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5 Questions to Patricia Caicedo (soprano, musicologist)

Patricia Caicedo is a soprano and musicologist whose scholarship and performances center Latin American art song. She has released ten albums and published numerous scholarly editions of scores and books, including The Latin American Art Song: Sounds of the Imagined Nations, the go-to history on its subject. In January 2021, Caicedo launched a weekly podcast, Latin American and Iberian Art Song, in which she interviews composers and leading experts from across Latin America and plays some great recordings too.

What motivated you to start your podcast?

My mission is to promote the Latin American and Iberian art song repertoire, its composers, and its performers. To achieve this, I have developed a strategy that begins with research, performance, creating spaces for research and performance like the Barcelona Festival of Song, and finally promoting everything through digital media.

Knowledge transfer is essential, and the internet is vital to achieving it. I started the podcast to reach more people and to have a more significant social impact. I want people to learn about the existence of the Latin American and Iberian song repertoire, a repertoire unknown to many.

Decolonization and challenging the Eurocentric canon have been hot topics in musicology lately. It’s great that these issues are being discussed, but it’s questionable how much action is being taken in academia. Your podcast stands out as a way of really practicing these ideas. How do you think your podcast can contribute to decolonizing the canon? And what advice do you have for others seeking to take action towards that end?

I am a pragmatic person of action. My research interest arose from a practical need to expand and better understand my repertoire as a singer, which led me to identify my vital mission: to bring to light and internationally promote the Latin American and Iberian song repertoire.  Research makes no sense to me if I can’t use it to advance my mission.

Many people from academia approach the need to decolonize the canon as something abstract, something that has no impact on their real life; for them, it is an area of ​​study, an intellectual exercise. In contrast, each of my projects is part of a strategy to advance my mission, which connects my work as a performer, researcher, and cultural administrator. During the last twenty years, I have developed several projects to contribute to decolonizing the canon. I have used different digital tools, the most recent being the podcast.

For me, it is a priority to contribute to the decolonization of the canon, specifically to see how Ibero-American music is included in curricula and concert programs–not as an exotic thing, but as music of great aesthetic and cultural value equally valuable to the works of what that canon is today.

My advice to those who want to contribute to decolonizing the canon is coherence; look for consistency between what I say or research and what I do in my musical practice or as a teacher. Many people think that decolonizing the canon is a very ambitious, a big and difficult task, and then they are paralyzed and do nothing. I encourage them to start being agents of change in their daily life. For a singer or a teacher, daily life means what I perform and what I teach every day.

Patricia Caicedo – Photo by Carlos Muñoz

Patricia Caicedo– Photo by Carlos Muñoz

As a musicologist, I was especially impressed with how your podcast aims at a broader audience and makes your scholarship relevant to a variety of musicians, music fans, and anyone interested in Latin American history and culture and the process of decolonization. How do you approach the issue of accessibility when making your podcast and in your work as a performer and scholar more generally?

It is very important to reach people with a clear and easy to understand message; this does not mean that it is superficial or of poor quality. In my books and articles, I also try to use accessible language to present complex concepts simply. This requires effort, but is worth it because it is the only way we build bridges between academia and society.

In my art song concerts, I frequently collaborate with artists from other disciplines such as painters and photographers so that the performance becomes closer to contemporary audiences. The traditional recital of voice and piano is a format that worked well in the 19th century but seems obsolete today. In the podcast, I try to put myself in the shoes of a listener who is not a professional musician and asks many questions about things that may be obvious for a musician. I try to give a voice to those listeners by asking the guests those things.

Your podcast deals with issues of genre boundaries between art, folk, and popular music, and many Latin American composers and performers have been at the forefront of transcending those boundaries. How have those genre boundaries and breaking the boundaries affected the history of Latin American art song?

As you affirm, in Latin American music, we see very clearly how the divisions between art, folk, and popular music are recent constructions that emerged from the centers of power to classify music outside of its axis. I don’t like to use the term “art music” because it suggests that other musics are not good enough to be considered art and immediately places the so-called folk and popular musics in a lower value space. These divisions gave way to another division that, to me, is absurd: the division between musicology and ethnomusicology…this could be a long discussion….

In Latin American academic music written from the 19th century on, we observe how music elements from different cultural groups,  the so-called folk and popular musics, are integrated. This makes the boundaries blurry and puts in evidence that classifying music as artistic, folk, or popular is determined more by the performance practice rather than the music itself.

The hybrid nature of Latin American culture has made its music defy classifications, which makes it very interesting. In most of the Western world, these barriers are only now beginning to be questioned. However, in Latin American music, this phenomenon has been observed for more than a century.

Patricia Caicedo – Photo by Carlos Muñoz

Patricia Caicedo– Photo by Carlos Muñoz

You have recently returned to composing. How do your own compositions continue the tradition of breaking down stylistic boundaries, and how do you situate your music within the ongoing history of Latin American art song?

Although I started studying piano and music theory at the conservatory when I was five-years-old, I sang Latin American folk songs when I began my vocal studies. First, I was a folk singer, and later on, I was trained as a classical singer. I was able to inhabit the two universes, embodying their similarities and differences.

I have dedicated much of my career to interpreting the Latin American artistic song. Recently, right at the time of lockdown, I returned to composition, writing folk songs influenced by the music that surrounded me during my adolescence. I feel that I am merging the different worlds I have inhabited, recognizing them as part of me, and honoring them. Both are just as important. It is an expression of the coherence between my academic discourse that seeks to break down the barriers between art, folk, and popular music.

The rhythms of my songs have a lot of influence from folk music, as well as the way I use my voice and the register in which I’m singing. Still, my songs also are influenced by the art song tradition because I’m setting poetry to music, and for me, the most important thing about the songs is the poetic message. The process of composing the songs was interesting because I did it like a folk or popular musician does it.

 

I am enjoying performing these songs because of the performance practice, the way of using the voice and the body, and the way of interacting with the musicians on stage, the freedom to improvise, etc. I had forgotten that feeling after so many years of singing art song recitals. I think musicians lose a lot of their intuition and spontaneity at conservatories. We should recover it; this is another advantage of defying the canon and its performance practice!  Anyway, I’m starting to explore this path and learning new things. I am an eternal student.

 

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