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Cecilia, the Queen of Music

By Jesús Aguado

Music has a strange power. Friedrich Nietzche knew it, so he wrote that “without music, life would be a mistake.” To avoid making that mistake, music in San Miguel will be loud from November 14 until the 22 at the Oratorio during the festival to honor Saint Cecilia, the patroness of musicians.

Santa Cecilia’s Day, the Music Day

On October 1, 1975, the United Nations celebrated the first International Day of Music, according to its official site. The goal was to promote the musical art among all sections of society as well as to accomplish the UNESCO ideals of “peace and friendship between peoples, evolution of their cultures, exchange of experience, and mutual appreciation of their aesthetic values.” However, the celebration day varies from one country to another. In France and Spain it is celebrated on June 21, while in Uruguay it takes place the same month on the 10th. In other countries, like Argentina and Mexico, the festival take place on November 22, and it is linked to the commemoration of the death in Rome of Saint Cecilia, who lived around 180 BC.

At the Oratorio of San Felipe Neri, there is a sculpture of the virgin holding a palm in her left hand while she gives a blessing with her right hand. On the right side, there is a harp. Documents found in the fifth century state that Cecilia was part of a wealthy family. When she was a child, she was converted to Catholicism. She wore dresses made of rough fabrics, fasted three or four times a week, and consecrated her virginity to God.

Cecilia’s father did not respect her desire to give her life to God. He forced her to marry Valerian, a pagan. The documents also observe that during the wedding day while the musicians were playing to entertain the guests, Cecilia looked for a private place and started singing from her heart to God to send her some help. When the couple went to their room, Cecilia told Valerian that she could see her own guardian angel, and if he touched her as a spouse, the angel would be angry with him. If he respected her, then the angel would love him, too. Valerian embraced Catholicism. His brother Tiburtius also converted. Later both men were condemned to death as was Cecilia.

The woman was condemned to die of suffocation from the gases from the kilns filled with firewood at her house. Although the story cannot be proved, it has been written that Cecilia did not die after two days of breathing the gases. Instead she started singing to God (a second version of why she is the patroness of musicians). For that reason, she was beheaded. The executioner dealt blows to the neck three times, and she passed out two days later. She died on November 22. Saint Cecilia is also related to music because she was good at playing the piano, clarinet, and other musical instruments.

The saint was canonized by Pope Gregory in 1594, and it was he who officially appointed her the patroness of music. Other versions state that she was also condemned to die in boiling water. In all of these religious stories, music is a constant.

Cecilio, sometimes beloved, others, not so much

For seven years, Cecilio Hernández has organized a music festival to honor the Virgin of the Oratorio. This year he wants to play music for her for nine days, from November 14 to 22, with as many musical bands as possible: mariachi, trios, wind instruments, local bands, northern bands, soloists, and maybe a symphony. The call is still open. To participate in this event, contact him at 152 2789.

Cecilio, or Chilo as Sanmiguelenses know him, is a reference for popular music in town. His repertoire includes northern, grupero, and banda, as well as English ballads, like “You and I” from Ritchie Valens and “Do not Let me Down.” During the nine days of the rosary for Santa Cecilia, Cecilio will sing to honor her from 6pm until he is tired. His list includes more than 300 songs, and he remarks that his voice allows him to sing up to six hours straight without repeating a single song. Don Chilo also has his own giant puppet (mojiganga) made by Los Cholucas (artisans from colonia Azteca). It dances in many local festivities with the help of traditionalist Emigdio Ledesma. There was even a man who used to appear in a Chilo disguise during the locos parade!

Cecilio was born on November 22 and, although he does not play more than the guitar and sometimes the maracas, he told Atención that his main instrument is his voice. “I do not need more than a microphone and some music for entertaining the audiences,” he said. He inherited the gift of music from his stepfather, Hilario Vázquez, a sanmiguelense,who traveled to Canada with his trio and decided to stay there. So far, Chilo has been on the music scene for more than 30 years. He is well-known for writing corridos (a narrative song, or ballad, whose characters, events and themes are representative of the blues and history of local communities) for the candidates running for mayor. Curiously, those for whom he writes these slogan songs win the election. In 2009 he wrote for Luz María Núñez, then for Mauricio Trejo in 2012, and most recently for Ricardo Villarreal this year. “It is not difficult to know who the winner will be. I just write the citizens’ feelings,” he concluded.

Texanos y Texanitas

This band emerged 30 years ago, led by patriarch Don Cruz, who is well known for playing the accordion like nobody else, as well as for recording several cassettes with the musical band Los Pavos Reales (The Peacocks). Although their songs are not online, one of the most popular is the one written in the ’90s that tells the story of Pancho in the capitol. A provincial goes to Mexico City to find his relative Pancho, who will help him to improve his life. While looking for Pancho, the character in the song is arrested. After not finding Pancho, he has no money for the subway or for purchasing food, so he decides to go back to his rural community. Other songs are “La falda roja” (The Red Skirt) and Adiós San Antonio (Good-bye, San Antonio). The head of the group also composed the music for the Unión del Norte group in San Antonio, Texas.

The band’s trajectory has not gone unnoticed. They still perform in public and at private parties as well as in callejoneadas (walking serenades) because there is no other accordionist like Don Cruz.

Nowadays this is a family band. Roberto (the son) can play all the instruments, but he prefers the bass and is also the main voice, unmistakable when he sings northern songs. Aixa (the daughter) also loves music and decided to take part in the group. She is the main female voice and plays guitar. Although she does not consider herself a feminist, she knows how to sing songs against or in favor of men. Nancy and Jessica are the dancers, while Maricruz shows her gift on the drums. This band will close the festival on Sunday, November 22, at 6pm. To contact them, call 415 101 3683.

Following Texanos y Texanitas will be Kaoba, Calipso, Hermanos Luna, and others.

Check the entire program of bands in Qué Pasa.


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