Long-distance musical friendship forged after chance encounter

  Thursday, December 13, 2018 11:00 AM
  News, Arts & Entertainment, People and Society

Pittsburg, KS

Craig Fuchs in Brazil


In a Brazilian town where some don’t have indoor plumbing, Arley Franca, a fireman and musician, talked his boss into allowing him to start an instrumental music program for children. 

Five thousand miles away at Pittsburg State University, where faculty in the Music Department frequently collaborate with international musicians, University Professor Craig Fuchs began using translated emails to forge a mutually-beneficial long-distance friendship with Franca and his transformational program. 

“There is no music in Brazilian schools,” said Fuchs, whose own life has revolved around music for decades. “It’s difficult to imagine, and when I learned of Franca’s program, of course I wanted to get involved.” 

Fuchs, who holds music degrees from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Columbia, and Missouri Western State College, performed as a member of the T.D. Pack Band, the official band of the Kansas City Chiefs, for 13 seasons. He is active as an adjudicator in the regional marching band arena each fall. He directed the PSU Wind Ensemble for years. And his son, Caleb Fuchs, is a member of the PHS Marching Band and Wind Ensemble. 

“Music is a constant for us,” he said. 

Fuchs learned of the Brazilian program in 2010 through a chance encounter while conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Paraguay — a country with which PSU has held a longstanding partnership. 

“Franca was in attendance at the concert, told me about his program, and he gave me his card and said he would be in touch,” Fuchs said. 

Three or four months later, Fuchs was in Brazil, working with Franca’s youth. 

“It was life-changing,” he said. 

Brazil Fuchs 2

In November 2011, Franca came to Pittsburg. 

“He stayed here, he saw what we have,” Fuchs said. “And he began working on getting money together so that I could make a return trip.” 

Over Thanksgiving break this fall, Fuchs headed back to Brazil to teach conducting classes at a music festival and rehearse and conduct concerts. 

“I took a suitcase full of mallets, mutes, and drumsticks,” Fuchs said. 

Creating and funding such a program requires layers of bureaucracy, he explained.  

“Everything has to be funded by the Cultural Secretaries at the local, state, and federal levels.  Franca submits proposals to these entities so he can have funding to pay teachers, rent space, and make it work,” he said. “But he convinced people of how important this is for kids and for the community. And he was right.” 

While music is a universal language, communicating verbally wasn’t so easy for the two maestros. 

“I can do a bit of Spanish, and of course written music uses Italian words, so I know those,” Fuchs said. “Arley speaks Portuguese and a bit of rough English, so we had to cobble together our conversations.” 

Despite that barrier, the two are now planning to embark on a joint venture: The Fortissimo Project. 

In music, the word “Fortissimo” is denoted with the symbol “FF” and means “play it loudly.” The “FF” also represents their last names: Fuchs and Franca. 

“We’ll write a book — a manual – in Portuguese for band programs in Brazil,” Fuchs said. “I plan to go down once a year to work with students, create honor bands, and so on.” 

He also plans to engage the help of a former student, Lacy Mikrut, who teaches music at Meadowlark Elementary in Pittsburg, by using video recordings of her teaching strategies for younger children prior to starting in the band. 

The mayor of the town has publicly proclaimed he will support the endeavor, and Fuchs will return to Brazil next July. 

“I have gotten so much out of this,” Fuchs said. “It’s so humbling and so rewarding. Building those relationships, helping kids know they can be successful. The goal is to continue to create joy and understanding through music.”


Learn more about PSU's Music Department.