have been affected by the hurricane. The orchestra only has a few dates scheduled at this point, including a show in San Juan Friday afternoon. They plan to perform through November not only in the capital city, but also in smaller cities and within the interior of the island.
"Music is the universal language, and it can definitely heal people."Ana María Hernández Candelas
Piccolo player Ana María Hernández Candelas plays a small whistle, used in one of the compositions to mimic the sound of a bird.
“I think it’s very important that we start performing as an orchestra and reaching out to the people, because we need to feel hope and I think music helps us feel hope," she said. "Music is the universal language, and it can definitely heal people.”
The Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra has members from around the Americas, including Chile, Venezuela and the U.S. Clarinetist Kathy Jones is originally from Oregon, and she’s been playing in the orchestra in San Juan since 1975. After the storm she says she was eager to return to her art.
“It was so great to get back here," she said. "It was like a cowboy wanting to get on a horse again. It was just mopping and cutting trees, and I had blisters on my hands because we had trees to saw out of our backyard."
Now Jones says it’s the orchestra’s chance to take the music from symphony hall and transport it where it's needed most.
“If we don’t go to the people, we will be looked at as elitist. Whereas if we get out of this hall, and we go play music that everybody loves, we’ll be their orchestra,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the piccolo mimicked the sound of a coquí, and said the animal is a bird. A coquí is a frog. We regret the error.
This article was originally published on October 13, 2017.
This segment aired on October 13, 2017.
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