Last night, in an effort to arrest a rapidly-rising Covid-19 infection rate, France returned to a strict lockdown. Until at least 1 December, we are all confined to our homes again, as we were in the spring. A few days earlier, I had returned from my first trip since February, to visit SAMP, in Portugal, who are working on one of the Traction community opera projects that have been my main activity this year. Over a couple of years, SAMP’s artists are co-creating a new opera with inmates and staff of a youth prison, their families and other local people. The work has been going very well, despite the circumstances, but is temporarily suspended by the pandemic. Still, I was able to participate in meetings, a workshop, performances and talks, and I returned hopeful that it might be possible to work despite social distancing and face masks. It was a joy to exercise creative muscles that had stiffened during these months of sitting at a table and speaking with people through a screen.
SAMP is an exceptional organisation, as good as any I know. They are excellent and creative musicians, of course, but to that base they bring rare thoughtfulness, humanity and care. They work in sensitive situations, including with the dying and bereaved (as I described in A Restless Art), as well as with young offenders, disabled people and children, but they handle the risks without breaking their stride. SAMP was established in 1873 as a music school in Poussos, a village close to the small city of Leiria. Several generations have joined its orchestra, choir and band, learning from their predecessors and passing on what they know to each new cohort of children. Paulo Lameiro, its visionary spirit, started as a child in the band before going on to study music in Lisbon and singing for several years in the opera. But his love of his community and gifts as an educator brought him home 20 years ago. Under his guidance SAMP’s work has grown and diversified, and this film gives a moving insight into what that means.
SAMP has lost a great part of its income this year and is reshaping its work to survive the storm. Everyone is working harder for less money, but you wouldn’t know it to speak to them: the focus is always on the people whose lives they enrich through music. At the end of the film, is this simple statement:
‘Porque mais importante do que colocar músicos no palco, é colocar a Música na vida das pessoas.’ – Because putting music in people’s lives is more important than putting musicians on stage.
I’ve never seen that truth better demonstrated than in this film, nor felt in greater need of its affirmation than today.