The Music Mexico Symposium is a catalyst for the Mexican Repertoire Initiative at Dartmouth, a one-of-a-kind digital collection of authentically Mexican compositions.
Source: Courtesy of Karina Z. Sainz
Source: Courtesy of Karina Z. Sainz
This article is featured in the special issue Commencement & Reunions 2022.
On May 26 and 27, the Hopkins Center for the Arts hosted the Music Mexico Symposium, an interdisciplinary event that showcased the past, present, and future of Mexican repertoire. The symposium included presentations, discussions and performances intended to highlight the diverse history of Mexican musical traditions.
“We wanted to do a conference where we could bridge the gaps between Mexico, Canada, and the United States and bring our art together because art really transcends borders,” said Karina Sainz, Associate Producer at The Hop and the one of the producers of the event. . “We have people from Mexico, from Texas, from the Bay Area, from Philadelphia, who all have the same idea of raising these Mexican composers who are here.”
Symposium participants were greeted on the evening of May 26 with a welcome reception followed by a concert of Mexican chamber music. The concert borrowed both new and classic works from the Mexican chamber music repertoire, including pieces by Carlos Chávez – founder of the Mexican Symphony Orchestra – and Manuel Ponce – widely considered the father of classical music mexican.
The following day, attendees enjoyed a day of discussions and activities, culminating in a public lecture on music diplomacy with a panel featuring three Mexican composers: Juan Pablo Contreras, Nubia Jaime Donjuan and Rodrigo Martínez Torres. The event was moderated by Sixto Montesinos Jr., Assistant Professor of Music and Head of Instrumental Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California.
The Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble Spring Concert rounded out the symposium with a performance at Spaulding Auditorium later that evening, highlighting pieces by a host of Mexican composers, including Contreas, Donjuan and Martínez Torres.
Sainz, who is Mexican-American, said she was able to attend a rehearsal of the wind ensemble earlier in the week.
“In symphonies, usually the percussion is super light and then they do this buildup, but not necessarily in [these Mexican Compositions],” she said. “We’re bold, we’re loud.”
Sainz added that it was interesting to hear the criticisms the guest composers had for the set, gently nudging the students to produce louder sounds – to smash their cymbals even harder.
For Karsten Kleyensteuber ’23, who plays trumpet in the wind ensemble, being able to interact with some of the composers during rehearsal was an enriching experience.
“Having [the composers] there and getting their feedback on stylistic choices, or what their intentions were when they wrote the piece, that’s really nice to have because we can be more honest about what the composer intended, especially when creating a work,” he said.
Kleyensteuber noted that the compositions were the most advanced the ensemble had done since joining their freshman year, and that the experience was overwhelmingly positive.
“From a musical point of view, [the show] was really rewarding to play. I think as a band we grew from that and it was very rewarding to immerse ourselves in that canon of Mexican music,” he said.
According to Sainz and Dartmouth group director Brian Messier, who also produced the event, the symposium had been an idea for years and was instigated before Messier even worked in his current role at the College.
In 2018, Messier was working with a different band who, coincidentally, had a concert scheduled for May 5, or the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo – which commemorates the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. In a politically divisive time, when “the potential border wall was making headlines,” Messier was inspired to seek out Mexican composers for the gig.
“I started researching, if I were to do a concert on May 5, what I could program that would be authentic – it would actually be Mexican composers,” he said. “And I found that there was really nothing [available].”
When these discoveries were corroborated by Mexican composers and conductors, Messier began entrusting them with the composition of authentic Mexican pieces. Messier expanded this practice after transitioning to his role at Dartmouth and the Hop by launching a Mexican and Mexican-American composition competition that produced 48 original wind band compositions. The Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble intended to perform a selection of the compositions on tour in Mexico in the spring of 2021.
While the tour was postponed to spring 2023 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the competition helped lay the groundwork for the symposium, which served as a catalyst for the Mexican Repertoire Initiative in Dartmouth. The initiative aims to create an open source collection of authentic Mexican repertoires for wind orchestras.
“We see the symposium as a starting point. This is not just an opportunity to brag and congratulate ourselves on what we have done so far, but really the start of the initiative and the ongoing conversations and partnerships that we want to have,” said Messier. .
Overseen by Messier, the Mexican Repertoire Initiative is the first of its kind for Mexican compositions. Kleyensteuber has been assisting Messier with this initiative since fall 2021 and describes the project as providing a platform to improve awareness and access to works by Mexican composers for musicians around the world.
Kleyensteuber said he got to see firsthand the impact his role had on Mexican composers. In addition to creating the physical open source database, Kleyensteuber was tasked with contacting composers to build the collection of on-file repositories.
“Once people understand the purpose [of the initiative] and what it was going to be, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” he said of his outreach.
As of May 29, the initiative hosts an open-source, searchable collection of 284 compositions by Mexican and Mexican-American artists. Each composition listed includes a downloadable recording and score, along with the composer’s contact information if a viewer wishes to order them.
Now, Messier said he hopes the collection and dissemination of Mexican repertoire will be more easily accessible.
“What I’ve found is that there are a lot of people who are independently pursuing similar work [relating to collecting the Mexican Repertoire]said Messier. “And a big goal of the symposium and the initiative is to bring those parties together under one roof and facilitate deeper conversation about mutual or shared interests, mutual or shared resources, and potential for collaboration.”