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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

Sabers, Saddles, and Spurs: Music and Art from The Briscoe

Briscoe Western Art Museum

Define the American West. It all depends on who is doing the talking. Long ago, as the European pioneers were setting out from the East Coast, the West was anything beyond the Appalachians. In that case, perhaps the question should be rephrased such that American West is replaced by frontier. On the other hand, there is little doubt that as the frontier pushed further and further west, to the Mississippi and beyond, as the Great Plains stepped ever higher in elevation, that frontier seemed no longer adequate. Was this the beginning of the American West? Is it, as many contend, anything beyond the 100th Meridian?

Define the American West within the context of race and culture. Is it European? What about the indigenous peoples? And is there a language of The West? Even before the European tide began to sweep across the North American continent, the Great Plains, the Mountain West, the Southwest, the Pacific Coast had no common language, at least not one spoken. The numerous Native American Nations each had their own language. If there was intercultural communication, it was through sign language and/or actions and deeds.

Add to this the crossing of diverse European cultures with the rich indigenous cultures and the common perception of the New World as a melting pot begins to simmer toward a rapid boil. Nowhere was this more true than in the region we now regard as the American Southwest. But let's not limit this zone by the current borders. Even today there is a wide swath along the southern border of the United States, straddling northern Mexico and the Southwest, where a common culture exists, the result of centuries of hybridized languages, cuisines, and social mores.

Credit Briscoe Western Art Museum
Santa Anna's sword, given to him by Ames Manufacturing Company, of Chicopee, MA.

On this week's “Let's Rodeo: Music and Art from The Briscoe” we find an active cross-pollination along the southwestern border. We examine Pancho Villa's saddle and Santa Anna's saber. And then there are the tools of the cowboy culture: saddles, spurs, and guns, ingredients for conflict - of which there was plenty. John Philip Sousa provides a soundtrack, as does Aaron Copland. There's a musical sunrise and a Chisos epiphany.

Additional musical parallels to this week's slice of The Briscoe Western Art Museum come from Charles Fitts, Kerry Turner, David Amram, and James Kimo Williams. This resonates alongside traditional music of indigenous cultures and military music of the Buffalo Soldiers. As always, it is myth and fact refracted through a kaleidoscope of many facets and colors. It is who we were and who we are. Welcome to The Rodeo, welcome to The West.

“Let's Rodeo: Music and Art from The Briscoe” airs Friday evening from 7-8 PM on KPAC-San Antonio, KTXI-Ingram and online at TPR.ORG.


James first introduced himself to KPAC listeners at midnight on April 8, 1993, presenting Dvorak's 7th Symphony played by the Cleveland Orchestra. Soon after, he became the regular overnight announcer on KPAC.