Adventures in geography and gender

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In their new show, Boulder Chorale features the stylings of award winning poet Dominique Christina.
Courtesy of Boulder Chorale/Marshall Groff, 2013

Two of Boulder’s choral groups will separately spend the weekend exploring geography and gender.

Happily, both programs will be given twice in the Boulder area. So if you are looking for musical adventures, you can experience both journeys.

The Seicento Baroque ensemble and director Evanne Browne will travel back to the music of 16th- and 17th-century Spanish America. They will perform music by Spanish missionaries and converted Christian natives in Central and South America, sung in Spanish and Latin as well as Nahuatl, the indigenous language of the Aztecs.

At almost the same times, in Boulder and Longmont, Boulder Chorale will be delving into music by and about women. Their program, “Women’s Work: Poetry and Music” will feature the chorale and director Vicki Burrichter performing music from Hildegard to Carly Simon, and settings of religious texts extolling the Virgin Mary. Bringing the performance up to 2016, five-time national poetry slam winner Dominique Christina will poetically address modern social issues that affect women.

Seicento’s mission is to present “worthy but rarely-heard music of the early Baroque period.” That time — around 1600 — coincided with the Spanish colonial era in the Americas. The Spanish missions were rich with musical activities, including choirs of Native Americans who brought their own lively traditions to the performances and in some cases wrote music themselves.

Browne says “there’s been a surge of publications and information about this repertoire. I spent the last year listening and researching and seeing what was online, and thought, ‘This would be really fun!’”

The music presents several challenges, including the use of indigenous languages in some texts, complex rhythms and evidence of percussion parts that were not written down. Using the work of specialists, Browne addressed those problems by making “scholarly assumptions” about how the music should be performed.

“We can go by artwork of the period, and we can go by some of the documents that recall what a performance was like, or what the drums sounded like,” Browne says. But “we can’t be completely confident” that we know how it sounded, because “none of us were there.”

Historical uncertainties aside, the marriage of European musical styles with the native traditions created music that sounds engagingly exotic, ranging from the anonymous Teponazcuicatl, “The procession of the drums,” that is built from native drumming patterns, to a more traditional Renaissance choral setting of Salve Regina by the Spanish composer Hernando Franco.

“It’s a lively concert full of unexpected rhythms and dance-like music, and some real surprises in music that was written by composers who were raised in colonial Latin-America,” Browne says. “There’s so much rhythm in it, and the instrumentation is very, very unusual as well.”

Boulder Chorale’s concert of “Women’s Work” opens with music by one of the most revered female musicians of European history, the medieval Benedictine abbess, Christian mystic, composer and polymath Hildegard of Bingen.

For the rest of the concert, Burrichter says, “I wanted to show the variety of music composed by women and about women, and try to touch on as much of that as I could.” And variety there is, from the medieval mysticism of Hildegard, to a traditional South African song arranged in the spirit of Miriam Makeba, to American modernist Meredith Monk’s “Panda Chant II.” The program ends with a choral arrangement of Carly Simon’s anthem “Let the River Run,” written for the 1988 film Working Girl.

In among music by women will be pieces by men about women — specifically Anton Bruckner’s Ave Maria and John Tavener’s Mother of God, Here I Stand. “I wanted to show how male composers have represented women,” Burrichter says. “The Ave Maria is such a standard representation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as is the Tavener Mother of God.”

Poet Dominique Christina is featured prominently on the program, although she cannot say exactly what she will do. “It works better for me to function from the spirit of the moment,” Christina says. “I need to feel what the space requires.

“You know that music will happen, and you know that poetry will happen. And if you have any context for my work, you know that the work will probably be heavy. All the parts that I celebrate about myself have been proven by virtue of adversity, or complication, something I’ve had to resist, or insist upon, or fight against. My poetry has to be honest about that.”

Christina says her work will include both the adversity and the celebration. Or as she puts it, “In the Judeo-Christian context, I’m going to talk about the crucifixion before I talk about the resurrection.”

On the Bill: “Colonial Latin American and the New World” by Seicento Baroque Ensemble. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder. 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, Longmont Museum Stewart Auditorium, 400 Quail Road, Longmont, Tickets: 720-301-7747.

“Women’s Work: Poetry and Music” by Boulder Chorale. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave., Tickets: 303-554-7692.