The roots of Brigham Young University’s newest large program were set down four and a half decades ago in the mind of J. Arden Hopkin, currently head of vocal studies at BYU.
After growing up in California, Hopkin served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to South America in what was then called the Andes Mission. It included Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, giving the young Mormon missionary an opportunity to experience three varieties of Spanish and three Latin-American cultures. When the mission boundaries were changed, a fourth was added: Venezuela.
“It awakened in me a real interest in Latin-American culture and music,” Hopkin said. That interest would never leave him and will culminate this summer when the Sones SureÑos (Sounds of the South) Festival of Latin American Classical Music debuts on the BYU campus in Provo.
The weeklong festival, scheduled for Aug. 6–11, will be a celebration of Latin American music. It will be “a coming together of people who are experts in Latin American music, leading to performances,” Hopkin said. “There will be some lectures by local professors, but those will be secondary. The festival is for people to come and enjoy Latin-American music.”
If you’re thinking mariachis, you’re not far off. The festival will bring to Provo former opera singer Juanita Ulloa, a six-time winner of the Festival de la CanciÓn Latinoamericana and the recipient of two Latin Grammy Awards for her mariachi CDs. Another big-name guest performer is Javier de los Santos, a well-known classical guitarist who founded his own Mariachi San Jose de los Santos in Grand Junction, Colo.
As might be expected of a university-sponsored event, there will be classes as well as concerts for some festival performers and participants.
“We are targeting junior faculty members who are seeking faculty development, graduate students in voice who seek to expand their circle of experience and singers with ethnic and cultural ties to Latin America,” Hopkin said.
Individuals interested in vocal performance will receive private coaching sessions with master teachers. They will enroll, pay tuition and then get to perform in public the music they’ve been preparing all week. There also will be master classes in voice, piano and guitar. Nightly concerts will be held that will be open to the public.
Noted Brazilian pianist Luiz de Moura Castro will teach throughout the week and perform one evening. He has taught and performed throughout the world and is currently professor of piano at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, Conn.
Kathleen J. Wilson, a singer, vocal music professor and associate director of the School of Music at Florida International University, has lived in Colombia and Venezuela and has a strong interest in Latin American music. She also will teachand will perform. She is the editor of "The Art Song in Latin America: Selected Works by Twentieth-Century Composers," for which Hopkin provided translations and phonetic transcriptions.
Lawrence Green, professor of guitar at BYU and the founder with his wife Robyn of the local band Crazy Coyote, will also teach and perform at the festival.
The festival performances will be recorded and rebroadcast by BYUtv International, which will both benefit the festival and increase BYU’s name recognition in Latin America, Hopkin said.
A significant part of the public Hopkin is hoping to attract to the festival are the members of the Utah Hispanic community.
“There appears to be significant interest in the local Latino community, especially about the mariachi element of the festival,” he said.
He has spoken to Olga de la Cruz at the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She advised him to find community sponsors for the event to keep the admission costs down and remain self-supporting. The festival also is being supported in part by BYU’s College of Humanities, College of Fine Arts, Latin-American Studies Department and Conferences and Workshops.
Celina Milner, an activist for the Utah Hispanic community, is already working with de la Cruz to get the word out to area Latino businesses. She has spoken about the festival to Jose Inclan (Inclan Communications) of the Utah County Hispanic Chamber board.
"He’s so excited! We are recruiting all the Hispanic businesses to help Professor Hopkin in promoting this event because it’s so unique,” Milner said. “It’s exciting for me because I share Arden’s passion for this music.”
Milner manages, without pay, Mariachi Juventud of Utah, which teaches mariachi to young musicians through the Salt Lake City School District.
The festival will be “an eloquent, classical level of music that we’re bringing to the community,” she said. “That’s why we’re excited about this. It’s educational for the kids, and they’ll bring their parents. I want my kids to know that music can be your future, your career, your livelihood, your profession. I don’t think they’ve seen anyone here locally doing that who looks like them. The Hispanic community is very excited to partner with Professor Hopkin in promoting this event. This is of great value for our community.”
The excitement and interest have to be gratifying to Hopkin, who has dreamed of this festival for much of his life.
After Hopkin's mission, he studied vocal performance at BYU and University of North Texas, then at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. During his work and studies, he wanted to perform Latin-American music, but sheet music was very hard to find. Publication of Latin-American folk music is very limited, he discovered. When it is published, it sells out quickly and then disappears.
The music he loves is from the Latin-American nationalist period that began in the late 1800s and continued about midway through the 20th century, and the publishers from that era no longer exist. But Hopkin has “quite a library of 10th-generation photocopies,” music he has acquired over the years. At one time he taught music at Texas Christian University where he was an adviser to a man getting a master’s degree in organ. “He had a whole huge library of Latin-American music,” Hopkin said. “Much of what I have comes from him.”
While at TCU, he performed around the Southwest for about 13 years in an ensemble called Amistad, which was founded by his friend, Ruben Torres.
He also served for a time as vice president of the International Vernacular Congress, which met annually in Puebla, Mexico. In that position he organized and participated in musical performances. He had hopes of interesting the members in a music festival, but he found that the people there didn’t want outsiders running a festival of “their” music.
When he first returned to teach at BYU, he found that the prevailing culture had little awareness of the Hispanic community. His assignment as opera director was very time consuming, so his passion for Latino music was put on hold. But when his assignment in the school of music eventually changed to head of vocal studies, he had time once again to study Latin-American music.
In 2004, he organized a tour of Brazil for himself and four Portuguese-speaking returned LDS missionaries. “We presented 11 concerts in eight cities across Brazil in 14 days,” he said, “ending with a two-week residency for me at the XIX Seminarios Interancionais de Musica in Salvador, an international music program sponsored by the Universidad Federal de Bahia, which attracted teachers from all over the world.”
In 2006, he took another group of students, this time Spanish-speaking, on a performance tour of Lima, Peru and Santiago, Chile. During that trip he was honored by the Universidad Ricardo Palma of Lima for his work in preserving and performing Latin American music.
“On both occasions, people would come up after our concerts and thank us for making them aware of the beautiful music in their culture which they didn’t know existed,” he said. “These seminal experiences added to my belief that there needed to be a festival devoted to this wonderful music.”
Over the years, Hispanic culture gradually moved out of the fringes and into the mainstream in Utah and other parts of the United States. Encouraged by this, Hopkin did some research and found that there were no festivals of Latino music in the United States. He found one in Spain, but the focus was just as heavily on the music of Spain as that of Latin America. That was the turning point for him.
“After confirming that there was no festival in the world focused on this repertoire, I determined to start one on my own,” Hopkin said.
The music performed at Sones SureÑos will be from the Latin American nationalist period. That music, he said, has “rhythms that sound like something you’ve heard all your life,” but with more substance than simple folk songs. Most of the influences are indigenous — Native American and African, allied to European musical sophistication.
“This music will appeal especially to those with ethnic and cultural ties to Latin America, but anyone will find it interesting and exotic,” Hopkin said.
Cindy Moorhead works as a writer and editor at BYU Continuing Education. She was a newspaper writer and editor for nearly 30 years, working in California, Indiana, Ohio and Texas. She graduated from BYU with a bachelor's in communications/journalism.