TRADITIONAL NEW MEXICO MUSIC
The traditional Spanish music of Northern New Mexico has long been a love of historian Jack Loeffler’s, and not just because many of the old songs tell stories about actual events in history. “So many corridos , the narrative ballads, are about love lost and people getting killed, but they’re all done in major keys, which I think is fascinating,” Loeffler said in a recent interview. He and musicologist Enrique R. Lamadrid and Celestia Loeffler (author and editor with her father of the book Thinking Like a Watershed: Voices From
) are the curators of the 15th Annual Nuestra Música program at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 10. The event, which celebrates the state’s Hispano folk music, is presented by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society and the Lensic. Lamadrid is a professor of Spanish and a former director of Chicano Hispano Mexicano studies at the University of New Mexico and the author of Hermanitos Comanchitos: Indo-Hispano Rituals of Captivity and Redemption .
Loeffler calls himself an aural historian, and his archive now includes more than 3,000 songs and thousands of hours of recordings of interviews, music, and natural habitat. He is the author (with his wife, Katherine Loeffler, and Lamadrid) of La Música de los Viejitos: Hispano Folk Music of the Río Grande del Norte . Many of the photographs of the state’s Hispano musicians that were taken for the book by Jack Parsons will be on view during Nuestra Música.
Loeffler recalled that his fascination with the type of music that people enjoy in the Nuestra Música programs dates back to 1975. In that year, he received a grant to do a film on Hispano folk dance in Los Cordovas, near Taos. “What was interesting to me was that the narrative ballads that are still sung hark back to the Iberian Peninsula 800 years ago, but the dance music — the polkas, the chotíse s, the waltzes — basically came up the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro [the old road from Mexico City to the New Mexico frontier] in the 19th century as a result of the fact that Napoleon III’s wife was a close friend of Maximilian’s wife in Mexico. What was popular in Paris quickly became popular in Mexico City, then came up the Camino Real.” Another European import was the violin, brought to this area by a Franciscan friar named Pedro de Gante, who founded the first school of European music in the New World in 1523. “Some people feel he was the supreme conquistador because he conquered through music and dance,” Loeffler said.
“Back in the 12th and 13th centuries, people were singing romances , basically narrative ballads sung in the language of the people. Before that, people had sung in Latin. These narrative ballads that had been about the gentry evolved to the corrido that was about the people, la gente . That’s an important distinction. In our program you’ll hear some corridos, some canciónes , and maybe a romance — one of the earliest songs I’ve recorded is ‘La Delgadina,’ a romance about a princess whose father had eyes for her and rather than succumb to him, she died of both thirst and starvation in a tower. That song was probably being sung as Oñate was marching up the Camino Real.”
Loeffler is a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts recipient, as are three of the Nuestra Música performers: Cipriano Vigil, Frank McCullough, and Antonia Apodaca. Now ninety-one and a veritable spark plug with her lively vocals, accordion, and guitar, Apodaca performs with Ray Casias on guitar and Bernardo Jaramillo on tololoche (acoustic bass viol). Loeffler has known Apodaca for decades, and was first acquainted with her mother, Rafaelita Suazo Martínez, a musician he and his wife recorded in the 1970s.
“Antonia plays a type of accordion that came up the Camino Real in the 19th century. She plays music from the bailes (dances) that were held in salons in Rociada in the 1920s and 1930s. That was a part of the culture that took a huge hit after World War II because so many Hispano guys were killed in the war and others moved to Los Angeles and other cities after they came back. But some of the music still was being played, and my wife and I recorded a lot of elderly people in the 1970s.”
The majority of tunes at Nuestra Música will be old story-songs, but there may be a few newer ones as well. “For example, Frank McCullough wrote a wonderful corrido about a story that took place in his family in the 19th century. He uses the tradition to create new music, and it becomes part of the repertoire.”
Frank McCulloch y Sus Amigos brings to the Lensic stage a 13-year performance history; violinist Melody Mock and guitarist Luis Campos are longtime members. The other performers in this year’s Nuestra Música are Roberto Mondragón (2012 recipient of the New Mexico Hispano Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award), making music with his grandson Robel “Chacho” Taylor and guitarist Victor Avila; Cipriano Vigil y la Familia Vigil; singer David F. García, a student of Cipriano Vigil’s who is now studying for a doctorate in anthropology at the University of Texas-Austin; and singer and ethnomusicologist Brenda Romero.
“Many people don’t know there was a thriving musical culture in New Mexico long ago,” Romero said in an interview from Colorado. “People know about mariachi music, but that’s not from New Mexico;
it’s from west Mexico.” Romero has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and has been on the College of Music faculty at the University of Colorado for 27 years. She performed at the Lensic in 2008. “We had had a death in the family, and I told the audience about it, and I sang a hymn with my sister and my mother, who was then ninety, and everybody was crying.”
Romero often sings the old ballads having the form of an indita , which Loeffler said combines elements of Hispano and Native American music. Romero explained that they “talk about the interaction between the Hispanos and the Native peoples. I also do some of the songs that are more obviously from Spain, but the inditas are more local; they have more of the history of New Mexico. There’s one about the conflict after the coming of the white settlers. Some sound like they might have been composed by people who are Native. Some of the people worked for the Spanish or were enslaved, so some of the songs speak a lot about that history of identity and how complicated identity is in New Mexico.” Romero said she will probably perform at least one old song with García.
“Brenda and David García represent a more youthful aspect in the show, but it also conveys that the music from earlier periods is still alive and well,” Loeffler said. “This is all about cultural stability, because to me music is a mnemonic device that adheres culture to homeland.”
He mentioned two tunes that illustrate the importance of land in Hispano folk music. “A beautiful song that Cipriano Vigil wrote is ‘Se Ve Triste el Hombre’ or ‘How Sad the Man.’ It’s about the coming of the railroads in the 19th century and the privatization of the water and the forests, which is antithetic to Hispanic culture, where everything was held in common. And there’s a beautiful song by Chuy Martínez called ‘La Indita del Rio Grande’ that addresses the role of the Río Grande in cultural cohesion. I am deeply involved in trying to convey how cultural consciousness relative to its habitat is a vitally important fact that we’ve left out of mainstream American culture. These people still see landscape intrinsically.
“It is more and more remarkable that cultural differences survive in the United States, considering the profound leveling influences of television and social networking. “Not only that,” Loeffler said, “but we came as a commercial culture with Manifest Destiny, and we secularized sacred habitat and turned it into money. An earlier mode of thinking still prevails among these people. That’s why I love the music.”
15th Annual Nuestra Música 7 p.m. Friday, April 10 Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St. $10, no charge for seniors, but reservations advised; 505-988-1234, www.ticketssantafe.org
The violin, a European import, was brought to this area by a Franciscan
friar named Pedro de Gante, who founded the first school of European
music in the New World in 1523. Some people feel he was the supreme conquistador because he conquered
through music and dance.
— historian Jack Loeffler
Antonia Apodaca; above left, Jack Loeffler; left, Bernardo Jaramillo; opposite page,
Cipriano Vigil y la Familia Vigil
all photos Kate Russell