Music: Sun Oct 22

Along with several other Caribbean islands, Cuba was recently the victim of Hurricane Irma, which struck the country’s northern coast as a Category 5 storm, causing massive flooding in the capital city, Havana. The U.S. media paid scant attention to this particular catastrophe, however, whether for political or sociological reasons. Cuba, with its distinctive political and economic systems, remains the embodiment of “otherness” to most U.S. citizens. It epitomizes the exotic, while its people are all too easily subject to de-humanizing characterizations as colonial-era stereotype or helpless, brainwashed pawns of a totalitarian regime. Poor peoples everywhere bear the brunt of climate change, and in Cuba the issue is compounded by decades of alienation from the world power to its north.

In anticipation of CUUC’s tribute to Havana at next month’s Goods and Services Auction, Cuba’s rich artistic traditions ore showcased in several of Sunday morning’s musical selections. The solo piano works featured in the Centering Music include a modernist take Cuban conga drumming by Hilario González as well as a newly discovered unpublished piece of juvenalia by the Cuban-American composer Tania León, who was interviewed at CUUC last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuUxoI3x8fo.  Joaquin Nin-Culmell, younger brother of the diarist Anais Nin, pays a sentimental homage to his Cuban ancestry in two of his charming Douze Danses Cubaines, works which evoke a nineteenth-century Europeanized view of what was then a Spanish colony.

The Offertory music, “Cancion para dormir a un negrito” from Xavier Montsalvatge’s Canciones Negras bears special comment. The layers of appropriation are so numerous and complex, that the song is bound to evoke conflicting emotions. The very notion of a lullaby written for public performance is a contradiction, which requires a certain suspension of disbelief. In this case, Cuban poet Ildefonso Pereda Valdés’s text depicts a Cuban mother of African descent  singing her baby to sleep in a world where bogeyman are white, and a black child might dream of outgrowing slavery. The bittersweet nostalgic lilt of an Habanera is subverted by tart dissonances, which impart an ironic edge to the mother’s reassurances: “If you sleep well, the master of the house promises to get you a suit and make you a ‘groom’.” To complete the picture, Montsalvatge was from Catalonia, a region of Spain currently in the midst of a heated confrontation with the country’s central government over a controversial referendum to secede. He viewed Caribbean culture through the scrim of commerce, which brought goods--as well as song and dance-- from the distant Antilles to Spain’s Costa Brava. Our skin may well crawl at the seductive beauty and simplicity of Montsalvatge’s creation, in spite of the twisted history it embodies.

And, beyond Cuba, CUUC’s Choir is on hand with two moving selections: Amy Bernon’s “A Song Sung Once” and the Spiritual “Turn Me Round”, popular in UU circles for its timeless message of resistance to oppression and ever-widening circles of empathic responsibility.

Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
Preludio en Conga No. 3
                                                Hilario González
Rondó a la Criolla
                                                Tania León
Douze Danses Cubaines, Nos. 4 and 12
                                                Joaquín Nin-Culmell

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
A Song Sung Once
                                                            Amy Bernon

Offertory: Kim Force, soprano
Canción para dormir a un negrito* from Canciones Negras
                                                            Xavier Montsalvatge

Turn Me ‘Round
                                                Traditional Spiritual arr. by Earlene Rentz

Hush-a-bye my little one, Little black one who doesn't want to sleep. Head of a coconut, little coffee bean, With soft cottony hair, With huge eyes like two windows that look out at the sea. Close your little eyes, frightened little one, The white bogeyman could eat you! You are no longer a slave! If you sleep a lot the master of the house will buy you a suit with buttons to be just like a groom. Hush-a-bye, sleep now little one. Head of a coconut, little coffee bean.

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