Long-distance musical friendship forged after chance encounter

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, 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.

Craig Fuchs

Craig Fuchs

“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 directed the PSU Wind Ensemble for years; performed as a member of the T.D. Pack Band, the official band of the Kansas City Chiefs, for 13 seasons; and has served as an adjudicator in the regional marching band arena each fall.

He 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,” said Fuchs, who a few months later traveled to Brazil to work with Franca’s youth.

It was life-changing. The pair began collaborating, with Franca coming to Pittsburg and Fuchs returning to Brazil a few more times to conduct and work with youth. They also began planning a joint venture: The Fortissimo Project — a manual for band programs in Brazil, and future workshops and honor bands.

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.

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