For three weeks in June and July, Synthesis toured Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. The group enjoyed the rich musical history of the Caribbean as they gave performances, participated in music clinics, worked with several guest artists, and enriched the local community through outreach activities.
In Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Synthesis performed with jazz flautist Néstor Torres, who provided insight and a new understanding of music as he worked with the group. Other guest artists included Pavel Núñez, Orlando Valle, Lázaro Dagoberto, and Latin Grammy winner Ed Calle, who each shared different perspectives into the field of jazz. “Being able to work with these groups and people was absolutely fantastic,” says Synthesis director Ray Smith. “Connecting with these top minds in jazz was a deeply enlightening experience both for myself and for the students.”
In addition to meeting with these professionals, Synthesis got to learn from and perform with many respected musical groups. Thanks to the efforts of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, Synthesis met internationally renowned artists from the Buena Vista Social Club. Synthesis also performed with the Carolina Municipality Jazz Band in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and the Joven Jazz youth band in Havana, Cuba. While in the Dominican Republic, the BYU group participated in music clinics at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música and the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, where band members learned more about Caribbean rhythms and Latin jazz. Some members of Synthesis also appeared on three radio shows in the Dominican Republic: El Mismo Golpe con Jochy, El Sol de la Mañana, and Música a las Doce.
Synthesis visited a number of historical and cultural locations near the venues. One in particular was the Estudios Areito in Cuba, the home of Cuba’s oldest record label and the location where great jazz artists, like Nat King Cole, recorded previously. Other places they visited included Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory (home to the second-largest radio telescope in the world) and La Fortaleza (home of the Puerto Rican governor and the oldest active executive mansion in the Western Hemisphere).
Synthesis members also worked to fulfill the aims of a BYU education—notably, lifelong service and character building—by serving communities throughout their tour. Synthesis members performed for 300 inmates at La Victoria National Penitentiary in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In another service activity, the BYU group helped at the Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico to count, organize, and sort merchandise to be donated locally.
“We loved serving them,” says Smith. “However, we feel the greatest blessing is knowing the people we developed connections with during the tour. They are all just so good, and their love, I feel, will be our biggest takeaway.”