The University of Nevada, Reno, ended Valentine’s weekend with a message of love. Last Sunday, Feb. 17 at 5 p.m., the Joe Crowley Student Union theatre hosted “Canciones de mi Isla: Songs of my Island.” The recital featured songs and pieces from notable Cuban composers. Their legacy demonstrates how many styles and beats can transform into one Cuban sound.
The history of Cuban music tells the success story of a cultural blend and pluralistic identity. Arrangements for congas, bongos, guiro, classical guitar, piano, mezzo-sopranos and tenors all found their place that evening. Cuba was once a port that exchanged not only goods but also musical techniques from different continents. Over time, the island embraced the traditional Spanish music and the Afro drums to build a deeply rooted foundation of what is now Cuban music. The rich and sophisticated compositions illustrate how these distinctive melodious notes create a more perfect union.
Cuban pianist, Orlay Alonso, played pieces by Joaquín Nin and Osmel Torres Alonso. UNR’s Assistant Professor of Voice, Olga Perez Flora, and the American tenor, James Flora, joined him. Their music told stories of painful longing, of yearning for a beloved who doesn’t know he exists, or of the loving affection between child and her guardian as she is sung into slumber. The vocalist’s change of tone, vibratos and enactments of the story allowed the audience to sympathize with the hopeless romantic or the innocent child asking for a lullaby. The pianist would emphasize the mood by playing notes that signaled an afterthought or continuation of the story even after the last word was sung.
The love songs continued throughout the night inside the theatre. Work by Ernesto Lecuona seemed to be Dr. Perez Flora’s most anticipated part of the recital. As she introduced the last set of the night, Assistant Professor Ruthie Meadows and UNR student David Gervais joined Alonso and her on stage. Together, they played “Noche Azul,” which had some of the audience members tapping their feet or moving their hips to the lively beat.
The performers ended the night with a song dedicated to a former UNR colleague who passed away. Dr. Perez Flora sang with James Flora, “Malagueña.” For any helpless romantic in the audience, the song ignited feelings of devotion. The piece spoke of “Malagueña with black eyes. Malagueña of my dreams. I am dying with sorrow, for your, only your love…” At that moment, the performers summoned that feeling of pure adoration and finding that one true love.
The audience left the theatre aware of how much influence Cuba had on these notable composers. Their love for the country’s rich diversity manifested through compositions that depict deep affection. As a Cuban-American, Dr. Olga Perez Flora shared her love for the music she grew up listening to in her home state of Louisiana. She said she would always be grateful her family was granted asylum during the 1960s in the United States.
Like the old ports of Cuba, the Joe Crowley Student Union theatre transformed into a space where love could be exchanged and shared. For a moment, the many hearts in that room beat as one.
Sara Gallego can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.