Connecting Hearts And Minds - Concert Program Notes

 Concert program notes for the Connecting Hearts and Minds concert on March 16. 

In the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”  Those of us who have had the privilege of traveling around the world have learned that there are no essential differences between people, no matter their religion, their political ideology, or the color of their skin. In any part of the world, mothers want their children to be healthy and get a good education, young people want opportunities to learn and become productive, and artists want a space to be free and creative. There’s really not that much difference among us. Nevertheless, there are many people who look at others with hate and distrust.

The more we learn about each other, the less room there is for discrimination. Music is a wonderful way to find connections among us because, ultimately, music is the product of many peoples with diverse cultural backgrounds. Every culture, whatever its language or religion, celebrates and mourns with music.

In that spirit of celebration, tonight Cantigas will perform a collection of songs from different traditions that carry the universal themes of love, longing, and death. The first two—Gracias a la Vida and Lao Rahal Soti—come from countries half a world apart, but both speak of the power of song. Gracias a la Vida by Chilean Violeta Parra, a folksinger and poet who inspired people throughout Latin America with her beautiful songs, is a tribute to love and to life. In her last verse she credits "joy and sadness" for being the necessary elements to compose a song. Ironically, she wrote this song shortly before taking her own life. This song became an anthem of hope during the many social movements that protested social injustice and discrimination in Latin America during the 1960s and ’70s.

Lao Rahal Soti, by Palestine’s Samih Shqer, reveals the role of music in times of loss. Aref Dajani, one of Cantigas’s singers of Palestinian descent, explains, “This song is about the loss of Home. It commemorates the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, when 700,000 Palestinians were displaced. They and their descendants live in exile and continue to self-identify by the cities, towns, and villages they left behind, many of which no longer exist.”  But the feeling of loss is not unique to Palestinians. Many of us are familiar with the haunting words of Psalm 137—“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion”—capturing the  longing of the Jews who were exiled from their homeland, as they have been many times since then. And in Latin America, many people have been exiled from their countries by their repressive governments just for thinking differently. Both Violeta and Samih wrote these songs in the spirit of hope and of “collective love and longing for Home, wherever that Home may be.”  Samih states that in the end it will be song that will keep us together.

Every culture has stories of exile, nostalgia, and death. Triste España sin Ventura was composed by Juan del Encina upon the death of Prince John of Aragon and Castile, heir to the throne of the Catholic monarchs. It expresses the agony and uncertainty that the people felt for the future of their country during those times of crisis.

The words of Adios Granada could be attributed to the many groups of people that have populated the plains, rivers, and mountains of Andalucia throughout the centuries. They could have been the words of the Jewish people when they were expelled from Spain in 1492, or the cries of the Moors who had been defeated and expelled from Granada, the last Moorish bastion, by the rulers of Spain.

Farewell Granada, my Granada.
I’ll never return to see you again.
Oh, what pain!
To live far from your plain and from the resting place of my dark-haired one.

In reality, however, Adios Granada is one of the arias of “Los Emigrantes” (The Emigrants), a zarzuela, or Spanish operetta. Even though this particular zarzuela was never popular, Adios Granada has become one of the most performed Spanish songs. Andalusian in style, it describes the sadness of a group of Spanish emigrants leaving their land and loves behind in search for a better life in the Americas.

Triste estaba el Rey David tells the biblical story of King David and his son Absalom, who rebelled against his father and was later killed in battle. It beautifully reflects the King’s pain and sorrow on learning the news of the death of his son. Joaquín Rodrigo, a 20th-century Spanish composer, based this composition on an old Spanish romance, or poetic form.  He set the melody of the song to modern forms and harmonies that reflect a Spanish idiom.  

The villancico was a poetic musical form sung in the vernacular that was very popular in Spain during the Renaissance period. Two of the most prolific composers of villancicos were Juan del Encina and Juan Vásquez. Vásquez based many of his villancicos on popular melodies. The melody of En la Fuente del Rosel, about a young couple washing themselves in the spring (of water), has a folkloric flavor that keeps it fresh even to our modern ears.

Mas vale trocar is one of Encina’s most performed villancicos. Like many of his other compositions, this song is about the agony of living without love: “It’s preferable to trade pleasure for pain, than to live without love.”

By contrast, Durme, Durme is about familial love. This traditional lullaby belongs to the vast repertoire of the Sephardim, or Spanish Jews, who were expelled from Spain in 1492 by the monarchs Fernando de Aragón and Isabel de Castilla. Wherever they went, the Sephardim kept their traditions alive, especially their songs and their Spanish-based language. The words "Shema Yisrael" are Hebrew and are the first words of a prayer that begins, "Listen, people of Israel:  The Lord is our God and the Lord is one."

With the next two love songs we return to contemporary Latin America. Corazón Coraza is a lovely setting of Mario Benedetti´s poem by Cuban composer Beatriz Corona, who is recognized for her classical choral compositions and her mastery in setting to music the poems of some of the greatest Latin American poets. Caramba is a song by Otilio Galíndez of Venezuela, who is known for his beautiful folkloric melodies.

We are thrilled to be sharing this program with our friends from Intercultural Journeys. Together we’ll be performing songs that celebrate the three cultures represented through music tonight.

The psalms, or zabur, as they are called in Arabic, are recognized by the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Psalm 150 has been a favorite of composers through the centuries, since it urges the people of God to praise Him with musical instruments and dance. In this version, Puerto Rican composer Suzzette Ortiz set this jubilant text to a contagious Caribbean rhythm.

The Israeli love song Erev Shel Shoshanim became very popular during the 1960s and ’70s, and it has been recorded by artists around the world, including Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba. It is often sung at weddings instead of the traditional march.

Lammaa Badaa Yayathannaa is a traditional muwashshah, or strophic song, that originated in Cabra (near Cordoba) during the Muslim rule in Spain. This type of song has spread throughout the Arab world over the centuries. The poet refers to the way his beloved is dancing and swaying from side to side. According to Shireen Abu-Khader, who arranged and published the song, until recently it was improper for men to sing about their desire for women. Therefore, the male singer uses the masculine pronoun “he” to describe the dancer.

We’ll finish the program with a wonderful composition by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla: Primavera Porteña (Buenos Aires Spring—"porteño" refers to Buenos Aires, a port city). This piece, one of Piazzolla´s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” compositions, was originally scored for a quintet of violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneón, a type of accordion used to perform tango.

Both Cantigas and Intercultural Journeys share a passion for bringing people together through music and art. Together we have striven to create a space for musical dialogue, a space to question and challenge old assumptions, and most important, a space to celebrate our humanity.