Postcards from Mexico-Days 8 & 9

SUNDAY 9/1/2019 and MONDAY 9/2/2019

The End and the Beginning


We are home, and after the whirlwind of Saturday and Sunday, the dust has settled.  I’m late in writing about our last days of our trip because I’m dazed, and it all seems like a dream.  But then I open my Facebook page, and there are posts and messages from Roxana, and Magy, and Enrique, and Mane, and Itzel.

I can’t fully describe the Sunday Verdi Requiem concert to you. You know when you lock eyes with someone across a room and you know their heart instantly? Maestro Prieto connected individually with every member of the 80-piece choir; afterwards, we each insisted he was looking straight at us personally. But even more than that, something else happened on Sunday. I call it the “click;” others call it “being in a groove,” or “synchronicity.” Among every. Single. One. Of. Us. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, there’s nothing like it.

(If you’re as much of a nerd as I am, you can read about the scientific evidence suggesting that choir singers’ heartbeats actually synchronize: Our pulses speed up and slow down, together.)

Prieto suspended a moment here, there, and we suspended with him. The soprano soloist took a little extra time, and Prieto’s hand floated for an instant in the air, so we 80 all floated in that instant too. Prieto pulled back the tempo, and we felt it, we sang it. Or he pushed his arms into the air and we leaned on the note. It was like riding a surfboard.  Only there are eighty people together on that one surfboard, and we all caught the wave together.

For a second, after the last note of the final movement vanished into the air, stillness. No one in the hall moved: an electric moment. Then thunderous applause tore the silence open, the audience leaping to their feet and shouting “bravo! bravo!” I couldn’t count the curtain calls, the bouquets of flowers; Maestro Prieto gave his bouquet to one of the altos in the choir. He embraced Gaby, the timpanist, whose joy radiates all over the place. I turned to the others around me, gasping, all of us mouthing “wow.” Magico, we said.

Later, Ensemble Singer soprano Meghan Lowe told me about a moment during the curtain calls I hadn’t seen from my vantage point in the alto section. As the audience applauded, a boy came up to the stage, bursting with happiness and excitement; one by one, the soloists and Maestro Prieto reached down to shake his hand. “You can sing for so many audiences,” Meghan said, “but when music means that much to someone—that’s why I sing.  To bless someone’s soul and heart.”

In so many ways, this magic began with Bob Schwendeman, the Artistic Director of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Mineria. He’s from Saint Paul originally and grew up in Highland Park.  A temporary music job brought him to Mexico, but he decided to stay and has been living in Mexico now for 30 years. “I love the culture and the people, and that young people go to concerts,” he said.

When I told him I was writing articles for Minnesotans to travel along with the Ensemble Singers in Mexico, he replied, “Hello to my sisters, Bonnie, Jeanne, Jill, and their families!” He grinned.

Then very seriously, he said, “I believe in this project artistically, I believe in it on a human level. I’d rather have my neighbors as my friends.”

He knew of VocalEssence when he was young, and when a VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! composer mentioned that Philip Brunelle was in Mexico City on a visit, they met. Schwendeman immediately knew that the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers would make great singing partners with the Coro de Mineria. “Partnerships with new musicians make us grow as human beings,” he said. “Altogether, there’s a special feeling. When you collaborate with people you don’t know, you learn something.”

For those of you who might not know, VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! is a unique program designed to bring the talents of composers from Mexico directly into Minnesota classrooms. Over the past eleven years VocalEssence has brought over twenty Mexican composers to Minnesota to participate as artists-in-residence with elementary, middle, and high schools, colleges, and community organizations. The composers work directly with participants and become familiar with the ensembles, teaching them about Mexican music and culture and writing new music specifically for each group. At the end of the school year, community and school partners present world premieres of new music in concert. Every year, the halls fill with thousands of people who come to together to celebrate song and Mexican heritage.

Samuel Pascoe, director of the Coro de Mineria who, along with Philip, prepared us for the Verdi Requiem, was also a recent VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! composer. “I am so grateful of the ¡Cantaré! program. It was a life-changing experience,” he said. “It changes your perspective of music, your way of thinking about composing.”

All the composers continue their friendship with Philip and VocalEssence. Many of them were at our concerts in Mexico City and also at our celebration lunch, where we all sat together. Novelli Jurado, previous ¡Cantaré! composer, traveled with us both this year and last.

Novelli’s relationship with Philip and VocalEssence is especially beautiful.  During his residence in Minnesota, he met Michelle Eng.  Three years later, he asked the VocalEssence Chorus and Ensemble Singers to sing a special piece of music at a rehearsal that Michelle attended. To her utter surprise, we sang: “Oh Michelle! Lovely Michelle. Oh, Michelle, won’t you marry me?” And later, the officiant of their wedding ceremony was none other than Philip Brunelle.

(Want to happy-cry and totally make your day? Watch the proposal HERE.)

Although the two projects are separate, our partnership with the Orquesta Sinfonica and Coro de Mineria began in part as a result of VocalEssence ¡Cantaré!. Not everything can be solved with song, but what else might happen if we continue building these friendships?

VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! will continue to bring Mexican composers to Minnesota. Our closeness from the partnership with the Orquesta Sinfonica and Coro de Mineria will grow and grow. We don’t yet know how or when, but how thrilling it would be to bring the Coro de Mineria here and extend to them the warmth they enveloped us in!

Singing, we begin our life force—air and vibration—from under the breastplate, near the heart. From inside the protection of the ribcage, we literally send ourselves out to one another across distance.  Do I fully understand this yet?

Friends, thank you for travelling with us to Mexico. May your days be filled with singing and your friendships extend across borders of all kinds until your heart is beating alongside others and your joy is as large as the world.

In case you missed it, check out Postcards from Mexico-Day 7 HERE.

We hope you have enjoyed this journey and thank you for following our blog, if you would like to donate, click HERE and note that you want your donation to support VocalEssence ¡Cantaré!.