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Noël Archambeault sings in Bayard Sharp Hall.
Noël Archambeault, UD School of Music associate professor, performs at the Chicana Art Song Project at Bayard Sharp Hall.

Chicana Art Song Project

Photo by Christopher Ginn

UD professor expands the Classical repertoire through a new genre of art and song

Mexico’s Día de los Muertos holiday is a family focused celebration honoring ancestors and inviting them back to this world. The members of the University of Delaware’s campus community honored cultural and artistic ancestors with the multidisciplinary Chicana Art Song Project performance at Bayard Sharp Hall.

Noël Archambeault, an associate professor in the School of Music, began the evening in early November by reading UD’s Living Land Acknowledgement: a statement recognizing that the University occupies land originally populated by Lenni-Lenape and Nanticoke nations. “The recognition of this is especially poignant with our own program this evening as it is a response to decolonizing traditional music and giving a more accurate representation of cultural history,” Archambeault said.

The impact of European colonization resonates with Archambeault. A native Texan of Mexican heritage, Archambeault said that as a voice student she was given songs from the Classical repertoire from Spain, and even Sephardic songs in a Spanish-Judeo language. The language was so different from the Spanish that Archambeault and her family knew that family members couldn’t understand her Spanish-language sets at recitals. When she finished her doctorate in musical arts, Archambeault asked herself, “Okay, what is it that you, me, Noel, would like to do with this? What is meaningful to me? And it didn’t exist … so I began to dream of a fusion of my training and upbringing to sort of satisfy both worlds.”

The Chicana Art Song Project began as an effort to create that fusion and to tell stories that have been neglected and omitted by traditional Classical music, bringing voice to female Mexican American, also known as Chicana, artists and initiating a new genre of Classical vocal art song for future artists to explore. The musical style is a fusion as well, bringing elements from Mexican musical traditions, like cumbia, mariachi, ranchera and Tejano styles, to Classical art song form, a Western style that typically features a single voice with piano accompaniment and is often a poem or other text set to music. Many of the songs in the Chicana Art Song Project reflect this through additional instrumentation for double bass, guitar and percussion instruments including claves, shaker, congas and cajòn.

Archambeault tapped composer Edna Alejandra Longoria and visual artist Melissa Arangua-Johnson to collaborate on the project, which began in 2014 and was funded in part through a General University Research Grant, the University of Delaware’s Cultural Activities and Public Events Committee, the Luminaria Artist Foundation and an Arts and Culture grant from the City of San Antonio.

Archambeault and Longoria selected texts from writers including Xelena González, Carmen Tafolla, Pat Mora and Sandra Cisneros. Arangua-Johnson provided images to accompany each song, deepening the storytelling and presentation of Chicana cultura.

Along with Archambeault, the evening’s performers included guests Cynthia Longoria, soprano, and Sirapat Jittapirom, piano, along with UD faculty members Tim Broscious, assistant professor of percussion, and Blake Smith, associate professor of voice and opera; UD students Connor Bruce, Maya Díaz-Portalatín, Alondra Gonzalez, Bri Keller, Casey Morris, Zach Odom, Jacob Rylko, Mairin Srygley; and alumni Kevin J. Cope and Kaitlyn Tierney. Not every performer identifies as Latinx, but all approached the project with respect. “As we've become more aware and mindful about appropriation vs. appreciation when it comes to performing works of different cultures and races, I am lucky to be amongst faculty and students who have embraced this philosophy,” Archambeault said. “When asked to be a part of this concert, there were some insightful conversations about recognizing white privilege and making sure their performance of these works had the approval of these under-represented groups. While neither I nor the composer can speak for all people in this category, we felt that it was important to have these stories told, so long as they were given reverence for their intent.”  

The performance was divided into five segments, each representing an aspect of the Chicano/a experience. The first half began with Call to Arms, calling us to engage with our community as activists; Cultura, the Spanish word for culture, for these pieces specifically the Tex-Mex culture of San Antonio; Familia, highlighting the importance of family ties in our lives.

The second half began with Milagros-Ex-votos-Dijes-Promesas, excerpts from the “Little Miracles” chapter of Sandra Cisnero’s book of short stories Woman Hollering Creek. Milagros adorn churches, either to accompany requests for intervention, or a thank-you for an answered prayer. Before the second half, audience members were invited to take a Milagro for themselves, to serve as a reminder of the event and a thank-you from the organizers for being part of bringing the Chicana Art Song Project to life on the UD campus.

The performance ended with “Que te Vaya Bien,” a traditional departing sentiment for many Spanish speakers.

After the final song, audience members were invited to take an electric candle from Bayard Sharp Hall and walk to Munroe Hall for an ofrenda visitation. The ofrenda (English “offering”), an altar to ancestors, is an integral part of Día de los Muertos observations. In Mexican and Chicanx homes, ofrendas are laid with colorful tablecloths, flowers, candles, sweets and photos. UD’s ofrenda was built in October with campus and community members invited to place a memento in honor of a deceased loved one.

The event was sponsored by the School of Music, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Department of History, Latino Hispanic Heritage Caucus, UDARI Committee on Cultural Activities and Public Events, UD General Research Grant, San Antonio Arts and Culture Grant and the Luminaria Artist Foundation.

Find more information about the Chicana Art Song Project at www.chicanasong.com.

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