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Latin American Ensemble presents Maya culture



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Felipe Tovar-Henao plays "Las mujeres que se pintan" during the Latin American Ensemble performance on Thursday night in Auer Hall. Katelyn Rowe Buy Photos

Four institutions collaborated to present the music, language and culture of the Yucatán region of Mexico and the Maya people in Thursday’s Latin American Ensemble concert “Aires del Mayab: Vocal and Chamber Music 
Inspired by the Yucatán.”

“These are four different kinds of institutions getting together to do something exciting,” IU professor Quetzil Castañeda said. “It’s very politically significant as well to celebrate the Maya people and the Maya culture and to understand and appreciate the Mayan language in purely aesthetic terms. This is a great achievement that this 
collaboration is creating.”

The concert was presented by the Latin American Music Center, and it involved the collaboration of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Minority Languages and Cultures Project and OperaMaya, which is a program that performs music of the modern and historical Maya culture. The concert took place in Auer Hall.

The music ranged from instrumentals to operatic pieces and was performed in a small chamber music setting. It included lyrics in both Spanish and Mayan languages.

Castañeda is a professor in CLACS who teaches the Mayan 
language and anthropology classes.

The Mayan language is very challenging for Indo-European speakers, Castañeda said. He is one of three or four professors who teach the language in the United States, and he is a language coach and special consultant with 
OperaMaya.

“It’s a particularly difficult language to sing in a classical style,” Castañeda said. “It’s really exciting to see the great success that the OperaMaya has had in teaching the singers to sing in this non-European language. It’s a very exciting kind of work.”

In the past, he has collaborated with the OperaMaya to help the music program set up a concert at Chichen Itza, an archaeological site that was once one of the largest Maya cities.

There are misconceptions about Maya culture, Castañeda said. For example, many people describe the culture or the people as “Mayan,” when “Mayan” should only be used to refer to one of the 32 languages in the Mayan 
language family.

The Latin American Ensemble is a group in the Jacobs School of Music that performs Latin American music. The music director of the ensemble is Francisco Cortés-Álvarez, who arranged many of the pieces in the concert.

IU graduate Mary Grogan is the general director and founder of OperaMaya.

OperaMaya presents an international summer music festival every year. The concert featured “K’atun,” a piece by IU graduate Jonathan Metzinger. The piece won the festival’s composition contest in 2014.

Castañeda said he helped Metzinger with the composition of his piece so he could understand how to use the Mayan language.

In addition to music, there was also a reading of a Maya poem that demonstrated the contemporary Mayan 
language.

Grogan said people in the Yucatán region are often shocked to discover there is an outside interest in their culture.

“This collaboration is really taking this new frontier even further away to the middle of southern Indiana,” 
Grogan said.

Grogan said she enjoyed working with various units of the University.

“It’s certain worlds that normally don’t meet, with the language, anthropology, music and all of these things together,” she said.

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