Dr. Ahmed Anzaldúa founded Border CrosSing in 2017, a Minnesota-based organization that “envisions fundamental change in classical music culture, so that every concert, every audience, and the artists on stage truly reflect the cultural reality in which we live.” For more about Dr. Anzaldúa and the beginnings of Border CrosSing, read this 2019 interview with Dr. Anzaldúa by the Minneapolis Interview Project. I chatted with Dr. Anzaldúa in early Fall 2021 about ADEIB, and you can find that post here. Also, if you have 40 minutes, take a listen to Dr. Anzaldúa on The Choral Commons podcast. I wanted to provide a few resources of his incredible work; he’s been sharing his voice and knowledge, and every bit of it is worth your time.
The Border CrosSing series is distributed by Graphite Publishing, and is relatively new (publishing started in October 2020). The Graphite website lists 10 pieces (as of 1/21/22), with some options for different voicings. The music spans from the 1500s to current composers, in Spanish or one of Latin America’s indigenous languages, and preliminary contextual information is provided on each octavo (enough context to ground and begin the conductor’s own research). The earlier music is provided in performing editions, not urtext, including score markings that will aid in performance today, so that the music will be accessible to those who aren’t early-music specialists. “Xicochi” (link is SATB, but SSA and SA is also available) might be a piece for a developing vocal ensemble (or, of course, a developed ensemble that has not yet sung a villancico) with flexible instrumentation.
Listen to “Amo” here:
“Amo” was composed by Nico Gutierrez, a composer based in Chicago, IL, with text by the composer’s grandfather, Mariano Melendro Serna (1984–1989). For full text and translation, as well as access to a perusal copy, click on this link here (“Amo”). SATB (with divisi) and unaccompanied, “Amo” presents plenty of opportunities for emotional exploration through dynamic and tempo nuance in conjunction with text analysis. While the text is short, it leaves a lot to discuss and apply, including the three potential meanings of the final line (I love them/I love you/I love everyone).
Harmony shifts, both subtle and not, pull the listener into an emotional musical experience (or “real feels,” as I would likely say to my singers). The piece requires jumping in head first; between the first two measures, the music already moves from a more controlled emotion of the static first measure to something that feels a little less stable. It’s a beautiful moment, and it fits the application of the text. In measures 21 and 22, the Tenor 1 line cries in descending chromatics, and together with the Tenor 2 line, they do their best to express the pain or the joy of the memories referenced in the poetry (again, important text analysis work here). In measure 54, the brief respite on a D major chord on the word “sonreir” actually feels like a smile. The most obvious shift in harmony is from measures 29 to 30, and provides a clean but not overly pedantic delineation between poetic lines, as well as a shift between the past (memories) and present (crying and smiling in response).
My favorite moment, at least at the moment I am writing this, is measure 44 into 45. All voices are at the higher end of the written registers. The rising bass line adds movement to the already in-progress ascension of all voices. This, in addition to the fortissimo, is very striking and a bit emotionally uncomfortable. I love it.
Lots of good choral work can be done highlighting the moving voice in moments when the other voices are more static. And, of course, the repetitive but intentionally set “amo” at the end of the piece could be a fantastic emotional exercise for the singer: Why is the word “amo” repeated so many times? Are you thinking of a new memory each “amo,” or is the feeling getting more intense as you meditate on the same memory over and over?
Incredible music and rich history are available to the choral profession through the Border CrosSing series. I encourage you to spend time with all the music in the series, and check back later for other releases.