Well, It just keeps getting interesting. We have a little down time between 3:30 and dinner at 7:00, and I’m taking this opportunity to update you on what happened today. It was a lot! I didn’t even cover everything that went on yesterday, and I don’t think I’ll be able to tell you about every little detail, but I can give you a pretty good picture.
I mentioned in my last post that things in Cuba often got mixed up and changed and that our schedule might not wind up being exactly as we were told. I have stressed to our group that something was definitely going to go wrong or get mixed up, and if you have the right attitude, you can view any “setback” as an unexpected “opportunity.” Well, it happened today, and the kids responded with an amazing attitude. It really turned out better than if we had followed the plan perfectly. I was very impressed with their maturity and attitude.
We started with breakfast in the basement of the hotel. It was incredible. It was a huge buffet. They had everything you could want, and more. Pancakes, bacon (sweeter than American bacon), scrambled eggs, made to order omelets, potatoes, cereal, pastries, champagne (but not for us obviously), as well as the typical European breakfast staples of cheese, cured meats and breads. But there was more. A huge selection of tropical fruit, including papaya (fruta bomba), mango, pineapple, watermelon, as well as dried figs, dates, and other dried fruits. There were also fresh fruit juices in many flavors, smoothies, blood sausage (I guess breakfast blood sausage), sautéed vegetables, marinated beans, and some pretty amazing Cuban Coffee (Café Cubano). I think this might be the absolute best part of this hotel. I should probably move on to what we actually did.
After breakfast we loaded up the buses for a workshop. It turns out that the clinic was not going to be with Coro Exaudi, but rather Ensemble Vocal Luna, a professional women’s choir. Such is Cuba, and the experience was great.
For the young women of Ensemble Vocal Luna, singing in this group is their full time job. They sing about five or six hours a day, and perform all over the country. They are made up of about sixteen singers, mostly in their mid-twenties. Their director is Wilmia Verrier Quiñones, who was just awesome.
We arrived at a beautiful old building right on the Malecón. We went upstairs, and into a small, stuffy theater. On the floor were chairs and a digital piano was on the stage. After introductions and the usual “how are we going to do this” conversation, we started with warm-ups. We mixed the women’s choir up with our choir, and Wilmia and I traded off leading. After warm-ups, Wilmia led us in learning an arrangement of “Guantanamera”. It was a lot of fun, and definitely put us out of our comfort zone.
The way she taught us the music was by rote. That basically means that she sung the parts to us, and then we echoed them back. Then she’d sing a different part, we’d sing that one back, and then she’d put the two together. This way, we would progressively learn all of the different parts, using only our ear. I’m going to try to post a video of what that experience was like. It’s such a different process than what we are used to (though many choirs in the US learn this way, particularly gospel choirs). But, Concert Choir never learn music by rote.
Next we sang Rollo Dilworth’s arrangement of Walk in Jerusalem, and I conducted. There was much less to do for this piece, mostly because it came together so quickly. The Vocal Luna girls read very well, and were obviously familiar with the gospel style. Plus, their sound was very bright, which really works quite well for gospel music, with only a little modification to their approach.
After that we alternated singing for each other. We sang three songs, and they sang three. We just loved the music they sang. They had excellent intonation, great phrasing, and impeccable ensemble. There were a number of those young women I would love to have sing in concert choir. Well, really, all of them.
We sang Otche Nash and Salve Regina. We ended with our Cuban theme song, “Chan-Chan.” The girls from Vocal Luna got up and started dancing with us and singing along. It was very cool. I think we are probably going to be singing Chan-Chan at every stop. Cubans get a huge kick out of hearing us do their tunes, especially when they are being done well. One of the older singers in their group said that she had heard many choirs come to Cuba and try to sing Chan-Chan, and we were the best they’d heard. Quite a compliment.
After that it was lunch at a Cuban restaurant, and cleaning out a gas station of all of their bottled water. The day was packed with so much, that I’m going to split it up into two posts. Check back soon for Part Two.