Music and family caught between U.S.-Cuba relations: LOS HERMANOS/THE BROTHERS filmmakers Marcia Jarmel, Ken Schneider, and virtuoso Ilmar Gavilán discuss new documentary

Music and family caught between U.S.-Cuba relations: LOS HERMANOS/THE BROTHERS filmmakers Marcia Jarmel, Ken Schneider, and virtuoso Ilmar Gavilán discuss new documentary

LOS HERMANOS/THE BROTHERS tracks the parallel lives of virtuoso Afro-Cuban-born brothers—violinist Ilmar and pianist Aldo— who live on opposite sides of a geopolitical chasm a half-century wide. GOOD DOCS intern Katrina Jacinto sat down with Marcia Jarmel (Director/Producer), Ken Schneider (Director/Producer), and Ilmar Gavilán (Violin Virtuoso & Documentary Subject) to discuss music, family, and the U.S.-Cuba relationship.


Tell us about your film, what is it about and why did you make it?

Marcia Jarmel (Director/Producer): Our film is a story of two brothers who were born in Cuba who are fantastic musicians, one of them here with us, Ilmar. Ilmar chose to leave and came to the U.S. eventually, and Aldo his brother stayed in Cuba. They each developed their own musical careers but they were not able to play music together in the U.S., because of the relationship that the U.S. has with Cuba and Cuba has with the U.S. Our story follows their desire to play music together and what happens when they’re able to cross borders and play together.


Ken Schneider (Director/Producer): I’ll tell a little bit about the origin story of the film. Marcia and I have been making films together for about 25 years, mostly documentary features. We made a documentary that took place both in the U.S. and Cuba, which then had a tour in Cuba. Marcia and I found ourselves on a tour bus presenting the film around the country. The bus had this fascinating collection of Cuban artists and thought leaders. It was very interesting to us. We had one of the main pop music stars from the day, a wonderful photographer, a gender theorist, a great singer of Trova, which is like a singer-songwriter in Cuba, kind of a young Joni Mitchell type. We had known about Cuban popular music and dance and salsa, but what we learned on that trip was the depth of Cuban arts, classical music, painting, and sculpture. Soon after I went to see the opening night of the Havana Jazz Festival. The headliner was this mid-30s, wild-haired pianist named Aldo, who I thought was just the best pianist I’d ever seen. I’m a music guy so I was very taken by his music. I met him afterward and I was very excited to meet some of his community and his players. I came back home and said to Marcia “You know we’ve been looking for a story in Cuba focusing on the arts. I think I’ve found it!” I described Aldo to her, and Marcia, who is more of the producer in our relationship, said to me “Sounds great. What’s the story?”

Marcia: Then we were lucky enough that Ilmar came to a screening we had of a different film in New York. We had a lovely brunch together and at the end of it, Ilmar said “Do you know my brother’s coming? To tour with me and my Quartet?” We had no idea. So when we thought about it we thought "Okay, we don’t know what’s gonna happen, but we know something’s gonna happen when they’re able to be together and create together. So we decided to film and initially we thought we were gonna make a short film and the story was just so deep and interesting we kept following it.

Ken: That brunch with Ilmar, which was so delightful, we had instant kismet with Ilmar and had lots of laughs and storytelling that first brunch. But that took place in a distinctive political moment in U.S.-Cuba history, during the time right after President Obama had ‘loosened’ the restrictions. He didn’t lift the embargo which has been hanging between our countries for the past sixty years, but he made it more possible for cultural and commercial interchange. It was in that context when Ilmar said, “Yeah, you know, Aldo’s gonna come. He’s gonna tour with us.” Had we had that brunch a year earlier- Aldo wouldn’t have been able to travel, and two years later, it would’ve been a lot harder for him to travel. So it’s just kind of a two-year window during the end of the Obama time when this was made when this kind of exchange was possible.


Can you describe more about the 1959 Cuban Revolution and the U.S. embargo of Cuba?

Ken: Well, there are libraries of books to explain more about that. My explanation, Ilmar's explanation, and Aldo’s explanation, and their father Guido’s explanation might be four different stories. But from the comfort of San Francisco where Marcia and I live, the 1959 Revolution was the ascendance of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and others who overthrew a leader named [Fulgencio] Batista, who was backed by the United States (the US-Bat regime). They ultimately created a socialist republic, which is still the stuff of much debate and discussion, whether it has benefitted or not. Our film is not political in that way. Our film does have [this revolution] as the canvas against the story that is painted. The political failures of our two countries to come together have made it difficult for family members like Ilmar and Aldo to be together. If we have a critique: the embargo for the past 60 years has not really succeeded either in changing Cuba or providing more opportunity, but it has kept families apart.

Ilmar Gavilán (Violin Virtuoso/Documentary Subject): One thing that a lot of people forget is at some point that guy Batista, everybody had enough of him including the U.S. because the island was overruled by the mafia. It’s very fascinating, and great casinos, hotels, all these bad stuff that makes life interesting sometimes. But one thing that a lot of people forget and I didn’t quite know so much is that Fidel was this handsome guy that the media was fascinated by him, meaning the U.S. media. There was a little romance and there was a little moment where the U.S. supported him even with money. Fidel got money from Cuban-Americans, like not literally, to finance a lot of his revolution. This image of this guy with a beard became so iconic that a lot of people think that the whole hippie movement started from these images; of these very good-looking people going against the establishment. It was like a call for all young people, like Che Guevara with his beard, great doctor and lawyer Fidel with the beard, this whole romantic thing like the news media went there, they had a few interviews with him while supposedly he was hiding, so this moment is very fascinating to me that he was a very popular guy. Not only the Cubans supported him because they wanted to get rid of the crook Batista, but also the U.S. and the media held him in very high esteem. It’s only a year later that his nature took over. He had disagreements with the U.S. in terms of trade, things like that. He had a little bit of bravura style, this young ‘nobody tells me what to do anymore.’ Then the U.S. starts kind of pressuring him with, “Okay, if you don’t do this, then I won’t sell you let’s say gas.” “Oh no, gas? Then I’ll take your entire gas company, what?” Little by little, it’s like a teenager having a breakup. It’s not very logical but the exchanges of rough actions led him to look into the Soviet Union for an ally, which is very unexpected for Cubans in Cuba and everybody else. That’s the beginning of the end of the relationship. When he had this fight it could’ve been a friendly domestic fight in my view. It could’ve been resolved with, "Hey guys, let’s just talk about this for a second. I can sell you sugar. No worries, I will keep selling you gas." Instead of that he broke up and got another girlfriend/boyfriend, whatever you wanna call it, and looked for the Soviet Union as the way of showing the finger to that domestic dispute. It could’ve been just resolved in-house, but instead, he got these missiles from the Soviet Union, and now it became more serious. The U.S. saw a missile pointing at the U.S., and now my brother and I are paying for that.

Marcia: Just gonna say that the context of this is the Cold War and the U.S. has a thing about the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union has a thing about the U.S. They’re kind of jockeying for position in the world. So when Cuba allied itself with the Soviet Union, that really upped the ante on the U.S. side.

Ken: One more thing I’ll say, Katrina, a personal aspect of this adds to Ilmar’s sort of description of the mystique of Los Barbudos - The Bearded Ones, of Che and Fidel and Camilo. One of my dearest oldest friends who is a friend of my parents was a Cuban woman who came around the same time and was hired to be Fidel’s translator at the UN and when he visited Harlem. On his first visits, he stayed in Harlem rather than staying in a downtown hotel because he wanted to be with la gente, with the people. She told me, “Ahh Fidel, oh the women loved him. 


Marcia & Ken - You both have been working in Cuba for about 9+ years. What was it like to immerse yourself in Cuba? What have you learned throughout your experiences there?

Ken: One thing I would say from the filmmaker's point of view for your GOOD DOCS catalog members, I think the most important thing I learned about making films in Cuba or anywhere is we work with an all-Cuban crew. So we don’t show up at the airport with a lot of suitcases full of equipment and American cinematographers and whatnot. We don’t appear on location as though we are the Bank of America. We work with an all Cuban crew–our cinematographer, sound recordist, field producer, driver, and, if necessary, translator come from the Havana film community. And while I’m a Spanish speaker, and Marcia is conversational in Spanish, our crew helps us understand how to avoid saying the wrong thing because I don’t know all the slang. So appearing as a part of a local crew is the way we like to be immersed, as you say in Cuban culture. In terms of what I learned concretely [about Cuban culture], how nuanced everything is, even hearing Ilmar talk about it. When we talk to our friends or our colleagues about this film, people think they already know Cuba. The story people want to hear is Aldo hates American and Ilmar hates Cuba. What we say to them is, actually, they love their home countries, both brothers love each other’s country, and they love each other. That’s the degree of nuance which we find, the more time you spend in a place. Cuba is a complicated place, just like America is, so that’s our big lesson.

Marcia: There’s a great advantage when you’re telling a story in a country and culture that’s not your own to have spent time there. This was our fourth film in Cuba. We had the opportunity to teach there at NYU, so we were there for a while. Ken’s been there fifteen times and I’ve been there ten, which doesn’t mean I understand everything–actually the more I go, the more I realize I don’t understand. We have a community of friends there that we stay in touch with. I think the deeper we go into being connected to that place and that culture and those people, the more we’re able to bring that nuance to the storytelling. It’s not always possible to do that when you’re making a film, but we were fortunate that we had that opportunity.


Ilmar - From this film point-of-view, how do you perceive Cuba, and how do you stay connected to Aldo and your roots in Cuba, even though being far away?

Ilmar: Through the film, it was fun to immortalize memories that we had going to the building where I grew up with Aldo. I don’t think the film necessarily made me more connected to Cuba and honestly like Ken or Marcia just said, we both love each other’s countries so I always connect with the country I’m from. The film brings an element of documenting things that are really dear to you, in a way that you can never do with your cell phone. It’s a wonderful family legacy. 


This film emphasizes Cuba’s love of art and music. Aldo and Ilmar’s father said in the film “We, [the people of Cuba], believe that art is critical to the development of the whole person.” Can you explain what this means to you individually, being an artist and part of this community?

Ilmar: It’s very true what my father said. I noticed that because Cuba[ns] [are] the same, we don’t have a specific race or ethnicity to associate ourselves with. My wife is Korean, it’s a whole ethnic thing besides the culture. We have a specific mix of races, but what makes us Cubans is our culture. I am sure Ken and Marcia understand what I’m saying perfectly. For instance, knowing how to dance is quite important. Even if you’re bad at it, you’re showing that you’re trying to step into the ring and do a couple of steps. Knowing how to do the clapping...if you don’t know how to do that, you almost get your visa revoked. It’s as important as knowing the anthem, I’m not even kidding. I’m sure my dad meant something a little bit more than that, but the idea that we identify with our culture is very true. I think in the later years, [there is] also an emphasis on education. In my years, education was very important as part of the identity of the Cuban identity. Very soon, the entire country was literate, like everyone knows how to read and write, and apparently, that’s a huge accomplishment in a developing country. That emphasis on education and musical education became very important, not just salsa or Cuban music like folkloric music but Western music. So, a lot of people went to study in Russia, not just me. My parents studied in Russia and other European countries and came back and solidified the very serious school of music, like so serious that a lot of Cubans win international competitions and it’s very weird from this little island to do that. Also, it’s weird from that little island they made up their own Covid vaccine. I just cannot even imagine, even though I know how developed they are with medicine, it’s kind of hard to imagine a country that doesn’t have aspirin sometimes or things you have to import from the U.S. The same country, with a food crisis or sometimes you don’t have a string for a violin, actually developed a Covid vaccine. What? How is that even possible? It’s because the identity of Cuba became very tied with the culture of the person, the education, and in general. It’s a little bit disproportional to the amount of only 11 million Cubans. It’s disproportional to the Cubans, disproportional to the per capita. The money they make per capita is very low. It’s disproportional to everything you see with your eyes, like bad cars, old cars, crumbling buildings. The culture is definitely higher than what you can see with your naked eye. It’s just very incredible.

Marcia: One of my biggest surprises was just how accessible the arts are. You can go to the symphony or the ballet for the cost of a soda. It’s accessible to most people, and that very high-quality arts education is accessible to anyone who demonstrates talent. That just seems like it’s exactly the inverse of what we experience here in the U.S., where you have to have a certain level of privilege, or you have to be unusually brilliant at something to ever have the opportunity to be trained in that way. For many people in this country, you could never go to the symphony or the ballet or whatever. There’s a different emphasis on the arts, which I really appreciated, and just to reiterate that Cuba punches way above its weight in all the arts and the kind of international scene. That speaks to the emphasis of culture and art and their connection to Cuban identity around culture.

Ilmar: Just to bring a little bit of balance to that, I just want to say we Cubans learn from the Soviets. The Soviets always wanted to prove to the world that they are good at things that the world values, such as art, chess, or ballet. Why? Because this is like window shopping, that’s what makes you look good, your home looks good, what you see from the exterior is good. As much as I’m happy about it because I’m a direct beneficiary of that, my brother too, it’s only fair to name that there is a cost of that. The cost of the symphony being so accessible is because the musicians get paid very little. The cost for my education being so affordable is because the teachers get paid very little, the same in the Soviet Union. Then, the majority of the Soviet Union teachers immigrated to Europe or the U.S. when they had a chance. Cubans are not so different. Doctors also try for better salaries and somewhat, so I just want to bring some balance, so that is the reason: we want to look good. The system wants to put the best face forward, and again I’m a living beneficiary of that, so it’s great. Don’t get me wrong, I want to keep that plus everything else that could be good. Just want to make sure that I’m complimenting them and at the same time I’m bringing a little bit of perspective.

Ken: I think your critique is super interesting, Ilmar. I think we can let the economists duke it out there. The two notes I would say on you and Marcia’s presentation: one of the things I learned from Ilmar and Aldo was this notion that Cubans, at least in a cultural space, see themselves as a Western nation with Western influences. One of the sorts of biases that we in America have is that we think of anything in the Third World, the Global South, as being other than the West; as being the East or being the South or being African. Cuba’s such an interesting cocktail to us, this is one thing that kept Marcia and me going back year after year to explore there. Ilmar and Aldo learn the Western Canon, the Western composers. They play Debussy, they know Bach, they do solfege by the time they’re in second grade–they can read the music on the charts and recite it vocally. They also have the influence of Afro-Caribbean rhythms, which originally come east of the island and what we think of as Latin music or Latin jazz. So there’s a cocktail there that goes into Ilmar and Aldo’s playing that I don’t see in the great players or the great symphonies that we attend here in the States. It has its own flavor.

Ilmar: You’re absolutely right, Ken. A lot of schools here in America are trying to diversify the education because they realize, I’m talking Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, I’m talking the best schools, they realize that musicians are trying to play only the standard repertoire from Europe. But the new faces of American audiences, which is way more diverse, is claiming the different type of art. Then all of these great players, the second they see you clapping they get lost. Not really, a lot of them get it now, but it’s an issue. So a lot of schools are very aware of this, I don’t want to call it a lack, but there is a little gap when it comes to world music in the best schools. I’m sure it’s the same in all territories in art, I’m sure in film, all of them I’m sure is the same.

Ken: Absolutely, and to sort of mirror that into the positive, when I see Aldito playing his version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” when I hear you playing your Grieg or Duke Ellington, I don’t hear the album versions that I know. What you and your brother bring to the Western canon is additive, and it’s something that I think has delighted and will continue to delight American audiences. That actually might be an interesting segway into the work Marcia is doing and GOOD DOCS is helping us with. With the film, in terms of community outreach and engagement, which is so much about addressing what Ilmar talked about with this question of American orchestras solely playing the European canon with musicians who are brought up in the conservatories here in America, and that has its rigor and it has its limitations.

Marcia: There’s a kind of interesting confluence. I mean we had hoped that this film would come out earlier before the pandemic. Like everything it was delayed, but the timing on it in this last year where there’s been a real reckoning about inclusion and diversity, really I think across every aspect of American culture, it’s happening in the world of classical music too. There’s a lot of discussion about who gets to play, who gets to be educated so they can play this music, and what music is played. There’s a whole world of composers that we have no exposure to here; fantastic music that comes from other countries and other cultures. That conversation is happening now. One of the wonderful things that are happening with this film is that it’s become part of that conversation; it’s often the reason to have that conversation in different kinds of contexts or to allow young music students of color to see these fantastic musicians who look like them, which they often don’t get to see. I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen the film, but there’s a very powerful scene where Aldo and Ilmar are playing in an environment that is almost entirely white. There’s an opening for the film to become part of that conversation and to spur that conversation, and for us, it’s super exciting.

Ilmar: That’s true, we take it for granted in Cuba. Here, [in the U.S.], I don’t want to name the orchestras but I had an opportunity to play solo a few times, and this particular orchestra which will remain unnamed, everybody was white in the orchestra. When I looked into the audience, everybody was white in the audience and a certain age too. The race was something that made an impression on me like “oh my gosh,” and it’s true that if you’re a kid that, let’s say looks like me, it’s obvious to them that people that look like that kid won’t come to their concert. So for them, it’s very important to see themselves represented on stage, [I] completely agree with that. That’s actually a very different scenario in Cuba to just give credit in that aspect. I’m sure before, it was more like America because classical music was in Cuba a thing of the elite, and even in Cuba they also look more European than Afro-Cuban or other mixes. Now you see that classical music is a thing of the people. You can see how diverse an orchestra looks in Cuba and [Cuban] schools. It has nothing to do with the race now; that’s beautiful. I remember my father gave a lecture at Brooklyn College. One of the professors insisted that I put a little clip of the orchestra in Cuba playing my father’s music, not just audio but visual. I said, “Oh sure, I can do that,” and the professor told me, “I just want the students to see how the orchestra looks in Cuba because our orchestra doesn’t look like that.” It opened my eyes like, “You’re right. Even the student orchestras don’t look like that here.” In a place like New York where everybody’s mixed together, the student orchestras in the conservatories do not look anything like that.

Ken: You speak the truth there, Ilmar. The data is clear that the American orchestras are a little below 2% Black and a little above 2% Latino. In your father Guido’s orchestra or your sister-in-law Daiana’s orchestra, there are cellists and violinists of a variety of skin tones. It’s not a question in Cuba; you see that in the street, you see that in the ball games, you see that in orchestras, you see that everywhere. Here we are still, in that way, a segregated nation.

Back to the work that we’re going to do together with GOOD DOCS. We’re excited that our little documentary is going to be part of this sort of moment of reckoning, of how segregation and racism have had a long tail even in a cultural space. We’re delighted that there are organizations in our country that have seen our film, as a possible way to open up that conversation.

Marcia: The other piece of that is I think all this new music that’s coming in, that’s reaching audiences who might have thought that classical music was not for them, that there’s a different energy, there’s different harmonies, rhythms, and I think that we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it in the work the Harlem Quartet does, presenting to student groups, how they are responsive, in a way that I might not have expected for high school kids. So there’s a real opportunity with us, I think.


Ilmar: There was a moment in the film where a cassette tape of your brother’s brought you to tears. Can you explain more of that moment and how music became a means of communication between you and your brother?

Ilmar: This is probably the most vulnerable part of the film, and also the most magical for me. I still think that music is the best or ultimate way for sole communication. I’m sure artists, graphic artists might think similarly, or dancers might think similarly. But for me, it’s clear that- let’s just put it this way, I’m going to get a little complicated here, but you asked me a complicated question. Words, they trust me as much as they can, a thought and an emotion. A good writer goes for the emotion, right? Let’s just call it sponge. So words are a type of sponge that can absorb this much emotion. Music almost absorbs the whole thing. You can literally express with music almost everything. I don’t know if you can express more. It’s like direct Bluetooth from the emotional part of your being to the other emotional part of your being in the ears up there. I don’t know if that’s true with every human in the world, I do not know, but for Aldo and me, it is more than true. [Aldo] was like 7 or 8. There is no way an 8-year-old can articulate the wealth of emotions he’s feeling, like 'You left. I couldn’t see you. I’m practicing this piece, and I love the sound of this new composition.' All of that he could never explain with words, but in a cassette tape I hear that, and I get so much more than anything that he could ever do in a letter. The only analogy I’m thinking of now, which is very funny but very true, is when a dog smells you when you come back from somewhere. At that moment, the dog knows where you have been, what you ate, all of it. So when I hear the tape, I get everything. I get what’s the weather in my home country, who is walking in the background in the kitchen, the last time the piano tuner came - it’s usually pretty out of tune. I hear in his playing what pieces he is working on because I recognize the solo of his improvisation uses part of the piece he’s working on. It’s direct Bluetooth to the soul of a 7-year-old. Of course, it touched me incredibly like this takes much more than words, so for me, it’s very clear when a composer is hoping for the audience to get that kind of Bluetooth window into his world. If you’re good at what you do, you can convey the time period the composer is writing, what scenery-if it's inside a palace, garden, church, what is the feeling, what kind of anxiety he’s feeling. All of that is in the music. An ultimate communicator, like a player, let’s say, is the one that allows a lot of that information to pass through the music, not just be stuck in the notes that you’re reading or the right rhythms because then you’ll just be like a typewriter. Somebody takes dictation and you just convey that dictation, no. You have to embody whatever that composer is trying to say so that the audience can relate to it. Anyways, I went somewhere else in that answer, but I think that the tapes are the ultimate Bluetooth directly.

Ken: I’ll tell just one tiny story which might be interesting to your filmmaker audiences. I knew about these tapes because Ilmar had told me about them, both in conversation and in a previous interview. He thought they were no longer around. So, I asked all of his family members, and he and Aldo had no idea about them. Aldo’s wife, Daiana, and Ilmar and Aldo’s father, Guido, searched in their closets in Havana and came up with this plastic bag full of tapes. They also found some Betamax and VHS. We took them to a lab and they said, "We can’t do anything with them, they’re shedding mold on our machine." They've been sitting in a moldy Havana closet for 30 years, and they were going to ruin the machine. Then we received an artist grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and we sent them for mold remediation. Then we digitized them and put them on a computer–

Marcia: And then we could watch them. We might have been spending all this money for who knows what? But all this magic appeared.

Ken: It was one of those moments where Marcia and I looked at each other and said, “Yeah we got a movie. We got a show.” Because as Ilmar said, there’s so much emotion in the music and Aldo’s [tape]. The words they spoke to each other and about each other, that helped us set the stage for the story, in what is now Act 1 of the movie.


How do you hope educators and community groups will use the film as a teaching tool?  

Marcia: The story is very rich because it has that geopolitical context, so there’s an opportunity to explore that through this story. Music is the ambassador to understanding something about the relationship between these two countries. There’s a wealth of things to understand about music and performance. I think for many people who watched the film so far, there’s an emotional thing about being separated from family, and sometimes unable to cross borders. That’s so current right now. Unfortunately, so many people are feeling that. Because of the pandemic and various political and economic things, people are often separated from the people they love. It's something that can be used to inspire music students, to help musicology students understand something about Cuban music, and for international relations students to understand, and just for people to get a little richer understanding of Cuba. I think we don’t know very much about Cuba in the U.S., and there’s a lot of nuances there. The film is not comprehensive in any way but opens the door to a kind of understanding that you might not have without that experience watching it.

Ilmar: The outreach aspect that we mentioned already, some of the things we talked about actually apply to this question, like how to reach new audiences while playing composers that they relate to. How else to have students feel identified. Well, bring musicians that look like them. So that’s a very good tool for educators.

Marcia: We had a couple of screenings for high school and youth orchestras. That high school was interesting. It was an international club at this high school that sponsored the screening, and they reached out to the other schools in their district, and there were like 300 people. Some families and some kids watched the film, and then we had a very long, involved Q&A. People had a lot of questions, so that was great.


With family being a central theme in this film, what are some of your most enjoyable moments from working with everyone on this film? This can be from the production team to the Gavilan family to the Harlem Quartet, etc.

Ken: For me, the music is so deeply joyful; any time we were filming, attending a concert or a rehearsal, or even just kind of a family jam session. When you hang out in the Lopez-Gavilan household in Havana, there are two pianos, both Aldo’s twin daughters are musicians, there are guitars, there are clarinets. There’s a lot of music, so there’s a lot of joy there. Being on tour with the two brothers was a lot of fun, there were a lot of laughs, as some of them were in the film. The piece which Aldo wrote for the film was a deeply moving experience for me. I won’t do a spoiler alert but except to say it is the final piece in the film. I had heard a tiny preview of it but not orchestrated, just kind of on Aldo’s computer. I didn’t get it or feel it, but the moment that he and Ilmar played it during filming, I was quietly weeping in the corner.

Marcia: I would just add to that, that this time has just really been dark for so many reasons. It’s been awesome to be in the editing room with this music and this story. It just reminds you of beauty and love. So for me, that was the gift of making this film–to be able to be in that space and remember those things.

Ilmar: For me, I think it’s the trip to Cuba. I went there with my wife and my two kids, and just being there was so much fun. Some things didn’t make it to the movie, because the movie has so many great little stories. In the end, some of it had to go for the good of the movie. But some of these little stories had to do with my childhood. Aldo and I used to play in this haunted house. We thought it was haunted. It's by my old house that you see in the movie. We went there with the kids. Both Aldo’s kids and my kids were pretty scared, so the house still has the charm. That’s not in the movie, but it was a lot of fun. Also, Cuba has a coconut-looking taxi. It looks like a little coconut. It’s just a motorcycle with two seats in the back that looks like a coconut. It's called Cocotaxi. I wanted my kids to get in there, and we did. Ken negotiated a good price. I remember Ken asking the guy, “This is going to be filmed, I need your consent.” Ken has pretty good Cuban Spanish. And the guy was like, “Sure, just pay me the fee. You can film me.” Anyways, that was fun to have Ken following in a regular car. We are like in that little coconut taxi and Ken in the middle of Havana just hopping on his camera around on the person he hired. That was a lot of fun for the kids. It felt like a dream going to Disneyland.


Ilmar - Is there any advice you would like to give to musicians who are interested in composing and performing?

Ilmar: Absolutely. If you’re interested in composing, just find somebody that will play it. Don’t just compose and put it in your closet. Just do it. Put your ideas into paper and find somebody that will play it, if it’s somebody other than yourself. The best way to promote your compositions is if the players like to play you. We just had a grant to perform new compositions from Michigan University. I just told the guys straight, because they want to know how can I become famous basically, how is my music going to be played. Honestly, if people like me like to play, you cannot force down anybody’s throat, “Play this please!” No, you just like it, you play it, somebody hears it, another player plays it, and that’s just advice. For performance, just keep practicing. I am a big believer that luck is preparedness meeting opportunity. You might have the preparedness, then you have a chance meets opportunity, then you can get a gig. All of a sudden, a manager comes and he helps your career. If the opportunity comes and you don’t have anything on your just be prepared and we’re going to go past Covid and things will eventually go back to normal.

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