Ana began her musical studies as a young child in her hometown of Huesca, Spain. There she had her first exposure to choral singing and piano, focusing on music of the Spanish renaissance and the classic works of Händel, Bach, Mozart, Purcell, Schütz and Buxtehude.
These first years of musical education determined the course of her later career. After graduating with honors from the Conservatorio del Liceo in Barcelona, Ana continued her studies with Dominique Vellard and Richard Levitt at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland.
Ana’s studies with Vellard kindled her interest in the music of oral traditions. Together, they have been researching the Spanish repertoire. Ana is drawn to this type of music because of its richness and the keys that it offers for the interpretation of certain early music repertoires. The ensemble Vox Suavis, in which she has been performing until 2016 with Dominique Vellard and Baptiste Romain, was dedicated to this music.
In 2016 Ana founded a new ensemble with three other early music singers: Paloma Gutiérrez del Arroyo, June Telletxea and Anne Marie Lablaude. Named Cantaderas the group interprets traditional women’s’ vocal repertoire and accompanies themselves on hand percussion ranging from frame drums to tables and chairs. The ensemble is happy to present its first CD As festas do Anno in September 2019.
Her recordings include Il primo libro de Francesca Caccini,(which was supported by Swiss National Radio) and La voz del olvido, recorded with Vox suavis on the French label Aparte. In this CD the 7 Cantigas de Amigo are framed by pieces from Spanish oral traditions.
Ana Arnaz performs regularly in European festivals in France (Festival de Musique Sacrée de Perpignan, Festival international du Thoronet, La folle Journée de Nantes, Via Aeterna), Holland (AMUZ), Germany (Uckermärkische Musikwochen), Spain (Fundación Juan March, Festival Internacional del Camino de Santiago, International music Festival Espazos Sonoros) and Switzerland with Cantaderas, La Cecchina and Gilles Binchois. She has also performed XX century music with the violinist Colleen Jennings, with whom she founded the ensemble Ex Luce color. Ana has given as well concerts of Spanish renaissance and baroque music at festivals such as the Houston Early Music Festival and the St. Gaudens Festival. She sings regularly in Switzerland with the Orchestra Crescendo performing later repertoire from Mendelssohn, Gounod, Fauré and Spohr.
An active instructor, Ana currently teaches early music singing at the Music school of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. She also teaches singing at the Cistercian Monastery of Hauterive in Fribourg, Switzerland. Every year since 2017 she is invited at the “Escuela de Música medieval y de tradición oral” in Madrid to offer workshops about traditional Spanish repertoires.
SILENT MUSIC. The music we don’t hear.
The conservatory conserves
To get a conservatory degree means a lot of years of studying a repertoire that we believed was unique: classical music.
My immersion into medieval, renaissance and baroque repertoires added some more adjectives to the concept of classical music: it was European, it was written and most of the time it was performed from a contemporary musical perspective.
In the last 20 years the situation has changed: early music instruments and repertoires have found their place in conservatories. The interpretation of this repertoire has gained a historicist approach and our focal point has opened up.
A different type of music
There still is a lot of work to do. When my professor Dominique Vellard heard my father sing Spanish folk music, I was surprised to see how much he appreciated it. I, on the other hand, had always looked down upon this type of music.
I began to ask myself some questions: what and where was this repertoire that my parents were singing all their life? I started to research traditional music of Castilla la Vieja, the area of Spain where my parents are from and most of my extended family still lives. It is also the area where one of the most important ethnographic centers in Spain is located: The Fundación Joaquín Díaz de Urueña, outside of Valladolid.
I first visited the center with Dominique Vellard. I was surprised, confused, excited and had the feeling of not being able to cope with the repertoire that was in front of me. Thousands and thousands of melodies that nobody sings and nobody hears anymore. Hundreds of songbooks collected during the 20th century, recordings made since the thirties: a large oral heritage that few people pay attention to, largely forgotten during the last few decades. It is a repertory of an enviable quality, the music of a poor and rural world.
A large number of these melodies are not related to European classical music, making its comprehension difficult. We need to approach from a different perspective. Classical music is a written repertoire in which score and the composer are important. On the other hand traditional music is an oral repertoire in which the score is just a means for us but not for the performer/composer.
The majority are short melodies. Most of them don’t fit to a tonality or a regular rhythm. To understand this repertoire we need to understand improvisation, modality, free singing, non-equal tempered scales. All of which are common keys in some medieval repertoires and in the oral tradition.
What do I do with it?
First I choose a songbook from the first half of the 20th century. I focus on it for some weeks to get a general idea of its characteristics. I analyse every single piece and make a selection based on its melodic, formal and rhythmic features. If the document is a recording I transcribe these pieces. That is a delicate process, since this music was never conceived to be notated and it is difficult to establish a coherent notation system to fix it in a paper.
These transcriptions are not scores to interpret the piece from, but a means to analyse and comprehend it.
Finally I learn the repertoire by heart. I learn to improvise with a piece and between pieces; I avoid the paper and sing again into the oral stream. I observe that every time I perform a piece it is both familiar and new. That is the wonder of aural learning; there are no written rules to follow but a repertoire, style and aesthetics that define the tradition.
I’m accompanied through this path
During the last 15 years I’ve been memorizing and discovering all these songs. I’ve been learning from different musicians who open doors to other oral traditions. From Dominique Vellard I’ve learned a lot. Studying medieval repertories with him, I learned to interpret the pieces using the written documents as a source and not as an aim and also to make use of the first recordings. Baptiste Romain introduced me to the world of modal improvisation, giving me the courage to perform music without a score. The ensemble Vox suavis is a collaboration with both of them. Together we have been performing all over Europe for more than a decade.
Luminaries, such as Joaquín Díaz with his generosity and his support help me to continue with my research, especially in moments when I ask my self why and how. My regular research visits to the Fundación in Valladolid enrich my repertoire and performances.
Cantaderas, a group of singers specialised in early music, is the project that shapes all these years of searching. Not just musically but also personally. It is of a great satisfaction to give voice to the women thanks to a undervalued repertoire. Every concert with them is a human and musical recognition and all the work done until now makes sense.
Finally, I feel responsible to give shape to this music and resuscitate it. I feel responsible to sing for those who can no longer sing because they no longer have a voice, for the voices of all these villages that have disappeared during the last century. I feel responsible for my parents and all the others who stopped singing when the world around them did not want to listen to them anymore.