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August 4, 2011

S.F. Girls Chorus sings praises after Cuba visit

San Francisco Chronicle:

This summer the San Francisco Girls Chorus performed what outgoing Artistic Director Susan McMane said was among its most memorable concerts: a performance of American, Latin and other songs in Santa Clara, Cuba, where McMane and 40 girls were awed by the level of musical appreciation and sophistication.

"Music is very much part of public education," said McMane. "There are 27 professional choirs in Cuba, supported by the government, in a country of only 11 million people. And those choirs are not just in the capital - they can be found all over the country."

There is also real pageantry to Cuban concerts. McMane described the SFGC's reception as being "like in a movie": The Santa Clara choir, dressed in classic red-and-black dresses and suits, escorted the girls into the packed concert hall to the roaring appreciation of the audience. They sang Cuban American composer Tania León's newly commissioned "Rimas Tropicales" as well as American folk songs and spirituals like "Hold On" and even a choral rendition of "San Francisco."

The July 2-10 tour to Cuba came by permission of the U.S. Special Interest Section Headquarters, which serves as an unofficial embassy on the island nation, which also heard a Fourth of July concert in Havana, where the SFGC performed "The Star-Spangled Banner." Other stops included the northern coastal town of Matanzas and participation in three master classes in Havana with Cuban choral conductors, including Maestra Digna Guerra of Coro Nacional de Cuba.

McMane was surprised that "such a struggling economy has such a high level of art and music. I don't think we ever had an audience as appreciative as in Santa Clara. The girls were moved by the poor conditions under which people live and the richness with which they approach music. Our country is so rich, and yet we cut money for the arts."

Imagine if our government gave proportionally the same amount of money to music education as Cuba does. We would have a society rich with the multiple benefits of group singing. I once spent time in Havana and had the privilege of attending several rehearsals of the acclaimed Cuban choir Exaudi. The country is full of such great music. Due to the ridiculous ongoing embargo it is still very difficult for Cuban artists to get US visas and there are still US imposed restrictions on US citizens ability to travel there. How great, however, is this program and is it not wonderful how harmony singing can bring different people together?

Posted by acapnews at August 4, 2011 12:00 AM

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