Jonathan’s Mexico Trip - Part 6

Jun 4, 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!

Thursday, May 22 – Day 6

After about 4 hours of sleep, off to the airport to head to Guadalajara. I don’t know why they tell you to get there 2 hours early, but I actually got there 3 hours early because Jorge said I needed to leave early to beat the traffic, which worked. Thanks to a kind waitress, I caught up on my e-mail in an airport restaurant and drank lots of coffee! Here’s a mural at the Mexico City airport, Terminal 1.

The trip to Guadalajara was pretty uneventful. You have to understand, as I did not, that “a tiempo,” or “on time,” does not mean that my plane actually left at 10:15. It means we sort of started boarding around 10:20, and we pulled back from the gate a little after 10:30. We were about 20 minutes late getting to Guadalajara, but maybe that counts as “a tiempo.” I sure wouldn’t consider it “a tempo” if I were conducting, but nobody asked me!

My main contact in Guadalajara is Lupita Chavira, a singer from here who lived in Mexico City for many years as a professional singer and director and teacher. She was tapped about ten years ago to return to GDL to begin a youth choral movement. It is incredible what she is doing. In the four main sections of the Guadalajara metro area (about 6 million people, but almost no choral culture relative to its size), she goes to public squares and hands out flyers to kids, inviting them to be in her choirs which are free of charge, funded (not without some gnashing of teeth and losing of sleep) by the Jalisco state government. She is deeply concerned about the prevalence of depression among the youth, and she’s both drawing on and doing her own research that shows improved health outcomes for kids who sing. She also mentioned that domestic violence is a big deal in Mexico, and she’s trying to help counter that, too.

Lupita had urged me to be sure to be in Guadalajara for her concert tonight, so I made sure it happened. She was pretty busy with preparations for that after she and her wonderful husband picked me up at the airport, so Ramon (that’s his name) was my host for the afternoon. Boy, did we have fun. I love this guy. He is a blast. He’s a businessman, proud to support Lupita in her musical passions. Ramon took me around the main squares of town, and we passed some beautiful trees:

Here’s the double-spired cathedral:

There is a market downtown with all sorts of hand-crafted goods, both inside and outside. Ramon pulled out a hand-carved wooden cane and mugged for the camera: in this pose he reminded me of Doc from Snow White! But he’s not Grumpy, he’s hilarious.

Ramon wanted to show me some of the shoemakers, and we found one who obliged: first he put a sandal and tools my hand and showed me how to weave the leather.

Then he put me in this huge pair of sandals and told Ramon to take a picture!

His name was Maximo, and he was 80 years old and spry as anything. He told us that his family have been shoemakers for something like 6 generations…. Amazing.

Next we were headed to the little market town of Tonalá. To get there, we needed to take a city bus to Ramon’s and Lupita’s house. At rush hour in Guadalajara they have – get this – women-only bus cars! I guess this is to give women a place to go where they will not be accosted in any way while they are commuting. It actually seems quite civilized to me. I wonder if Metra or the CTA will ever catch on.
Here’s the sign:

In Tonalá they are making many things out of different materials – metal, wood, plastic, cloth, you name it. Since we are in mariachi-land, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see this:

Or this:

Here’s another riff on the Day of Dead lady, this time adorning the entrance to a restaurant:

There is all kind of fresh fruit available at the market, including herbs for various health conditions.

Every Mexican who mentions nopales tells me how good they are for digestion and weight control.

In the lobby of the Hotel Tonala ($40/night, plus an extra $5/night if you want air conditioning), there were some metal-work “paintings”:

Next we drove to the town of Tlaquepaque, which is similar to Tonalá but a little more upscale:

Here’s another mariachi statue:

Then back to Guadalajara, where the sun was starting to set:

The highlight of the whole day was Lupita’s choral festival. There were 8 choirs in all, and here’s the program (one of the choirs wasn’t listed):

This was a revelation for me. With only one exception, all of this music was Mexican. Most of it was recent, and about a third of it was a cappella. Jorge Cózatl is a close friend of Jorge Córdoba. Jorge Cózatl is currently in the USA, working in the Vocalessence program – he’s done that for a few years. It’s nice to see both Jorges getting so much traction in both counties.

My programming brain was working hard at this concert, and the choirs were mostly quite impressive. A little group of boys blew me away. They need to learn how to smile, but they sang beautifully. Also wonderful was a group of (mostly) girls, the first to perform.

Here is a group of women who mostly do Gregorian chant, but tonight they did a few pieces in parts, all by a local padre who died a few years ago. The director is the local champion of the padre’s works, and he was friendly and eager to share repertoire with me.

Here’s a group from the University of Guadalajara, which had the best men’s section of the night:

Here’s a sweet picture of all of the directors (and kids, behind them) on stage at the end:

There must have been at least 150 kids up there. It was amazing, and very inspiring, and I am so impressed with the way that Lupita and her colleagues are deliberately using choral music as a force for social good.

I was approached by several of the conductors afterward, who (as Lupita had mentioned earlier) are eager to talk about how they can do things better. We’ll be getting together on Sunday morning to see how I can help. What a great group.


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