Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Esteban Salas and His Legacy of Music Education in Cuba

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Esteban Salas and His Legacy of Music Education in Cuba

Article excerpt

The Conservatorio Esteban Salas, situated steps away from the main square of Santiago de Cuba, is well known to residents of this eastern Caribbean city. With a long-standing reputation for producing professional musicians of the highest quality, this institution, locals realize, is important for maintaining Santiago's status as the "keeper of the country's artistic soul." (1) Residents are also well acquainted with the institution's namesake, Baroque composer Esteban Salas. A humble priest now considered to be Cuba's first native-born art music composer, Salas is known both in Santiago and throughout Cuba as the founder of a lineage of musical excellence. (2)

Sadly, such recognition is somewhat limited to Cuban nationals. For those not living on the island, and especially for non-Spanish speakers, information about the history of Cuban music education and the contributions of Esteban Salas is difficult to obtain. In the case of the former, restrictions on communication both to and from the island, coupled with the government's reluctance to translate official documents into English, makes it difficult for nonresidents to research the educational practices of Cuba. (3) In the case of the latter, materials relating to Esteban Salas were lost in the Santiago Cathedral archives until the 1940s.

This essay therefore serves to expose a wider audience to the educational legacy of Esteban Salas. Throughout his lifetime, Salas worked tirelessly to build Santiago Cathedral into one of the nation's first centers of music education, securing its position of cultural importance for centuries to come. Salas's legacy in turn enabled the establishment of private music teaching and the introduction of music conservatories into Oriente province. (4) Going on to influence a nation, centuries after his death, Salas's oeuvre provided a starting point for the musicological study of Cuban art music.

To fully understand the depth of Salas's legacy, this essay is divided into sections. To familiarize the reader with the setting in which Salas worked, I first give a brief historical introduction to the city of Santiago de Cuba, outlining its economic, political, and cultural importance from colonial times to the present day. Then in the second section I investigate the role of the Catholic Church in colonial Santiago de Cuba and how this institution provided fertile ground in which the composer could establish his legacy. In the third section, I outline the personal biography of the composer with specific attention paid to his lifetime achievements. Finally, to illuminate the impact Salas had on the history of Cuban music education well beyond his life, I trace his pedagogical lineage, concluding with a detailed critique of the Conservatorio Esteban Salas and the development of a national focus for musicological study in Cuba.

Santiago de Cuba: La Tierra Caliente

Known as la tierra caliente (the warm place) not only for its climate but also for the hospitality of its inhabitants, Santiago de Cuba has played a profound role in the development of Cuba. Throughout history, the city has served as the ecclesiastical, economic, and revolutionary center of Cuba. It also has had a significant impact on the nation's cultural and, more specifically musical, development.

Founded in 1514 on the eastern portion of the island by Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, Santiago de Cuba quickly established itself as an important Caribbean center due to its well-protected natural port. (5) From 1522-89, following the transfer of the seat of the Catholic Church from Baracoa to Santiago, the town matured to become the island's first colonial city, serving simultaneously as the new nation's capital. (6)

Santiago's development was rapid throughout the sixteenth century. Rich in natural resources, the center progressed into an economic hub of copper, fishing, and agriculture. The location also served well for the exportation of rum, gold, and silver to neighboring islands such as Jamaica and Santo Domingo. …

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