Jonathan’s Mexico Trip - Part 4

Jun 1, 2014

As part of our Mexican cultural exchange project, founder and artistic director Jonathan Miller is traveling to Mexico to conduct musical research, visit archives, and meet and confer with choral directors and composers. Enjoy his travelogue!

May 20, 2014 – Day 4

I’ll begin at the end of the day and work my way backwards.  A late dinner with Jorge (10:30pm start time) after a long day. He made me laugh so hard, because at dinner he did a spoof of the accents of all the different main regions of Mexico. Monterrey has a very forward, earnest, Midwestern-sounding accent. Mérida (capital of Yucatan state) is more clipped, almost staccato. One of the other states is more sing-songy, almost like Swedish. Veracruz is softer and more muffled, much like Cuban dialect. The norteños are different too, and it seems like the Jalisco/Michoacán highlands are kind of neutral. People here in D.F. (Mexico City) talk quickly and sometimes drop consonants a bit. I guess the talking-fast part is like New York City. I should get him to do this for a YouTube video or something…. It was so funny.

Before dinner we stopped at the apartment of a lovely elder gentleman, Juan Manuel Lara, who is the Mexico City area’s expert about Mexican Renaissance choral music. He was conducting a rehearsal of his very good chamber choir, Melos Gloriae. Jorge says it’s the only group in town where a musicologist is in charge of the singing, and they really know their stuff. It was fun because, after Jorge told them (much more quickly in Spanish than I could have done) about my visit, they invited me to join them in singing! They just handed me a binder and I joined the other two basses. We sang for 15-20 minutes, and the time just flew. I plugged right back into Renaissance Brain as if I were back in His Majestie’s Clerkes or in a sight-reading gig at St. Peter’s in the Loop with Michael Thompson. In fact, these guys under Juan Manuel’s leadership had a wonderful, fluid, Spanish-inflected way of doing plainchant, the closest I’ve experienced to Michael’s great chant direction. We were working on music by Capilla, one of the “Rinascimiento” composers that Melos Gloriae champions. At the end of the reading session, one of the basses said to me, “Está contratado!” (You’re hired!)  It was a nice compliment. I was pleased that my breath worked as well as it did at 7000+ feet. I must be adjusting to the altitude a bit. Juan Manuel continued the custom of great hospitality by giving me a CD of his group’s work with Hernando Franco’s masses, which of course incurred yet another obligation to mail more CDs to Mexican colleagues when I get home.

Before that, we were at the music department of the big state university (UNAM), where I did a radio entrevista (interview) with Ana Patricia (Paty) Carbajal, one of the movers and shakers on the choral scene here, who has a monthly radio program called Musica Encantada, all about choral music. We went into a little conference room and she just taped me on her little voice recorder right then and there. I was pleased since I did 95% of it talking Spanish, which was good since I got to do most of the talking, asking Jorge to help me translate something I was trying to say when it was needed. Paty said that it was best for me to try talking Spanish, even if I butchered a few things, since the audience would really appreciate my trying. I have certainly found that to be the case. It was fun. Jorge told me that it will be broadcast on the 2nd Wednesday in June (that’s the 11th) at 7pm, and if you go to and click on “Opus,” there will be a link to the broadcast.

Here are a few pictures of the music school – our schedules got a little messed up, and Jorge was able to catch up with several faculty members he knows, so I had a little time to take some snaps.

I had the privilege to meet the principal of the whole school, a lovely gentleman with a big heart. Next to his door is the vision statement for the school:

Jorge told him about our project and about the “Navidad” concert we did together here. The principal was very engaged. The topic came up about having CAC come and be a resource for the students and faculty in some way, and there were good feelings all around.

One more view: seeing this guitar reminds me that Jorge pointed out a guy with a theorbo (like a bass lute) in the hall. I hadn’t seen a theorbo in years.

Before going to the university, I was wrapping up my day at the Fonoteca. What a productive day I had there! To get there, Jorge advised me to just use the hotel’s cadre of cabs; they cost more, but they are reliable and good tour guides. I had a nice cab driver named Alejandro, and we had a friendly conversation on the way to the Fonoteca. He had given me his card so I could call him to take me from the Fonoteca to the National Music School to see Paty later in the day, but we didn’t have to do that since the schedule allowed Jorge to pick me up. (That was an interesting experience, trying to call Alejandro to cancel the second trip, only to find that for some weird reason my mobile couldn’t call his mobile. I punted and called the hotel, where a nice lady offered to call Alejandro directly and tell him, and then she called me back to confirm. Hooray for a little Spanish!)

The Fonoteca is incredible. I listened pretty much completely to two field recording albums of music from Michoacán. There was a song that grabbed me, called “Otro ratito nomás,” which translates to something like “Just a little teeny bit more time,” about a relationship where the guy is really missing the girl. Quite a charming text, and Jorge helped me figure out what the guy was saying…. Field recordings are not known for their crisp sound quality or exciting diction. I spent about three hours total working on that one song, to write down the melody, the words, and the instrumental “breaks” so that I can see if it’s possible to come up with a choral edition of the piece. It has great energy.
Here’s a nice little park on Calle Francisco Sosa, just a few blocks from the Fonoteca. There was an elderly couple sitting on a bench, very close to one another; the gentleman was playing the guitar, and the lady was singing a lovely lament, sounding something like a flamenco tune. They were not playing for money, rather just for one another. It was charming, and I didn’t want to invade their privacy by taking a picture, so we’ll settle for this. (The couple was just to the left of this photo.)

This is a sort of community arts center, with art studios and classrooms and a nice little café in a courtyard. I stopped there for a cappuccino on the way back from downtown Coyoacán back to the Fonoteca.

Here’s the inside:

Walking back to the Fonoteca, I found this sweet street sign:

And a little bougainvillea to brighten the afternoon:

Here are some photos of the outdoor signage for the Fonoteca:

That’s all the news that’s fit to print for today!


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