Tamara Silva Santis was born in Santiago, Chile in March of 1988. She graduated with honors from Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación. During her time in college Silva mainly focused on performance, specifically vocal technique and violin. Once achieving a Bachelor in music, she worked in Chile as a performer and music educator. In 2012 she moved to the United States, where her focus of study shifted to the analysis of Music as a social and cultural phenomenon; a subject in which she has carried out independent studies. Currently Tamara’s main goal is to begin graduate studies in musicology.
In this interview with music editor Alvaro Morales, Tamara talks about her thoughts on the status of music in Chile and how she thinks the government and the people of Chile can help change the culture around music.
Alvaro Morales: What made you choose a career in music despite the limitations of pursuing such a profession in Chile?
Tamara Silva: Actually due to the difficulty that meant pursuing a degree in Music, my first decision was to study a more profitable career, so after finishing high school I began a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Chemistry: the worst decision ever. I thought that studying something that I didn't like, but could give me financial stability, would be easier than studying Music. Fortunately, I realized that I was wrong and I couldn't even finish the first year of the Industrial Chemistry program. Getting out of bed to go to college to learn something that I ended up hating became the hardest and saddest thing, and it left me without any other option but doing the thing that I was born to do. So in summary, I’d love to say that I chose music because I had strong ideals and that I understood at that moment that it was my duty to change the poor and mistaken social perception of music in my country, but the truth is that my choice was determined by the mere fact that I didn't want to be unhappy, and that I had no other option but doing what fulfilled me.
AM: Are you hopeful about the future of music as a profession in Chile? Do you see willingness from the government and other institutions to invest culturally and financially in music?
TS: I think there is a long way to go in the matter of improving the social conditions of musicians in my country. Currently in Chile, there is a teachers strike for better salary and working conditions. What can we expect if teachers of language, math, history, sciences, who are in charge of educating all of the kids in this country, have not been valued enough by our government for decades? What can we expect from the government in the matter of improving the social standing of musicians? However, I am hopeful for two reasons. First, I do not think that either the government or private institutions understand the importance and the role that music and art have in a country, but they do know that developed countries, like the ones they so much desire to imitate, must have a well educated society and a high quality of life; and second, because I think that all of the recent protests and strikes in Chile are a sign of an awakening of the Chilean people and their disapproval of the last few government administrations. In the last few years the people of Chile have played a significant role in understanding, promulgating and fighting for our culture and against our education’s deficiencies.
AM: What do you think can be done by musicians in Chile and abroad to improve the standing of music in society?
TS: Do not work for free or even accept unfair salaries. It is a common habit in Chile to let musicians play in some places without payment. The managers of these venues have the misconception that they are helping the musicians to become known, as if they were doing them a favor. Our society is not going to value us if we do not value ourselves first. We also should educate ourselves as musicians, about the benefits that our profession brings to society, so we can shape and use our profession wisely. We musicians must understand that our career is not limited to entertainment. We can educate people, and we can work alongside social workers helping communities. There are many ways that musicians can bring an important contribution to our society, and at the same time have steady employment, but I think it is also our duty to be conscious of that and to create these spaces that show society the importance of our profession.
AM: In the time since you’ve been in the United States, have you perceived any progress in the career prospects of your peers in Chile? Are things changing, for the better or otherwise?
TS: Well, as I said before I think there has been an awakening of the people of Chile in the last few years, and musicians have been part of that too. Although slowly, this has brought important changes in music. For instance, In June of 2014 the government passed a law that was first proposed in 2007, which promotes national music and artists. The law states that at least 20% of the country's radio programming should be Chilean music. However, we can still see the ignorance of our society when it comes to music and culture. The last month numerous protests occurred because musicians were not allowed to play in public spaces, such as the urban subway system in Santiago. The fact that musicians are being arrested for playing in public spaces is a clear sign that even though there have been positive changes in music in Chile, there is still a lot of work to do in order to educate Chilean society about the importance of music.
AM: What measures would you like to see institutions in Chile implement in order to create a better environment for music in the country?
TS: I think no matter what kind of measures institutions apply, musicians are not going to have a good professional environment in Chile unless Chilean people become well educated about music. Although small, the number of institutions that offer free or cheap musical activities are not in demand. While the senate is approving a law that promotes Chilean music, national artists are being arrested for playing in public spaces. I think the main problem is not the lack of measures implemented in order to create a better environment for music, but the low value that music holds in Chilean society, which I believe is mainly due to the poor quality of music education that people in Chile receive. I’d like to see music teachers supervised somehow. I’d like to see the subject of Music being considered an important one, and evaluated appropriately. I think improving the subject of music in schools would be the best step that the Chilean government could take. Music education should offer both the opportunity to play an instrument and the awareness of the potential role of music in our society. Music can become an important source of revenue. Music therapy can be known and used massively. Music can play a fundamental role in the improvement of intellectual and psychomotor development of children. Music education goes far beyond singing or playing guitar; it is also the knowledge and understanding of its importance, contributions, and benefits. It should be taught like that.