Programming Latin American Choral Music
Programming a concert with Latin American choral music presents many choices depending on the goals of the event. For some events it is most appropriate to program music by native Latin Americna composers exclusively. At other times it is preferable to include music by composers from other nations. Both kinds of programs are effective, educational, and enjoyable. After performing several concerts of music solely by native Latin American composers, I have come to believe that it is important to plan concerts that put the music in its historic, social , political, and artistic context. If the music is worthy, it should be included with “standard repertoire,” rather than be regarded as an aberration or curiosity unrelated to the rest of choral repertoire.
Before I share my ideas for specific concert programs, let me describe the environment resources I have in my community and my choir. My audiences are a mixture of the "general public" with quite a range of musical knowledge and activity. I do not have a base in a college, particular church, or artistic community organization. My choir is an area-wide, auditioned adult chorus of about 40 members, many of whom are at least semi-professional musicians. We hire orchestral players from the best professional regional orchestra, and professional vocal soloists who are most often college professors and local opera singers. Our metropolitan areas has about a million inhabitants, but most are concentrated in our city of Grand Rapids, Michigan and its immediate suburbs. We have a strong choral tradition and about ten local independent choirs. There are several local colleges, but no research university closer than Michigan State University in Lansing.
The following are two lists of program themes or concepts. They are in no particular order, and are only a few of the myriad ideas that may be used. You will hopefully add your own, based on your purposes, experiences, and creative insights.
Music by native Latin American composers, or those working in Latin America:
- A particular country, province, state or region, e. g., Venezuela, the Caribbean, the Andean region, the state of Minas Gerais Brazil.
- A particular era, e. g., colonial, imperial, modern, the early nineteenth century.
- A particular style, e. g., Renaissance, Baroque, Classic, Romantic, nationalistic, popular.
- A specific compositional technique, e. g., serial, electronic, atonal.
- A particular musical form, e. g., Mass, Requiem, song, symphonic poem, part-song, tango,
other dance forms.
- A particular composer or group of composers, e. g., Carlos Chavez and his circle,
composers from cathedrals in Guatemala and/or Mexico, colonial composers of
Venezuela, composers of Jesuit missions, composers of a particular court, a particular
state in a country throughout time.
- Musical settings of groups of texts, e. g., villancicos, Marian texts (Magnificat, Ave Maria,
Salve Regina, etc.), Christmas, Psalms, Easter, Ascension, texts celebrating Saints.
- Music by composers of religious orders (e. g., Jesuit or Dominican) in a particular region or
era, or throughout Latin American history.
- Settings of indigenous texts, e. g., Amazonian, Nahuatl.
- Settings of texts of particular author(s), e. g., Gabriel Mistral, Octavio Paz. Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz; or of a particular time, or theme, (i.e., feminism).
Examples of program titles, with descriptions (*An asterisk denotes programs I have actually performed and experienced as satisfying to singers and audience alike):
- “More Than Cha-Cha-Cha,” or “Cha-Cha-Cha and More.” Many people expect all music from Latin America to have popular “Latin” rhythms, and may be disappointed if they are not featured in your concert. You might want to include some of the “Latin” rhythms and go on to broaden their understanding of the many other types of Latin American music. You can use a title such as “Tango and More.” Remember: tango is not originally a vocal form, though there are some very smart choral arrangements and original pieces in the style.
- * “Festive Musik in Colonial America: from Boston to Bogota.” A mixture of First Boston School composers (William Billings, et al.), Charles Th. Pachelbel, Southern Harmony, and colonial music from Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Peru, and Bogota.
- * “From Vienna To Rio. Music by F. J. Haydn (a Mass) and motets by Brazilian
composers from approximately the same era in Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. A compare-and-contrast program of composers that Haydn directly or indirectly influenced in Brazil and the connection via S. Neukomm.
- * “Mozart In Brazil.” Three motets by W.A. Mozart and José Maurício de Nunes Garcia’s
Requiem. Avoid Mozart's Requiem for obvious reasons!
- * “Bach and Forth Across the Atlantic.” Music by G. F. Handel, Esteban Salas y Castro,
Mexican Baroque, and Bach (Magnificat).
- *“Spirits Of the Americas, Ancient and Modern.” Early and contemporary music that use
elememts of the indigenous cultures of Canada, the United States, Colombia, and Brazil.
- “Latin-Anerican Influences In...” (the US, Sandinavia, Northern Europe, the British Isles,
the British Empire, etc). Twentieth century music.
- “The Mystery of Mistral.” Musical settings of Gabriel Mistral's texts by composers in
many countries. Another title, “The Oddysey of Octavio Paz [poet].” Same idea.
- “The Italian Connection.” Music influenced by the Italian Baroque. Composers in Cuba,
Mexico, South America, etc.
- “Afro-Latin Beats For Chorus.” Music with rhythmic elements from Africa and Latin America by composers from many or a few nations.
- “Christmas Carols And Villancicos”, or “Christmas in England and Mexico,” etc.
- * “City and Jungle Baroque.” Composers from London, Vienna, and Bolivia (Jesuit
- “Zarzuela in Spain and Latin America.” A concert of opera excerpts (combined with a
buffet of tapas?).
- “Choral Folk Songs.” Arrangements of folk songs by well-known composers from the United States, Latin America, and Europe, either over a period of time, or in a particular era, or a subject (love, nature, etc.).
- * “Ave Maria.” Musical settings of Marian texts (Ave Maria, Ave Maris Stella, etc.).
For both kinds of concerts I provided written or spoken program notes explaining some of the differences in style, level of training, original purpose, political, historical, and cultural background to help the audience put the music into some frame of reference. At some concerts, I have used slides that help the audience visualize the cultural, artistic and geological similarities and differences corresponding to aspects such as historical periods, regions, or composers. Feedback from the audience confirmed my instinct to limit the number of slides so that the listeners would not have to continually watch the slide show, and to fade slides in and out slowly so as not to be distracting.