For many years, choral music played an important role in my life. I began singing in the children's choir at my church when I was just five years old, and I continued performing in different choruses straight through to my college graduation. Once I entered the work world, I made several guest appearances with area choirs to help boost their numbers for large works performed at Christmas and Easter, but my life as a choral singer had effectively ended – that is, until now.
The solitary life of a translator working at home doesn't exactly create many opportunities to develop friendships, a fact that prompted me to consider an extracurricular activity of some sort. I decided to turn once more to choral music as a creative and social outlet. In March, I responded to an open call for singers posted online, and thus was born my affiliation with Coro Alta Mira, a choir of 30 voices based here in Necochea.
For the past three months, we worked to prepare a repertoire for Argentina's bicentennial celebration. On the morning of Saturday, May 22, Coro Alta Mira took to the streets to entertain the citizens of Necochea with traditional Argentine songs. We also handed out escarapelas (blue and white ribbons worn on patriotic holidays) to passers-by to help get them in the spirit. The gray weather kept many people inside, but those who were out and about obviously enjoyed the music.
As we arrived at Plaza Dardo Rocha, the Municipal Band began playing "Marcha de San Lorenzo," a very upbeat and well-known patriotic tune. The crowd sang with gusto as sky blue and white handkerchiefs fluttered all around me, and I simultaneously felt a tinge of homesickness for the United States and pride in my new home. In my experience, the Argentines aren't a very patriotic lot, and the unpopular government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has drawn a great deal of criticism and produced dissatisfaction, particularly here in Necochea. Yet, in that moment, I saw the Argentines as a people proud of their history, their country and their identity, and I was truly moved.
After a couple more instrumental numbers from the band, we joined forces with six other choruses from Necochea to celebrate Argentina's bicentennial with voices raised in song. Meanwhile, choruses all over the country were gathering at the very same time – as a symbol of unity – to perform these three songs: "A que florezca mi pueblo," "Aurora" and the national anthem of Argentina, which I learned in a cram session two days earlier. My fellow singers chuckled when they spotted my crib sheet with the anthem's lyrics tucked inside my music folder.
[A clipping from the daily Ecos Diarios. I'm in the crowd. Channel your Where's Waldo? mojo and find me.]
While the country was commemorating 200 years of history, the chorus also had a reason to party. This year marks Coro Alta Mira's 18th anniversary, which we celebrated with our first concert of the season at the Teatro Municipal followed by a spaghetti dinner. Our program included a number of Argentine folk songs plus two tangos by the great Ástor Piazzolla.
On May 25th, the chorus marched in Necochea's Bicentennial Parade. My fellow singers joked that I was destined to suffer some sort of identity crisis, gesturing to the Argentine escarapela pinned to my jacket and the Danish flag I'd been assigned to carry (the chorus takes its name from the Danish school Escuela Alta Mira, where we practice). I fully embraced the multicultural moment, although I think an American flag pin would have really completed the look.
Sandwiched between a reggaetón troupe and a group from Quequén dressed in traditional gaucho garb, we marched down Avenida 59 alongside an Argentine flag that stretched a mile long. The parade was rather disorganized (as is often the case with events in Argentina), but we still managed to enjoy ourselves.
The act of making music is like no other; using the voice as an instrument to create music that touches people makes for an incredible experience. The connection and near-instantaneous acceptance that I felt from the other members of the chorus has been amazing, and I consider myself lucky to be a part of this group. Coro Alta Mira, thanks for giving me a new lease on my musical life (and something to do on Tuesday and Thursday nights).
[Photo credits: María Nelly Merlo and Coro Alta Mira]