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.
My work with Giuseppe Frana, whose focus is on Greek and Turkish oral cultures, cultivates a splendid repertoire like Cantigas de St. María.
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.
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.