Friday, March 11, 2011

University of Vasco de Quiroga Choir

The amount and variety of free musical concerts in the area has been one of the highlights of our time here.  Unfortunately, they're not usually well advertised and when they are, are often opaque in their description.  So when we saw a small blurb on a poster for the "Ensamble Musical de la Universidad Vasco de Quiroga Campus Morelia," we had no idea what the "ensamble" would consist of -- chamber orchestra, string quartet, or ??.

The event was part of a week-long celebration commemorating the 446th anniversary of the death of Don Vasco de Quiroga in 1565.  Don Vasco was the visionary Spanish bishop, jurist and protector of the Indians in this region of Mexico. Heavily influenced by Thomas More's 1515 book Utopia, he set about organizing indigenous communities here along Utopian principals, and his influence is still apparent today as villages retain craft specialties established hundreds of years ago.

Nancy was nursing an irritated throat last evening, so I walked the five minutes to the Templo del Sagrario, encountering my friend Bernard coming out of his house along the way.  Begun in 1693 and completed 200 years later, it's probably the most photographed building in Pátzcuaro. The windowed wall, old stone and general gravitas speak of its history.

Templo del Sagrario on Lerín
Sagrario from the stairs

Sagrario seems cold and foreboding at night
Despite the cold exterior, the alter is filled with light
The church has the original wood parquet floors, simple wood pews, and is far less grandiose than the Basílica two blocks away.

When the program was handed out, we finally learned that this was not an instrumental ensemble, but rather a choral performance by a university choir from Morelia. Nine female and four male very accomplished university students filled the church with their voices.  I used my little Motorola Droid as a monaural recorder to capture a very enjoyable performance. I've edited out the applause and general delays, but the audience was highly appreciative of their efforts. You can listen to it below:

Coro Universitario
Old Abraham Brown .... Benjamin Britten
Ave Verum ... W.A. Mozart
El Grillo ... Josquin Desprez
Aquella Tarde ... Ernesto Lecuona
El cañaveral ... Popular Peruana
Obwisana ... Folklor de Ghana
Alma Illanera ... Venezuaela


Mi ciudad ... Guadalupe Trigo, arranger Jorge Cozatl
Métete Teté (children's song) ... Fco. Gavilondo Soler
La bamba ... Popular Veracruzana, arranger Manuel Torres
La Adelita ... Popular Mexicana
Morelia ... Jesús Carreño
Cielito lindo ... Quirino Mendoza, arranger Hernán Cortés

(Didn't catch the name)

The University Choir
There were also a few pieces done by a choral workshop group, but they did not measure up to the quality of the university choir, so I'm not presenting them here.

The celebration for Don Vasco de Quiroga continues with a play on Saturday night, a dance performance by the Pátzcuaro Folklóric Group on Sunday (always colorful and spirited), and a concert by the Young Persons' Chamber Orchestra of Michoacán on Monday at the Basílica.  The orchestra consists of the best young musicians in the state between the ages of 11 and 32.

All events are free and a continuing tribute to the tremendous government support for the arts in Mexico. What a difference from the slash-and-burn-the-arts wrecking crew currently at work in the U.S. Congress.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Crazy Day in Pátzcuaro

Every place celebrates Fat Tuesday in its own way. Today we learned how Pátzcuaro does it, though other towns around the lake have completely different traditions.

This morning, on the way to the studio, I encountered a parade of children from various schools with their own version of a torito, or "little bull." Mexican children are totally adorable, and when they're marching in a  parade they're especially cute. Each school had its own miniature bull accompanied by students in costume.

Moms and kids with their torito

The adult celebration involves elaborate costumes and masks--all men in drag--and a much larger torito, which is a paper mache bull's head with real horns, a red paper tongue hanging out, and a paper mache body. The man underneath spins and bucks and dances to the music of a small band. These are made in outlying colonias (neighborhoods) and there's a lot of drinking that goes on throughout the day. The torito dancer changes over time based on fatigue and alcohol consumption.

Doesn't the guy on the left look familiar?
As we were in town this evening we saw large unruly groups of semi-sober celebrants coming down the hills toward the plaza with their toritos. When 2 groups are in the same place there's a mock confrontation between the bulls, with a lot of yelling and cheering and loud music, and a cohete  (rocket) or 2 as punctuation. Men circulate to collect money from the crowd, and I guess that as the night goes on and the amount of booze increases there are fights among the groups.

Here's a link to a short YouTube video of the "bullfight."

The confrontation of two toritos

The crowd really gets into it
Eggshells and confetti on the plaza
All last week we kept seeing what looked like colored eggs being sold in the market and on the street. Today we learned what they are--dyed eggshells filled with confetti,that are meant to be cracked on the heads of your friends and fellow celebrants. I watched little kids mash the eggshells over their parents' heads and giggle as the confetti spilled down. Everyone in the plaza this morning had confetti in their hair and the ground was peppered with broken eggshells and colorful dots. We bought some to bring home, so watch out--someday you could have confetti in your hair too!

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and everyone will be somber (and maybe sober), but tonight the party goes on.

Friday, March 4, 2011

La Fiesta del Señor del Rescate in Tzintzuntzan

Last Tuesday we drove with Eileen and Bernard Wasow to Tzintzuntzan, a nearby town where a multi-day celebration of El Señor del Rescate (rescate means "rescue") was culminating in a significant fiesta complete with bands, craft vendors, and food. The churchyard in Tzintzuntzan was full of people, and along the road we encountered many peregrinos (pilgrims) making the trip on foot from Pátzcuaro. As we got closer the numbers increased. Many people begin in the early morning because it's a multi-hour walk. Even little kids and their grandparents were hoofing it along the road.

Tzintzuntzan means "place of hummingbirds" in Purépecha, the local native language, and may refer to the sound that hummers make. It's one of the serious craft villages around the lake, with several distinctive ceramic styles, including a green glaze that I find oddly attractive. Unfortunately these are low-fired ceramics, which means they are not lead free. Some potters in Capula, another craft village, are now making vessels sin plomo, but most can't afford to invest in the high-temperature kilns needed for lead-free glazes. Tzintzuntzan is also known for its straw crafts and stone carvers.

We parked the Sube in a lot near town and walked the remainder of the way. There was a long line of combis on the edge of town, and I assume that there were equally long lines on the other entry roads, waiting to take people home at the end of the day.

The road into town was lined with stalls selling food (every time there is a crowd in Mexico there will be food vendors), ball caps, rugs, pottery, sweets, fruit cups, and special bread, among many other things. On the way back to the car we bought one of these breads, which were being baked on the spot in hot gas ovens.

The churchyard is intimately associated with Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, who established his first base here in the mid-1530s before moving it to Pátzcuaro a few years later. Tzintzuntzan was also capital of the Purépechan empire, never conquered by the nearby Aztecs despite their best efforts. Quiroga is said to have planted the first olive trees in the New World in this churchyard, some of which still exist though their venerable trunks are hollow and too feeble to produce many leaves, much less olives. On ordinary days the churchyard is serene and peaceful, but this was no ordinary day. Many stones in the churchyard and buildings were taken from the Purépecha sites that the Spanish demolished.

There were 2 big castillos in the churchyard ready to be ignited that night, and 2 quite excellent bands that alternated throughout the day. I was amused to hear a familiar Mozart composition scored for brass band with drums and cymbals. Nicely played, though.

A steady stream of pilgrims entered the church, many on their knees carrying candles. I saw a group of young women whose friends were placing pads in front of them to cushion their knees as they approached the door of the church. A family with young children came out carrying a photo of El Señor del Rescate that they pressed to each child's forehead before the husband and wife kissed it and crossed themselves. The church itself was richly decorated with banners and beautiful floral arrangements throughout, on altars and overhead, and along the walls.

Adjacent to the church, in another area of the yard, was a procession of young girls and boys dressed as kings and queens, with white robes, scarlet capes and gold and silver crowns. They walked and danced continuously, shaking golden rattles, as a small band played a repetitive tune on strings and guitar and a group of grotesquely-masked figures in black danced around them, apparently tempting and tormenting them. This continued for 20 or 30 minutes, raising a cloud of dust (it's the dry season here).

Here's a video I recorded of the virginal boys and girls and their devilish tempters.

Many vendors displayed piles of lemons, called limas (limes are called limones). We think limas are bland and tasteless, though some people like them for lemonade because you don't need to add sugar.

After a few hours we had seen enough and eaten enough carnitas (delicious roast pork rolled in hot tortillas with sauce and pickled vegetables, sold by a man enthusiastically wielding a cleaver), so we walked to the car to drive back to Pátzcuaro. Many families had settled in for the day, eating and visiting and enjoying their holiday. On the way home there were still groups of peregrinos along the road, heading to the churchyard and the fiesta, though by then it had gotten pretty hot.

Here are a few more photos from that afternoon.

A little angel
Slices of fresh pineapple, attractively displayed
One of the two good bands that entertained the crowd