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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now a story about the redemptive power of music. Twin boys overcome poverty and prejudice in the favelas of Brazil to master Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. Their father supplies the instruments, their mother the required discipline to forego childhood fun for the long slog of learning the violin. But ten years on, at age 21, the twins' music making feels like anything but drudgery.

From Rio de Janeiro, NPR's Julie McCarthy has this report.

(Soundbite of violin)

JULIE MCCARTHY: It's rare when music isn't flowing through the home of Jonas Caldas and his wife Himalya(ph). Son, Wagner slips his violin under his chin and steps into his tile-lined rehearsal room: the family bathroom.

(Soundbite of violin)

Mr. JONAS CALDAS (Luthier; Father of twin violinists): (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. WAGNER CALDAS (Violinist): Yeah, the acoustics are great.

Mr. JONAS CALDAS: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of violin)

MCCARTHY: A 21-year-old with a dazzling smile checks his position in the mirror. His mother, Himalya, rolls her eyes and says Wagner and his brother Walter practice in the bathroom until 3:00 in the morning.

But they weren't always so enthused. They started to play because she forced them to, she laughs.

Ms. HIMALYA CALDAS (Mother of twin violists): (Through translator) I made them study. They were born with nothing and little opportunity. If you don't take the little you have and direct them for the future, they'll turn 18 and become laborers, work very hard and earn very little, but they won't be respected.

MCCARTHY: She's seated on the balcony of her modest house that overlooks a hillside neighborhood of corrugated roofs and primitive plumbing in the industrial town of Niteroi, across the bay from Rio.

Himalya says a musician in the Niteroi symphony offered to teach the twins violin for free in exchange for restoring her students' instruments. Himalya's husband fixes instruments for a living and took up the offer. But she says in this hardscrabble community their decision was scorned.

Ms. CALDAS: (Through translator) Violins aren't for the poor, the neighbors said. The profession for the poor is washing clothes and laying bricks. I told them that a poor person should learn how to do a bit of everything. It's important for black people to know they can be just as capable as any rich white person.

(Soundbite of machinery)

MCCARTHY: A visit to their father's workshop in Niteroi leaves the impression there is something preordained about Wagner and Walter's music making.

(Soundbite of machinery)

MCCARTHY: The carcasses of cellos, violins and violas line the walls and tabletops. He owes his craft as a luthier - a stringed instrument maker - to Brazilian singing star, Ivan Curry(ph). Jonas's mother was a maid in Curry's home and he saw to it that by age six, Jonas was enrolled in school where he was trained to make classical instruments. His dream of playing was frustrated by lack of funds and Jonas says, talent.

But he says, building the violins that his sons now play has been its own reward.

Mr. JONAS CALDAS: (Through translator) When I see my sons play the instruments that I made and the way they touch the audience with the music they make, I feel as if it were me playing that instrument.

MCCARTHY: He ruefully adds that my sons hear something I don't.

(Soundbite of music)

MCCARTHY: Back at the hillside near home, Walter and Wagner rehearse outdoors in the same makeshift amphitheater they've practiced in since they were boys. The two now teach violin in this sun-dappled spot to other children seduced by their example.

An NFL cap tucked backwards on his head, twin brother Walter coaxes from his violin, the romantic melodies of Cartola, Brazil's Cole Porter.

(Soundbite of violin)

MCCARTHY: Then brother Wagner picks up the fast-paced classic Brazilninio(ph).

(Soundbite of music)

MCCARTHY: Walter says their method of playing reflects their temperaments. He likes things slow and contemplative. Brother Wagner is all speed and electricity.

(Soundbite of music)

MCCARTHY: Their distinctly Brazilian version of Pachelbel's Canon caused a minor sensation at a recent music festival in Rio where they played with their small youth orchestra.

(Soundbite of music)

MCCARTHY: Their show, a blend of samba, classical and pop, debuted under the baton of British-born cellist David Chu(ph) who delights in their versatility.

Mr. DAVID CHU (Cellist): These kids are expressing what they're feeling in the favela. And to me, they're expressing pure happiness. I mean, not the fact they're living in the favela, but the fact that there's a chance to be a citizen of the world, you know. And they'll play music.

MCCARTHY: Oboist Harold Emert(ph) plays with the Niteroi Symphony and marvels at the abandon with which the young musicians play.

Mr. HAROLD EMERT (Oboist, Niteroi Symphony): I hope to play with these kids. There's a lot to learn from them because they don't have the hang-ups that we developed who play classical music - so-called classical music all the time. They're themselves; they're authentic.

MCCARTHY: Wagner and Walter Caldas' make their American debut this week, performing with their orchestra for the Brazil Foundation in New York City.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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