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Bronx high school students bring sounds of tropics to museum

Jazz master Paquito D'Rivera and students from the

Jazz master Paquito D'Rivera and students from the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music perform pieces celebrating the diversity of the Caribbean in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Soggy New Yorkers took a respite from the rain to listen to music from the Caribbean under the iconic whale at the American Museum of Natural History on Saturday afternoon.

Several hundred people packed the Manhattan museum for “Los Sueños del Caribe” program, where the tropical sound of steel drums and classic Spanish boleros were performed by Bronx high school students and Grammy Award winning musicians.

More than a 100 elite students from the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music performed songs and recited slam poetry that connected their Caribbean culture to its natural world of wetlands, frogs, breezy beaches and birds.

Cuban jazz artist and Grammy-winning composer Paquito D’Rivera — with his band of piano, bass, drum, trumpet, flute and steel drum — performed with student musicians as student poets expressed their love and connection to nature and their Caribbean heritage of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Gabrielle Feliciano, 15, recited her poem “My Caribbean Region,” in which she proclaimed her spiritual lineage to the environment.

“So my Caribbean region keeps me, the blue skies and blue sea. The air that keeps me,” she said.

D’Rivera, who was born in Havana and has performed with the London Philharmonic and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, said before the performance:

“The students hold the torch of the future. They understand that surrounding themselves with the music and the arts is surrounding themselves with beauty. These students know that music is not a luxury but a necessity.”

The musical experience “has enlightened me. I now have a feeling of hope and a sense peace with nature,” said choir singer Chris Rivera, 15.

Ana Luz Porzecanski, co-curator of the ¡Cuba! exhibition, which explores the island’s natural fauna and wildlife, said the event helped trace the students’ ancestry, which predominantly hailed from the Caribbean.

David West, the high school’s string music director, said the student 20-string ensemble collaboration with D’Rivera “was a powerful experience. The students did not know who he was but when they heard him play they were beside themselves.”

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