A his­tory of song Santa Fe Desert Cho­rale presents Sephardic Le­gacy


Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Amy He­garty

For the sec­ond pro­gram of its 2016 sum­mer sea­son, the Santa Fe Desert Cho­rale, led by mu­sic di­rec­tor Joshua Haber­mann, presents Sephardic Le­gacy, which spot­lights the mu­si­cal tra­di­tions and her­itage of the Jewish peo­ple who left Spain af­ter King Fer­di­nand II and Queen Isabella I is­sued the Al­ham­bra De­cree in March 1492. The de­cree gave Jews four months to ei­ther con­vert to Catholi­cism or leave the coun­try. While a ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion con­verted, the rest fled, set­tling near (rel­a­tively speak­ing) and far — from Por­tu­gal, France, and Morocco to eastern parts of the Ot­toman Em­pire. Sephardic Le­gacy presents songs that span the 13th through the 20th cen­turies and of­fer in­sight into how the Sephardim (Span­ish Jews) kept their tra­di­tions alive and how they adapted those tra­di­tions within their new sur­round­ings. “Songs from the Sephardic reper­toire give us a win­dow into the daily life of the Span­ish Jews,” said Polly Tapia Fer­ber, a per­cus­sion­ist who’s one of three guest artists join­ing the cho­rale for Sephardic Le­gacy. “These songs, tra­di­tion­ally passed down by the women of these com­mu­ni­ties, were the car­ri­ers of these sto­ries.” Sephardic mu­sic is pri­mar­ily vo­cal. When in­stru­ments are used, Tapia Fer­ber said, it’s “to ac­com­pany the song.” Those in­stru­ments, as well as dis­tinc­tive at­tributes of the songs, typ­i­cally re­flect the new cul­tures the Sephardim be­came part of fol­low­ing their ex­pul­sion from Spain and, in 1496, Por­tu­gal. “These bal­lads went with the Sephardim wher­ever they set­tled, and even­tu­ally these songs took on mu­si­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the host coun­try,” Tapia Fer­ber said. “For ex­am­ple, in Turkey the melodies might have in­cor­po­rated the use of makam, a com­po­si­tional tool that forms the ba­sis for melodic de­vel­op­ment and per­for­mance; in the Balkans, the songs might have taken on asym­met­ri­cal rhythms. Lyrics,” she added, “were of­ten su­per­im­posed onto lo­cal melodies. The Sephardic com­mu­ni­ties ab­sorbed the lo­cal mu­sic in these var­i­ous en­vi­ron­ments, and we now hear that re­flected in later Sephardic mu­sic. This Jewish di­as­pora re­sulted in a very di­verse and rich mu­si­cal her­itage.” Tapia Fer­ber — a Santa Fe res­i­dent who has Sephardic lineage on both sides of her fam­ily, which has been in New Mex­ico since the 17th cen­tury — spe­cial­izes in hand per­cus­sion from the Mid­dle East, the Balkans, North Africa, and Span­ish An­dalucía. In ad­di­tion to giv­ing pri­vate les­sons in per­cus­sion, she teaches lec­ture classes in world mu­sic at Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign. For Sephardic Le­gacy, she’s ac­com­pa­ny­ing the cho­rale ona darabuka (a tra­di­tional hand drum with an hour­glass shape), a rigg (a Mid­dle Eastern tam­bourine), and a frame drum. “The darabuka is played through­out the Mid­dle East and the Balkans,” Tapia Fer­ber said. “De­pend­ing on the re­gion and oc­ca­sion, it’s played pri­mar­ily in the folk and pop­u­lar gen­res. The frame drum is an an­cient in­stru­ment still used to­day, es­pe­cially in the clas­si­cal and folk gen­res.

These bal­lads went with the Sephardim wher­ever they set­tled, and even­tu­ally these songs took on mu­si­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the host coun­try. — per­cus­sion­ist Polly Tapia Fer­ber

Sephardic women typ­i­cally used the frame drum to ac­com­pany their singing.” An­other in­stru­ment that’s used to ac­com­pany Sephardic mu­sic is the oud — a stringed in­stru­ment that shares a com­mon an­ces­tor with the lute — which Morocco-based mu­si­cian Fat­tah Ab­bou plays dur­ing the pro­gram.

Vo­cal­ist and scholar Vanessa Paloma, who, like Ab­bou, is based in Morocco, also joins the cho­rale for Sephardic Le­gacy, per­form­ing ro­mances, rit­ual songs, and more. “I’ll be singing both with the cho­rale as a soloist in cho­ral ar­range­ments and with Fat­tah and Polly in a tra­di­tional mu­sic ensem­ble,” Paloma says.

Paloma, who was born in At­lanta and has lived around the coun­try and the world, earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in mu­sic from In­di­ana Univer­sity, Bloom­ing­ton, spe­cial­iz­ing in me­dieval Span­ish mu­sic. Her ini­tial in­ter­est, she said, was in sec­u­lar mon­ody “from the time of Al-An­dalus, when three cul­tures [Chris­tian, Mus­lim, and Jewish] lived and made mu­sic to­gether.” Af­ter study­ing for a year in Jerusalem, how­ever, she de­cided to fo­cus “on Sephardic mu­sic and the Judeo-Span­ish as­pect of that mu­sic.” From 2007 to 2008, Paloma was a Se­nior Ful­bright Re­search Scholar to Morocco — a coun­try, she said, “that loves to pre­serve its tra­di­tions to the let­ter of the law, which means this mu­si­cal reper­toire has been pre­served beau­ti­fully, much more than the eastern Sephardic reper­toire.” Sephardic mu­sic that comes from Morocco is typ­i­cally “more an­cient,” Paloma added, “while the Turk­ish and Greek tra­di­tions are more mixed, with many newer pieces that have be­come very pop­u­lar.”

In ad­di­tion to singing, Paloma will play a replica of a 13th-cen­tury French trou­ba­dour harp. “The harp is found in il­lu­mi­nated manuscripts from the Mid­dle Ages in Spain,” Paloma said, “so we know it was used in the mu­sic of the day. But it’s hard to say if it was of­ten or oc­ca­sional; we can only con­jec­ture.” Given the vo­cal na­ture of Sephardic mu­sic, how­ever, Paloma points out that “the nar­ra­tives are the most im­por­tant el­e­ments, as they were used to con­vey so­ci­etal morals and to cel­e­brate the par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of Sephardic cul­ture and cel­e­bra­tions, as Sephardim were a mi­nor­ity cul­ture through­out the Mediter­ranean basin.”

Sephardic Le­gacy is be­ing per­formed at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum, in con­junc­tion with the ex­hi­bi­tion Frac­tured Faiths: Span­ish Ju­daism, the In­qui­si­tion, and New World Iden­ti­ties, which opened in May and runs through De­cem­ber. Part of the ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cuses on con­ver­sos — specif­i­cally, Span­ish Jews who con­verted to Catholi­cism but even­tu­ally left Spain to es­cape the In­qui­si­tion, which be­gan in 1478 and in­volved vi­o­lent scru­tiny of the con­ver­sos’ faith­ful­ness. Many con­ver­sos made their way (via forged doc­u­men­ta­tion or other un­der­cover means) to New Spain (Mex­ico). Spain’s in­quisi­tors, how­ever, also made their way to the New World, and be­gin­ning in the late 16th cen­tury, con­ver­sos fled again to present-day New Mex­ico.

“Santa Fe’s con­nec­tion to Sephardic mu­sic is through its long his­tory of Jews in New Mex­ico,” Paloma said. “[Sephardic Le­gacy] presents a par­al­lel sonorous world be­tween ro­mances that ex­ist both in New Mex­ico, in its oral tra­di­tion, and in the Sephardic Mediter­ranean. The melodies have changed and evolved, but the tex­tual root is present.”


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