BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (AP) – The music of an orchestra shrouds the streets of a Venezuelan city every time a truck carrying musicians has smashed its way through traffic over the past year, drawing attention attention of drivers and passers-by who take photos and look at the vehicle. The live performance is an effort to give people some breathing room from the coronavirus pandemic and other hardships.
On a hot afternoon this week, the musicians climbed onto the platform of the truck and, wearing face masks, began to play as they moved around Barquisimeto, a town west of the capital , Caracas. Their instruments included a cello, violins and even a Steinway & Sons grand piano.
“Music beyond entertaining us, it can transform us, it can heal, it can relieve emotions,” said José Agustín Sánchez, a Venezuelan pianist, composer and conductor who started the initiative.
Before the show began, Sanchez reminded the musicians that their upcoming performance was a “musical sanitizer” that could evoke a range of emotions in them and their audience. He told them to be ready to get yelled at but also to see someone cheering and crying.
The tour started in front of a medical school next to a hospital. Sanchez led the mobile orchestra from his piano as the musicians sweated in the midday sun. The orchestra performed for hours several of his melodies, which he wrote while he was resident composer of the Municipal Symphony Orchestra of Caracas.
Venezuela has recorded more than 140,900 confirmed infections and 1,364 deaths from COVID-19. Experts believe that the small number of cases compared to other countries in the region, such as Brazil, Colombia and Peru, is largely due to the isolation that Venezuela has experienced for years due to a political, economic and social crisis.
Barquisimeto is also known as the “Musical City” of Venezuela for being the birthplace of several musical instrument makers, musicians and composers in the country, including Gustavo Dudamel, musical and artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in the States States and considered one of today’s great conductors.
Sanchez, 31, returned to Venezuela in 2017 after nearly 11 years abroad. His travels took him to Tibet and Nepal, where after several months of “exploring peace through sound”, he decided to return to his bereaved country to deliver a message of unity.
He has toured Venezuela during the pandemic, playing in the back of pickup trucks but also in medical facilities where COVID-19 patients are being treated. His Instagram account includes videos of Sanchez wearing head-to-toe personal protective equipment and playing the piano alongside patients and healthcare workers.
“It’s a worthy sight, it’s beautiful,” said 60-year-old Barquisimeto resident Zulay Chirinos Mariño. “I have goosebumps.”
Associated Press photographer Ariana Cubillos and writers Jorge Rueda in Caracas, Venezuela and Regina Garcia Cano in Mexico City contributed to this report.