MERMAIDS, MONSTERS AND SEA SONGS.
San Bartolomé, listed in last week’s Lanzarote Information newsletter as one of the island’s loveliest non-resort areas is, most of the time, a beautifully shady, sleepy sit on the benches as you take your stroll, kind of town. Nothing much happens there,….so when we arrived and parked in front of Teatro Municipal at 8.00 pm on Thursday 15th August we thought we would kill the hour before the start of the concert we had come to see by taking one of those aforementioned strolls. As we stepped down into Plaza Leon y Castillo, though, we were staggered to see a beautiful mermaid sitting on the top steps!
To almost stumble over this lovely, long haired creature, wearing a bright orange top and displaying a long, green, swishy, fishy tail, was weird enough but she was also surrounded by pretty bubbles in the air as she spoke quietly to about a hundred young children and their parents. It seemed she was telling them a story and showing them a few magic tricks as she did so, and they were all hanging on her every word. She led them in a sing song, too, and, suddenly, lovely recorded music could be heard whispering in the trees.
The mermaid turned out to be an itinerant street artist who was part of Tarde De Teatro Callejero, and was starring in the lead role of a performance by strolling players, celebrating the bounty of the sea, shining like diamonds about a mile away, downhill. So wonderful was the performance and so gentle the atmosphere that we had just about decided to give up the concert that had originally brought us here, but the appearance of a twelve foot high sea monster sent us scurrying for the safety of the theatre.
We had read in the programme for this year’s San Bartolomé Festival that the theatre was staging an event simply labelled as Voces Al Viento and although we had no idea what would be performed nor who would be performing it, we had really enjoyed a similar event in the same venue a few days earlier.
That had turned out to be fantastic rock concert by Dreaming Up And Friends that we reviewed in Lanzarote Information, so we were quite prepared to tootle up from Playa Blanca again in the hope of seeing something to match that.
It was only when we took our seats that we began to realise that this was likely to be a very different musical event. From overheard conversations and the layout of the stage etc we realised this to be a choral performance and so Dee went leaflet hunting at the front desk to see if she could find out more. She returned with an informative little handout that told us that tonight there would be three short performances by local municipal choirs, Coral de Yaiza, Coral Marina Puerto del Carmen and, of course, Coral Municipal de San Bartolome. Dee became quite excited when she learned that Yaiza was to be part of this, as a few Spanish friends from her yoga class have places in the choir. She was just whispering that to me when two ladies suddenly boomed out Olas from behind us, and they and Dee hugged and kissed and began chatting animatedly. The yoga group is in summer recess, so I guess they had a lot to catch up on. Soon, though, Pilar and Carmen had to rush away to join their chorister colleagues, for Yaiza were to be first up on stage.
We have previously heard them perform songs of folk lore and Christmas Carol and have always enjoyed the way their young female musical director draws out soft and gentle harmonies, and tonight was no different. As Dee knows from her days in the UK with The Rochdale Festival Choir, the line ups of large singing groups are always somewhat fluid. Tonight, it seemed, Coral de Yaiza consisted of a dozen females and three males, led as persuasively as ever by their m.d.
They opened with Viente años, composed by Maria Teresa Vera, a song that incorporated some of the female call and male response that the choir deliver so well.
Yo te dire, we were told, was collaboratively written by Enrique Lovett and Jorge Halpern. This was a clever, Spanish tongue-twister of a song with a repetitive lyrical passage, and it highlighted the choir’s strong harmonies, with real strength being provided by the three males standing to the side.
Se equivo la paloma was written by Guastavino and I was intrigued to see from the handout notes that this version would also incorporate the reading of a poem, seemingly composed by one Rafael Albert. As I have often given public readings of my own poems inserted into musical and artistic performances I was intrigued to see how they might deliver this. My most abiding memory is of delivering my work in Blackburn Cathedral in the UK with the Cathedral’s Octavios Choir. Coral de Yaiza combined the two art forms superbly, with a lively song subsiding to a lightly hummed section as the poem was read with gravitas by a male chorister. Each art form enhanced the other here, I reckon.
Their set was closed, however, by their most vibrant selection with Riu, riu, chiu, (attributed to Cancionero de Uppsala) with the rhythm being accentuated by a hand held instrument shaken gently over the choruses.
It was touching to see the Yaiza choir present a plaque to a representative of San Bartolome Festival as a thank you for the invitation gesture, before the Coral Marina Puerto del Carmen took to the stage for their performance. Like all three choirs on the night the singers marched down the centre aisle of the theatre and ascended a short flight of steps at the front of the stage, giving me an opportunity to note their different styles of attire. Yaiza had all been dressed in black, but the sixteen ladies of Coral Marina Puerto del Carmen all wore green tops and white trousers, offset by the all black suit worn by their male musical director and keyboard player.
The instrument lent a depth and rhythm to the performance of Cantinera de Cuba. Manuel Pareja Obregon’s song sounded folklorist and contained a strong and seemingly dramatic narrative interspersed by an evocative chorus.
This was followed by Dicen que se muere el mar, a sea song composed by Joaquin Madurgo Oleiza with a pretty melody following its lulled opening.
Siaz Lassa and Juan Hernando Sanz collaborated to compose Bianca velero, stirringly sung by the choir, who then closed their set with a fast paced La Bikina, which I felt I recognised from the concert a few days earlier by Dreaming Up, a younger generation of musicians.
The ‘home team’ of Coral Municipal de San Bartolome rightly closed this wonderful show. The largest, in number, of the three choirs the twenty female choristers were all attired in elegant white dresses and each wore a brightly coloured corsage, with their female musical director wearing a long, turquoise gown. She led them into instant harmonies on the beautiful Eres tu, serving us a lovingly restrained version of the song penned by Juan Carlos Calderan.
The following song, written by A. Lopez Garcia, turned out to be a giant presentation. El Peregrino was delivered here in an upbeat, full bodied almost gospel-like style.
I had been looking forward to their next song all evening, ever since noting before the show that Coral Municipal de San Bartolome would be performing Somewhere Over The Rainbow. As a huge fan of both The Wizard Of Oz and Garland, (hence my own song, written forty years ago now, of Play Judy Again On The Jukebox), I have more than a dozen versions of the show-tune on my i-pod, each recorded by different artists, including Garland’s, as well as cover versions by the likes of Eva Cassidy and Buffy Ford Stewart.
The choir began their rendition with a heavenly lullaby prelude and then delivered the song with all the beauty, optimism and pathos that Judy (and Dorothy !) invested in the Harold Arlen number. I was left feeling that this song would evoke the same moods in a listener in whatever language it might be sung.
The choir sang and the audience clapped along on their closing selection of Viva la gente, a number by Paul Ralph Colwell, with some intricate counterpoint as a central feature.
The concert was closed with presentations made to a fro between the choirs and to the gentleman who had hosted the event with a light mix of gentle smile and perfect delivery of detail. Events like this on the island are always a delight and as I rose from my comfy almost wrap-around armchair that serve as theatre seats over here, I found myself wondering why I had ever tolerated hard backed school chairs when watching concerts in town civic centres in the UK, and why the microphones were never enough to drown out chattering staff.
Here, on Lanzarote, we had enjoyed three wonderful cameo performances in comfort and pin drop silence, as we listened to evocative sea songs.
Here, on Lanzarote, there are always the sea songs!