What is Sinfonia Latina? Culturally Persistent Music for all.

What is Sinfonia Latina?

The short answer: A celebration of music, sound, culture and art in one place for all people.

The background: What happens when boundaries between class structures, political parties and art genres are blurred? People come together and recognize what connects us all, a love for life and an appreciation for diversity and the talents inherent in every person.

No one would have thought this sentiment outright back in 1976 when Roberto McCausland Dieppa, 16, took merged his classical piano training with street musicians playing rock, jazz, salsa, reggae and other styles. Roberto, himself, had no preconceived notions about what he was doing. He was a kid from an affluent family who’d spent his early years hanging out with his grandfather, Carlos Dieppa, a successful industrialist whose shops assembled appliance parts for several large companies including General Electric, Westinghouse and the Ford Motor Company. An extremely disciplined planner and worker, Carlos took his grandson to work in the factories where Roberto was exposed to a completely different world.

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Carlos Dieppa, second from the right, was Roberto’s primary influence.

“I had no set ideas about what was appropriate music or not,” Roberto says. “I took a liking to the piano, and my grandfather recognized that I would benefit from a good instructor. So, I started learning the classics like Beethoven and Ravel and Mozart. But then, I’d go to work with my grandfather, and his workers were listening to the Beatles, Motown, and jazz. Little did I know, I was synthesizing all these styles and starting to incorporate them into something new. Sinfonia Latina turned into the natural extension of that.”

Without ever having to be formally taught, Roberto learned about art, poetry, music and the importance of having a solid work ethic. Carlos was Roberto’s main influence, and he got used to poets and artists visiting his grandfather every evening. He ate dinner with Nobel Prize winners, and took a liking to Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez who wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude.” This artistic background became the backdrop of Roberto’s childhood. He was tucked in bed when the musicians would begin playing classical music on the grand piano in Carlos’ foyer. “I’d fall asleep listening to classical guitar, violins and the piano, of course,” Roberto recalls. “I thought that’s the way life was for everyone. I thought that everyone had a grandfather who worked hard, made a good life and appreciated culture. It wasn’t until I left Barranquilla at a teen that I realized how lucky I had been.”

Outside of the Dieppa home in the village of Colombia’s Barranquilla, a beautiful theatre sat, half restored, waiting to be summoned to life. The Municipal Theatre, was a project that politicians and business leaders had promised to restore in the early 1970s, but by 1976, after work had halted for years, artists, performers and audiences had lost faith that the project would ever finish.

Barranquilla’s Plaza de San Nicolás. Photo by: Enrique Nuñez

Until Roberto got an idea to form a band.

“I had a friend who was really into original music,” he says. “He was a little older and knew other musicians. He had a friend who could get us equipment. Plus, we knew we had a theater that no one else was using at the time. It would be a perfect venue. So, we started working.”

Without a formal game plan, Roberto assembled a core group of 16 musicians from all walks of life and various styles of musicianship. All of a sudden, classical people were rubbing elbows with jazz players and street musicians. They were sharing licks and ideas. People who played in the style of Carlos Santana or Emerson, Lake & Palmer were hearing Beethoven and recognizing similar motifs. These musicians found a second tier of about 15 more musicians to enhance their sound, and the repertoire grew. Then, they brought in a Spanish choir. And dancers.

“We were writing with the intensity of a Beethoven, and bringing Latin influences into the big picture,” Roberto says. “Then, when the choir joined in, the whole project took on a new dimension.”

This was all organized in an era before the Internet and cell phones. These teens and young adults got together three-four times per week for nine months to practice before the show was performed. None of the performers had any expectations. They just knew that they loved what they were doing and they hoped a good crowd would appreciate their effort.

On the day of May 7, 1976, more than 3,000 people crammed themselves into a standing-room theater. Some perched on interior scaffolding. An additional 5,000 stood outside, just to be able to hear this new musical style. And, for the first time in many of their lives, high-society people stood alongside of shopkeepers, waiters, bartenders and maids. And, the music delivered something to all of them.

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A newspaper reviewed Sinfonia Latina, calling the event “culturally persistent music for everyone.”

The performance had a classical structure, lots of rhythm and the choir sang in the native tongue of the audience. Everyone could understand them, which was a refreshing change of pace. The event Sinfonia Latina drew more than 8,000 people who experienced unity through art and music.

“This is the power of music,” Roberto says. “Everyone was equal. I’ll never forget how surprised the musicians and I were at the avalanche of attention it got. Yes, we wanted a good crowd, but when we saw what came because of the broad appeal of various genres, we knew we had created something special.”

Music and art critics agreed. The event was dubbed the first of its kind and was called “culturally persistent music for everyone.” People heard pop, rock, classical, jazz, salsa, bebop and other genres they’d never heard of. Electric guitars screamed Jimi Hendrix riffs during transitions encompassing Bach and Tchaikovsky. Dancers took the stage and mesmerized audiences with a blend of ballet and cabaret. One young lady wearing nothing but body paint and feathers shocked not only the audience but the band as well.

What did Roberto’s mom and dad think?

“They were stunned,” he laughs. “My mom thought I was crazy, but she couldn’t deny the effect we had. She came to the show expecting to hear a traditional classical performance. She got more than she bargained for.”

Sinfonia Latina, the 1976 project that synthesized class structures and music genres into an event that celebrated life, became the catalyst that jumpstarted the theater’s restoration. It was finished in 1983.

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Roberto, 16, plays classical guitar during Sinfonia Latina.

“I look back at what we did, and I still shake my head,” Roberto says. “This is truly what art is capable of. Art and music force us to tap into both our creative and organizational talents. Artists need to work together, cast aside differences and put on a show. Eight thousand people experienced unity within diversity. Eight thousand people all appreciated music, laughter, rhythm, dance and the best skills that only disciplined practice can produce.”

It’s about to happen again. In a world of cultural discord, the time to look to music to unite has never been more necessary.

Roberto has been working with a troupe of musicians on blending classical, popular, jazz, Latin, rock and other genres. Their work will be performed in Washington DC in the fall of 2019 and then again in Roberto’s beloved Municipal Theatre in Barranquilla in the spring of 2020. Other shows are being planned.

Dates and times will be announced this summer. My team and I are excited to share this musical adventure with the world. Our entire schedule and upcoming plans will be announced on the website and in social media. Stay tuned!

Maurice Ravel: Surrounded by the sensuality of springtime

Few composers rouse the sublime power of the beauty of creation like Maurice Ravel. Born “Joseph Maurice Ravel” in Ciboure, France March 7, 1875, this man wrote some of the most textured, beautiful music that came to be dubbed as “impressionism,” although he did not appreciate the classification.

One of the things I admire about Ravel is his ability to express the sweetness of life in the midst of heaviness and drama. The serious tone of his contemporaries was a stark contrast to Ravel’s work. Ravel celebrated all the wonders of life and of being alive. Listen to his melodies. They ebb and flow with equal parts of ease and surprise. He was a great orchestrator, too.

A bit of a trailblazer, his style didn’t fit into one neat box. He wasn’t traditional. He wasn’t pure “classical.” Today, many people look back on his work and call him a Romantic composer, and to some extent, that fits. The Romantic period from 1870 to 1910 was ripe with highly regarded composers including Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin – among the most influential. But Ravel’s music didn’t quite fit the style of these others. His textures intersected with multiple melodies that were sometimes difficult to discern. In fact, he was already introducing jazz elements into his progressions of his later works. He added 9ths, 11th, and 13ths when few people thought of this – and bent the ears of his teachers. Plus, he wrote slowly and deliberately. For this, he was not a favorite at Paris Conservatoire, and left. However, by the 1920s and 1930s, he was regarded as one of France’s greatest composers. His best-known work, Bolero, pushes classical boundaries and is now frequently performed by modern jazz artists. Check out Stanley Jordan’s version:

Another refreshing aspect of his music is his merging of various European influences. Even though he was French, many of his works contain Spanish idioms. But – the most striking feature of Ravel’s music is his freshness. Every spring, I think of Ravel. I love to play Gaspard de la nuit anytime of the year, but it April, it feels especially lovely.

Sadly, Ravel passed away on December 28, 1937, but not before writing some of our world’s most beautiful, sensual music that reminds us all to celebrate life.

I recorded Printemps Ravissante: Ravel, Le Tombeau De Couperin in 2014, after playing his music for decades, and to this day, I never tire of playing or hearing these compositions.

The CD is available for purchase on Amazon.

Women in music: A sweet sound

With March being women’s month, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite female composers and musicians. But, first, I’d like to take a moment to expand on a post I shared earlier this month on social media sites. It’s no secret that women have been underrepresented in orchestras around the world. Whatever the bias, it’s unfounded, as the recent blind auditions that started gaining traction in the 1990s. In fact, an article in the Princeton Review states:

Blind auditions have had a significant impact on the face of symphony orchestras. About 10 percent of orchestra members were female around 1970, compared to about 35 percent in the mid-1990s. Rouse and Goldin attribute about 30 percent of this gain to the advent of blind auditions.

Yet, the bias persists.

It’s completely unfounded. Have you heard of the Diva Jazz Orchestra? Consisting of all women, this group rivals any band of any gender combination.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwwPNqUMZis[/embedyt]

These ladies can play. Check out their video recorded at Deerhead Inn. The compositions and technical merit and expression are phenomenal – and anyone listening would never care if the performers or composers were male or female. All that matters is the music is inspired. This goes beyond gender.

I mention the Diva Jazz Orchestra because I don’t think many people are aware of them. Yet, there are some fantastic popular female artists I would like to acknowledge. Here are a few musicians in all genres, in no particular order of preference. These are some of the people and groups I listen to at various times throughout any given week.

Anna Vinnitskaya – An amazing classical pianist. Here, she performs Beethoven’s Sonata No. 13.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kq-k69owNA[/embedyt]

Rachel Flowers – This young lady is best known for her renditions of the work of rocker Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer or ELP). Moogs, pianos, Hammonds – it doesn’t matter. Flowers brings the energy. Here, she plays Endless Enigma with the Keith Emerson Orchestra at his tribute concert after his death.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb7G_K5iRBk[/embedyt]

Alicia Keys – Pianist. Singer. General inspiration to millions. I’m sharing a video here of her performance with John Mayer – of “If I Ain’t Got You” and “Gravity.” Why not?

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obkrMiyDrbs[/embedyt]

Linda Ronstadt – Country. Rock. Blues. Opera. What a voice. What diversity. Here, she sings “You’re No Good.”

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bj_32QeAaU[/embedyt]

Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads – If you’ve heard “Psycho Killer,” you’ve heard Tina. She’s a solid bass player with catchy bass hooks and rhythm. This lady can keep the groove. By the way, this song is great for a running workout.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTUuheVHmZE[/embedyt]

Aimee Nolte – Pianist. This lady has done more to instruct and inspire musicians on YouTube in a few short years than many college professors manage in an entire career. Her focus is jazz, but she plays everything and encourages all. I like her approach to practice, discipline, good values, and humor. Here, she teaches a lesson on the ii, V, I jazz progression.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCAdCneGK5A[/embedyt]

Sia Furler – I first learned of this vocal powerhouse from her work with Zero 7. Her voice was unmistakable – and at first, a bit of a surprise for me in the trip-hop genre. She can move from sounding like silk to steel in seconds. Her harmonies are lush. In recent years, she’s become known for her work with David Guetta and has gone one to launch a successful solo career. Here, she sings “Breathe Me”, one of the first songs of hers I heard.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0QBzX7zZBw[/embedyt]

I could go on and on. Karen Carpenter, Sheila E., Bonnie Raitt, Orianthi Panagaris, Susan Tedeschi, Nancy Wilson, Terri Lyne Carrington, Mimi Fox… There is no end to the talent that women bring to the table.

I encourage parents to expose their children – especially their daughters – to music. Music breaks boundaries, teaches discipline and gives a sense of beauty and appreciation for art. If we spent more time creating art, we’d have less time for destruction.

And, friends, that’s the purpose of my next project, Sinfonia Latina. By the way, several women play in the orchestra and ensembles I perform with. Here is a video of Ensamble Barlovento (Sta. Fe ) Variaciones Caribe, with a female violinist, a skilled performer. I look forward to the day when the representation of men and women isn’t even a topic of discussion.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=779W1P_-ntQ[/embedyt]

Black History Month: Motown music masters

All month in this blog and in my social media channels, I’ve been sharing some of my favorite African-American musical artists, noting some of their influences and accomplishments. From Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones (give this “Hymn to Freedom” a listen if you want a good case of the feels) to Art Tatum to Erroll Garner, our black musicians have made our world incalculably richer.

Today, I’d like to turn up the dial on Motown, on the artists who inspire us to sing along, tap our toes and get up and groove. There are too many hits and artists to mention. I’m having a hard time narrowing it down to my top eight, but here’s my unofficial list in no particular order. By the way, if you were to ask me to name my top eight tomorrow or next week, they’ll change. But, I’m confident that you’ll agree that these folks deserve a spot on everyone’s playlists.

  1. Diana Ross and the Supremes

    Diana Ross and the Supremes

    Let’s see, from “Baby Love” to “Come See About Me” to “I Hear a Symphony,” these glamourous ladies knew a few things about harmony and how to engage audiences. They were a worthy addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 1988.

  2. Michael Jackson
    His thriller songs span four decades. How can anyone dispute him as the “king of pop?” I’d like to give him the additional title Master of Motown. Favorite song? Can’t choose. Today, though, I’m going with “Billie Jean.”
  3. Marvin Gaye
    No one, I mean no one, can groove a mic like Marvin Gaye. Yes, we all know his hits “Mercy, Mercy Me,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” But, did you know he managed to groove the National Anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star game? You’ve never heard the anthem sung like this.
  4. The Temptations
    Everyone loves The Temptations. It’s hard enough to remember melodies, harmonies and arrangments without being able to execute scripted choreography. Yet, these guys did it night after night, year after year. Favorite song? Today, I’ll go with “Papa was a Rolling Stone.” OK, I’ll add “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
  5. Stevie Wonder(ful)
    I love Stevie Wonder. His songwriting. His singing. His playing. His smile. “Superstition” is always a good go-to tune to get the energy moving. But, “As (I’ll Be Loving You Always)” is a can’t-miss song to be uplifted.
  6. Billy Preston

    Billy Preston

    Anyone who jams with the Beatles is good with me. But, Billy Preston is more than a jam player. This guy had amazing technique, and could pull off anything from Bach to the Beatles. If you don’t recognize his name, you definitely know his music. Check out “My Sweet Lord” and “Nothing from Nothing.” (Cool piano riffs on that last one, huh?)

  7. Lionel Richie / Commodores
    When you’re driving, and “Brick House” comes on the radio, you better be at least tapping your fingers on the steering wheel. But, it would be better if you were singing at the top of your lungs. “Sail On” couldn’t sound more different, and it shows Richie’s versatility.
  8. Gladys Knight and the Pips
    A lead lady with three male backups? That was a bold move back in the day, and Gladys Knight not only pulled it off, but wore it with authority. Her version of “Midnight Train to Georgia” is my favorite, and “Heard it Through the Grapevine” is a great jam.

Black History Month: John and Alice Coltrane

This month in my blog, I’m paying tribute to a few of the major African-American influences in our culture’s music. There aren’t enough days to include all of them, but if I can help raise awareness of some of the world’s greatest Black musical talents, then we’ll all be a bit richer. Please follow me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, where I’m sharing short snippets of even more of my favorite African-American artists and their work.

The influence of John and Alice Coltrane

Few people have stretched the boundaries of improvisation further than the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. His recording of “My Favorite Things” inspired countless jazz musicians to push their own frontiers. Much of his history is readily available on the internet, but I’d like to focus on how he challenged other musicians of his active period (late 1940s – 1960s).

Giant Steps

If we look at his song “Giant Steps,” the circle of fifths takes on a life of its own. The song, recorded in 1960, put pianist Tommy Flannagan in a tough spot as he tried to improvise around the circle in three different keys (B, Eb, G). When Coltrane takes over, the song flies. Today, it has become a rite of passage for jazz musicians. Numerous artists have recorded their versions of the song, with Pat Metheny’s being one of my favorites. Coltrane played with many of the great jazz masters including Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

Alice Coltrane

Although John is widely known, many people are surprised to learn that his wife, Alice, was equally talented. She was a pianist and harpist who eventually replaced McCoy Tyner on piano in John’s band. John adopted her daughter, and the couple had three other children together, all of whom became musicians. John and Alice studied spirituality, recording this period of their lives in the album A Love Supreme. After John’s death in 1967, she continued exploring jazz and spiritual practices. These influences merged in her albums Universal Consciousness and World Galaxy. She changed her name to Turiyasangitananda or Turiya Alice Coltrane, established an ashram, and went on to record music that left from her jazz roots and focused on promoting spirituality. Many of her later works including Turiya Sings, are now regarded as ashram classics. Alice passed on in 2007.

The originality, skill, and mastery of both of these musicians are indisputable. I have spent untold hours listening to their work. As for a favorite song from either of them, it’s impossible to choose. However, it’s hard not to love “My Favorite Things.”

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWG2dsXV5HI[/embedyt]

Black History Month: Influence of African-American musicians is undeniable

Hazel Scott was an accomplished classical and jazz pianist who stood up for racial justice.

Working as a composer and pianist, I draw inspiration from so many who have come before me. My early training was primarily classical. I studied the famous composers like Beethoven, Ravel and Mozart, whose work most people recognize. But, it was one thing to learn what my teachers gave me, and another thing to hear the popular music that was all around me. I learned quickly that the structure of much classical music was constantly being redefined and enhanced by musicians who pushed rhythm, form and melody in new directions. Many of these innovators were and are our Black brothers and sisters.

It’s February, Black History Month, and although we can’t contain the energy and beauty of their work in a mere month, we can pay homage to some of the greats. As a Colombian, I am fortunate to have been exposed to many diverse artists and have witnessed the fusion of many styles.

This month in my blog and on social media, I will be sharing the voices and works of some of my favorite African-American influences. Of course, you can expect familiar names like Count Bassie, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Art Tatum, Eroll Garner, and Etta James. But, I hope to share with you some lesser-known giants as well. In fact, I kicked off the month on my social media sites with a tribute to Ms. Hazel Scott, a talented lady who not only played across genres with style, she also stood up for social justice. Later, I’ll share the work of the late Joe Arroyo, whose salsa music carries a Caribbean tone that blends elements of jazz and rock. And, it’s this kind of slipstream music that I find exciting.

Today, it’s impossible to appreciate music without recognizing the influence of numerous cultures. My Colombian heritage and interaction with people in various communities has allowed me to interact with talent across the spectrum. I dedicate this month to all the African-American musicians – known and unknown – who have added to the musical pool. When I compose pieces like Ensamble Barlovento, I know that I’m drawing upon my appreciation of the work of people like Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Jimi Hendrix.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=779W1P_-ntQ[/embedyt]

Ultimately, we are all humans on the same planet. Black, white, whatever … We are all connected. We need to appreciate all the diversity around us. By focusing on the best that connects us, we can enjoy all the facets of a rich, varied experience. I am deeply thankful for the work of so many Black musicians who have carved the musical landscape of my life.

I leave you with one of the most uplifting tunes by anyone of any race: “Love Train” by the O’Jays.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsYOAIR4L_w[/embedyt]
Ray Charles’ music has inspired me for decades.

Latitud 01 de Febrero de 2015

Latitud 01 de Febrero de 2015

El cóndor de los Andes

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Bajo la batuta de Germán Gutiérrez, la Filarmónica Joven de Colombia se presentó el 21 de enero en el Colegio Alemán de la ciudad de Barranquilla.

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Redacción

Una interpretación audaz en cuanto a repertorio hizo en su reciente presentación la Filarmónica Joven de Colombia, en el Colegio Alemán de Barranquilla.

De Nueva York a los Andes peruano y colombiano, luego Kiev, y Argentina, con la majestad de un cóndor, visión de un águila y el ritmo incesante de jóvenes en cabalgata en coordinada búsqueda de excelencia comenzó el programa de la Filarmónica Joven de Colombia, proyecto de la Fundación Bolívar Davivienda.

El programa despegó con excelente despliegue de percusionistas y cobres deslumbrando en rapsódicas sincopas caribes, también típicas de los blues de los años veinte y treinta. Con el sentimiento de un danzón rápido, cuerdas luchando por la atención (característica de la pieza en sí), un correteo entre familias instrumentales cada vez tanteando terreno más alto y más ‘forte’ a un final —exuberante, tal como el temperamento de su compositor Leonard Bernstein— empezó un Fantastischen Abend (Vesper Fantástico), el 21 de enero de 2015 en el auditorio del Colegio Alemán de Barranquilla.

Ensamble de colores sonoros, cálidos y hondos: intensos, vibratos expresivos, proyección profunda –es decir un sonido guiado a la tradición europea central, vienesa, o hasta berlinesa, en las cuerdas– distinción sutil especial.

Luego, la audazmente orquestada pieza Lord of the air, López, joven compositor peruano, con la sensación de vuelo de un ave, jóvenes cuerdistas con la guía del director Germán Gutiérrez, mezclaron sutilmente con el sonido ‘francés’ del chelista Castro-Balbi, sensible solista. Al aterrizar, un último aleteo, el Bourree de suite de cello en do, de Bach –quasi religiosamente interpretado– y continuando ruta vecina (más cerca de Barranquilla con relación al Perú, porque Atehortúa es de Antioquia). Fugas, tal vez algo de dodecafonía, mezclado con toques y cánones andinos e inclinaciones de jazz cubano, al pausar en casa Atehortúa interesantes anomalías musicales –lo clásico y autóctono– en erudición.

Largo y extenso viaje a Kiev desde los Andes, con gnomos, castillos embrujados, jardines, marchas y mercados bávaros, hasta conversaciones sepulcros y gallinas al baile, un Disney sonoro sensacional, y tour de forcé para el público, los jóvenes y el conductor establecieron las virtudes de la excelente disciplina guiando el cinemático programa de Mussorgsky Cuadros en una exhibición. Y nuevamente hacia el Caribe, un merengue de López. Y, a propósito de Texas, como suelen decir los de allí, el petróleo, las joyas y las excelentes o buenas mujeres se asemejan –siempre–, se encuentran inadvertidamente: el ensamble hizo sonar un arreglo del tango La cumparsita pasando por multitonalidades y tempos….

Pasos, miradas atenuantes, cortejo íntimo, sensual –el ritmo de la búsqueda del alma gemela– expresión que me dio ganas de danzar. Solos sobre las profundas sonoras cuerdas (sol y re principales) del violín con expresivo vibrato y lánguidas sonoridades sensuales.

Un joven violinista rindió tres solos fortuitos que  fue la cús
pide de la velada. ¡Qué gusto!…

La capacidad de conectar con la audiencia y hacer sentir la humanidad de nuestras emociones y pasiones con inteligencia y rigor es la existencia de la música. En este ámbito el ensamble cumple con su meta, el público se deleita felizmente y los jóvenes se transforman.