Like many who came before him, Luiz Botelho-Gomes traveled a long and winding road on his way to the Northeast Kingdom.
And like most developments in the Northeast Kingdom music community, there is a Sue Persson connection.
Botelho-Gomes is the new EPIC music program manager and teacher serving aspiring young musicians through what is known as El Sistema (“The System”) - a world-wide youth development program developed in 1975 in Venezuela which provides intensive music instruction for students on string instruments such as violin and cello.
Botelho-Gomes moved to the NEK in August to teach some EPIC music summer sessions and it went so well he was asked to stay and take the newly created position. He is now preparing for next EPIC Music session starting on October 21 at the St. Johnsbury School. He brings with him a lifetime of worldwide living, learning and teaching.
Botelho-Gomes is from Brazil. His first name is pronounced “Lewis” and his resume includes two masters degrees and decades of teaching experience. He loves reading, dogs and speaks several languages including English, Italian, French and his native Portuguese.
“My Italian is a lot stronger than my French at this point in time and I’m learning Russian,” said Botelho-Gomes during an interview at Catamount Arts on Wednesday. “Russian is the hobby. Italian and French I know because I just love the literature. So I don’t read anything if it’s not in the original language.”
But his favorite language may be the language of music which Botelho-Gomes began studying at a very young age while growing up in Sau Paulo City, Brazil in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
“I went to an elementary school that was highly devoted to music,” said Botelho-Gomes. “We were learning how to read and write in music before the A-B-C’s… I was swimming in it like a fish in the water. So that was a great beginning.”
Botelho-Gomes came to the United States as a college student to study music education and theory at the University of Michigan before returning to Brazil to be an elementary school music teacher. He taught cello on the side, started a youth choir and was co-director of a youth orchestra.
In his 50’s, Botelho-Gomes moved to St. Louis, Missouri to study social work and later earned his second masters degree in orchestral conducting at Webster University in Missouri.
But it was at a three week music education session in Minneapolis, Minnesota 20 years ago where he met and became friends with legendary and now retired Barnet School music teacher Sue Persson. Botelho-Gomes didn’t know it at the time but it was his first step towards life in the Northeast Kingdom.
“I met Luiz at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota,” said Persson on Thursday. “We were both members of a Kodaly class and took three levels of training together over three summers - 2 weeks each. Our group of elementary music teachers bonded closely.”
Kodaly is a method of teaching music developed in Hungary during the mid-twentieth century by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly.
Botelho-Gomes and Persson remained friends for years and then, just as Persson was retiring from the Barnet School Botelho-Gomes was graduating from Webster University and looking for a job.
“Sue Persson,” said Botelho-Gomes. “She is my friend for 20 years. She’s the first one to holler ‘Lewis - I’m retiring there’s a position here. We’d love to have you and there’s another position. There is EPIC program. Talk to them.’”
Persson then put Botelho-Gomes in touch with EPIC program Artistic Director Jason Bergman and Catamount Arts Education Director Anne Campbell who scheduled an interview.
“So I sent my credentials and we interviewed through Skype,” said Botelho-Gomes. “We had a great time. Just talking and we found that our passion was absolutely the same. They said, ‘Come over. Help us during our summer program’ and so I put my two dogs in the car and traveled two days to get here.”
Persson said Botelho-Gomes will bring a lot of good to the Northeast Kingdom.
“Luiz’ skills at teaching young people to sing, move and play musically were honed from years of teaching orchestra, classroom music and choir,” said Persson. “He is a talented musician in his own right - although he will say he isn’t. He practices every day and he is a loving and loyal friend and a champion of the less fortunate.”