Postcards from Mexico-Day 5

THURSDAY 8/29/2019



It is such a pleasure to sing with the Coro and Orquesta de Mineria. For starters, they are kind and warm and hilarious. But also, the colors in their voices.

Tonight, I asked my seatmate Roxanne if she heard a difference in the vocal colors of the American and Mexican singers. “Not between the soloists,” she said. “But in the choir, yes.” She explained (in French, since her English is only slightly better than my Spanish, and French is way more comfortable for us both) that she hears a greater range of colors and kinds of voices among the Mexican singers. They sing soloistically, with full-bodied voices. “It’s the Mariachi way,” and she imitated the sound. “It’s in the culture.”

“What do the Americans sound like?” I asked. “More air,” she answered. “Gentler, more choral.”

I described “the Minnesota sound” to Roxanne, that well-blended carpet of tone with the pure and floating soprano. “Yes!” she said. “That’s what I hear!”

Which is hilarious, since every Ensemble Singer I talk to is utterly delighted, in the Verdi Requiem, to be able to unleash their fullest sound. “I got to use the whole instrument tonight!” one Ensemble baritone exclaimed. We’re not trying to produce “the Minnesota choral sound” at all in these rehearsals. We’re letting loose.

Mind you, both kinds of singing need to be healthy. But in the Verdi with the Mexican singers, I’m using all the colors my voice has.

I posed the same question to my soprano friend, Itzel; I sat next to her last year when we sang Beethoven’s 9th. “Yes, different colors,” she replied, “but not the voice itself. The technique. How you use it.” She called the Mexican sound “operatic,” and like Roxanne, she attributes it to Mariachi, a way of singing they have all around them. She said that Mexicans have a phrase, inconsciente colectivo—the collective unconscious—that describes how so many cultures and peoples come together as one Mexico. Mexican singers have richness and fullness in their voices, Itzel said, because of the collective unconscious of Mexican singers everywhere.

I love the synesthetic use of the word “color” to describe something we hear. It was funny, because earlier in the day, the Ensemble Singers were treated to a stunningly colorful experience: a boatride among the canals at Xochimilco.

Xochimilco is a neighborhood in Mexico City that boasts an ancient system of canals built by the Aztecs. Long wooden gondola-like boats, trajineras, tour the canals; seating roughly twenty people each, they are painted in vibrant greens and reds and yellows and pinks. We rode in two trajineras, lashed side by side, while smaller boats alongside us sold brilliant flowers and sarapes and ears of corn roasted right in the boat. Mariachi bands in beaded bolero jackets floated by; we sprang for a more modest marimba duo.

The houses along the canal, the businesses, even the cinderblock buildings in Mexico City are painted excitingly loud colors. Red and pink flowers cascade from the trees, even over the highways.

What if the Ensemble Singers had grown up among all this tremendous color? If we had known the Mariachi sound since birth? Would we sound different?

What would it be like to grow up with all those pinks and greens and reds in my ear?

In case you missed it, check out Postcards from Mexico-Day 4 HERE.