As this month is Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), I decided to look back again on my trip to Mexico last July. Since coming back from Mexico, I have taken much more interest in Mexican culture, and music in particular.
With its vibrant Mexican community, Chicago has much to offer in Mexican music. In August, I visited the Chicago Botanical Gardens and found out that a mariachi band was playing and young folkloric dancers were performing. Before the trip to Mexico, I would have kept walking, now I stayed and watched. On September 15, Millennium Park hosted celebrations of the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, and this time, I made it a point to walk over and watch after work.
From where did this interest come? In another instance, when I came back from Dublin, I appreciated Irish folk music much more than before. The key point here is that in both instances I made a connection; I could identify with the music because I had a first-hand and genuine experience in the country from which it originated. Naturally, the Mexican connection is much stronger than the Irish connection, as my wife’s family is from Mexico.
In arts management, could we use this connection as a way to attract audiences to music? It probably proves too hard to make this connection through any marketing tools, and even through education—which I have stated before is a critical tool in audience building—a genuine connection cannot be expected. It does, however, demonstrate the importance of traveling and experiencing other cultures.
Of course, music organizations can’t just send people to foreign countries. But I believe it should be something parents should consider when raising and educating their children; expose them to different cultures and make them connect, and perhaps even identify, with those cultures. I now consider Mexico as a part of my identity—identity does not have to be determined by blood.
Returning to Chicago, neighborhoods such as Pilsen and Little Village can offer a great taste of such other cultures. But it can also be used the other way around. Last Sunday, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the CSO’s training orchestra) performed a free concert at Cristo Rey High School in Pilsen. The residents of this neighborhood got a taste of a different culture than what they might be used to; and maybe the Civic Orchestra made some connections there that night.
A while ago, I heard a classical music work by a Spanish composer. I can’t remember the piece by name, but the one thing I do remember is thinking how closely it sounded to mariachi. I am assuming, mariachi stems from Spanish classical music, introduced by the Spanish conquests in Mexico. But it is often also the other way around; folk music can inspire classical music. Think Dvorak, who traveled frequently and used what he heard on the way. Many other composers did the same, and many others took inspiration from stories and tales from distant countries.
That is why it’s important to not just have an education department, but to have an education and community relations department. The education is very important, but without that cultural exchange, and without that connection, that education might not find enthused ears.
Tania, my wife, recently got hired as community relations coordinator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (sans nepotism). In this role she deals on a very regular basis with Chicago’s Mexican community. This is something she is very excited about and a mission she strongly believes in. I am looking forward to hearing about her experiences, and how the cultural exchange between the CSO and the community develops.