Postcard from the Artistic Director: Mexican Baroque

Dear SFGC Community, While Level IV and the premier ensemble have been busy preparing for two performances with the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus at Mission Dolores, in the heart of San Francisco’s historically Hispanic Mission district, I spent much of my week down in Southern California mixing and editing the epic Episode 11 of my TV opera Vireo, filmed on January 20 with the participation of over a hundred of our singers. It was great to see them all on camera and to bring it all together! Of course we will be in touch as the release date approaches. So many voices in our community!


When I work down in LA, I usually stay in Santa Ana, which has (unlike the rest of Orange County) a population that is over 70% Mexican and nearly 80% Latino. I nourish myself alternately on taco-truck fish tacos (superb!) and Mexican-International fusion haut cuisine (also superb!), both thriving food cultures in Santa Ana. Also thriving there: the tradition of the Quinceañera, the 15th birthday celebration for girls that powers a huge local industry of specialty shops that feature dresses like these. Yes, there are more than 30 shops selling these dresses, all within a few blocks of where I was staying! I learned a little more about this phenomenon and its importance in the family life of these girls. Does your family have some kind of a coming-of-age ceremony for girls? For boys? I learned that in the Hispanic cultures that celebrate Quinceañera, its origins are far back enough that 15 was considered the desired marriageable age for girls. What is the history of some other coming-of-age rituals that are celebrated in our communities?

Mission Dolores is not the actual mission church on that site. If you go to the concert this weekend, take a peek at her little brother, San Francisco de Asis, the oldest building in San Francisco:


The history of the 21 Spanish missions on the California coast is an important and complex part of our shared history.

While the stories surrounding the missionaries and the native peoples contain many less beautiful aspects, the mission churches themselves are beautiful both visually and sonically, and they are superb for music that was written at the time of their construction. Look at these beauties in OceansideCarmel, and Santa Barbara!

While we often hear the names of great Baroque like Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, we don’t often hear the names of the Baroque composers writing European-style works in Mexico – composers like Manuel de Zumaya or Ignacio de Jerusalem

Yes, much of the music and the culture of the Baroque made it to the Americas, and the craft of this new style of music was taken up with great skill by native Mexican musicians. Listen to this music by Peruvian composer Jose de Orejon y Aparicio, born in 1706 (performed here by sopranos Nell Snaidas and SFGC alumna Jennifer Ellis Kampani!)

Does this music sound Mexican? Why or why not? Does it sound American? Or Spanish? Are there artistic traditions and styles today that seem to be from some other part of the world from where they are made? What happens to music and musicians when different cultures collide, commingle or collude?

Back home in NYC, I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of 60 of our young singers here for rehearsals next week, leading up to the SHIFT Festival performance on April 1. We will send postcards home to you of course!

Warm wishes,