Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Conflicted Musical Identities

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Conflicted Musical Identities

Article excerpt

TRAINING AS A CLASSICAL PIANIST IN MY NATIVE Ecuador was, to say the least, an identity struggle. As I learned the Western classical music canon-Chopin, Beethoven and others-I was confronted with how alien this music was to my upbringing. For my friends and family, such music was a foreign and untranslatable language, deemed important by others-namely music professors and foreign visitors-and thus assumed to be valuable. Nevertheless, they couldn't reconcile this type of music with the passions and anxieties of their musical selves.

Like most practitioners of classical music in Ecuador, I had to move abroad as my performance career advanced. I performed frequently in concerts overseas and obtained advanced degrees. This, I was told, was the path to success-what one must do in order to become a professional musician. But deep inside, this success felt to me like horrendous displacement. To be a professional I had to leave home, I had to ignore the musical passions of the people with whom I grew up, I had, in other words, to become foreign. The collision of my professional aspirations and my Latin American upbringing thus resulted in a conflicted identity, the identity of a man who disseminated a foreign musical language while ignoring the musical sounds of his upbringing.

Torn by this conflicted identity, I turned to others who, in a similar position, had apparently come to terms with this struggle of identity. I studied the works of Luis Humberto Salgado (1903-1977) and his teacher Segundo Luis Moreno (18821972). Both were trained in the classical music tradition while living in Ecuador and thus were arguably familiar with the anxieties that affected me. Crucially, both were deeply committed to the development and inclusion of Ecuadoran music into the classical music tradition. Salgado composed more than a hundred classical works including nine symphonies, four operas, five ballets and seven concertos, the great majority of which include Ecuadoran musical components. Moreno wrote a multi-volume history of music in Ecuador-the first of its kind-and authored several books and collections of music from Ecuador. For Salgado and Moreno, the incorporation of Ecuadoran music into classical music compositions and musicological studies served as a way to empower Ecuadoran music-to, in Salgado's words, "elevate" it.

Yet as I studied Salgado and Moreno, it became evident that their work was problematic. They used classical music and comparative musicology, both inherently Western disciplines, as vehicles for understanding and empowering Ecuadoran music. And in doing so, they interpreted Ecuadoran music in Western terms, unwittingly constructing them as inferior expressions in need of Western assistance. This is patently clear in their evolutionary understanding of music. Moreno openly argued that Ecuadoran indigenous music was less evolved than Western music, and that music in Ecuador had evolved beyond more "primitive" evolutionary stages thanks only to the Spanish colonization. Salgado, following his teacher, also defended the evolutionary superiority of Western music. He suggested that by combining Ecuadoran music genres with Western modernist techniques his compositions elevated Ecuadoran music to the highly evolved standard of Western modernism.

Decades later, the noxious assumptions encompassed within Moreno's and Salgado's evolutionary worldview are obvious. Put simply, they denigrate Ecuadoran music, marking it subservient to Western musical values. Still, it is important to note that their intention was not to debase Ecuadoran music. Quite the opposite, they were passionate about Ecuador's musical traditions and devoted their careers to their development. And their efforts proved fruitful. Salgado and Moreno, in a very real way, empowered Ecuadoran musicians by providing them, virtually for the first time, with a substantial and valuable repertoire of classical music and musicological studies dedicated to Ecuadoran music. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.