By Ace Gangoso
May is a month worth celebrating! This month is Chamber Music Month AND Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month here in the United States. During this past season’s Origin Stories concerts, I was thrilled to explore and share my heritage through some of the music of the Philippines. One of the most fascinating and treasured musical genres of the country is called kundiman. On the surface, kundiman present as songs of longing, courtship, and love, but they have double meaning: the beloved represents not just one person as a love interest, but the Philippines itself and the pride and resilience of its native people. These creations were a means of coping with and challenging the oppressive Spanish colonial rule beginning in 1565 and lasting three centuries.
There was an interesting dynamic of resistance, a phenomenon some refer to as “Filipinization”---in a way, a form of “reverse colonization”. Filipinos learned to embrace the educational, social, and cultural practices forced upon them, but utilized them for their own benefit, recreating their own native identity through these foreign mediums. Kundiman songs illustrate this perfectly, adopting the musical idioms of Spanish dances, and scored music in the formal western classical tradition that university-trained musicians know well today.
The earliest known iterations of kundiman date back to about 1800, evolving through the century to more broadly resemble art song compositions of Europe. The composer Francisco Santiago (1889-1947) is often hailed as the “father of Kundiman Art Song,” and his 1917 song, simply titled “Kundiman” (sometimes subtitled “Cancion Filipina” or “Anak-Dalita”) is one of the most widely performed of the genre. The poem by Deogracias A. Rosario (1894-1936) is a serenade of one beckoning a love interest to come to the window to accept one’s pleas of love. It carries the characteristics most typical of kundiman: plaintive melodies, abundant tenuto and rubato, ascending tessitura, lush accompaniment, and modulation from minor to parallel major---a simple but effective way of symbolizing the journey from despair to hope.
This is the story of my ancestors, but I am sure that the feelings of loss and captivity have been ever-present to all of us this past year. May this music be a beacon of light in the darkness for you as it has been to many.
By Ace Gangoso
Almost exactly one year ago, we were singing in what would—unexpectedly—be our last concert of 2020. What a way to end my debut season with Fourth Coast Ensemble! Here we are a year later bouncing back, having recently kicked off of our Origin Stories concerts, live in HD. While we are all beyond excited to bring you these new performances, I still look forward to these blogs for The Art Song Fix because it gives us the opportunity to look back and reflect on how far we have come, in more ways than one.
My song of choice today is “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington. I must confess, I never really expected to be singing a jazz standard in a concert with “Chicago’s classical vocal quartet.” Shame on me! Of course, this was the point of the concert (entitled Between the Lines) which explored the boundaries surrounding what is typically considered classical vs. non-classical—in this case, jazz.
Duke Ellington was a very gifted musician and songwriter, and a pioneer with his own attempts to blur the lines between classical and jazz. Teaming up with Billy Strayhorn, he sought out to write a multi-movement orchestral work telling the story of Black Americans, particularly through the lens of religion and slavery. Black, Brown and Beige premiered on January 23, 1943 and was met with mixed reviews, and, like his other large-scale works, never garnered widespread acclaim.
We must consider, however, that classical music circles were even more Eurocentric at that time than they are today, and society at large more rampant with unchecked white supremacy. The insulting saying “good enough for jazz” was borne out of ignorance and hatred not just of the music, but its creators. Who knows what would have happened in a more equitable time and space, with ears more ready and willing to hear new sounds from a person of color on the concert hall stage.
Here and now, at the end of Black History Month in the year 2021, it is evident that some progress has been made. I was tickled to get to use my falsetto croon and improvise riffs on this song immediately after singing full-throttle on Agustin Lara’s “Granada.” In classical concerts, you would often hear jazz pieces (if included at all) tucked in towards the end or used as an encore, presented as lighter fare in comparison to the more “serious” works that preceded it. But good music is good music, a good song is a good song, and every style and genre deserves to be respected and represented. Depth and virtuosity can be shown in a myriad of ways. May we continue to challenge our minds and senses, draw the circle wider, and grow the Fourth Coast family beyond what anyone would have ever dreamed!
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!