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Fronteras: The words of Chicana poets sing in the Chicana Art Song Project

In classical music, an art song uses poetry as a platform for solo vocalists and piano — most famously, Franz Schubert’s “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel.”

One project adapts the traditional art song to make it more representative of musicians, artists, and poets of color.

The Chicana Art Song Project sets original music to the works of Chicana writers like Carmen Tafolla, Sandra Cisneros, and Pat Mora.

Noël Archambeault, associate professor of voice at the University of Delaware, founded the project in 2014. She grew up and studied in San Antonio.

Archambeault said she saw a need for the project after she realized in college that representation in classical music was scarce.

“Any time I wanted to do something that was Spanish-text related, a lot of my teachers — because there wasn’t much to give — would give me Spanish art songs from Spain,” she said. “It didn’t really speak to my lived experience.”

South Texas composer Edna Alejandra Longoria writes original music for the project. She uses the style of Mexican rancheras, huapangos, and cumbias to reflect the themes of the Chicana poetry and artwork. It reflects her upbringing in South Texas and Northern Mexico.

Longoria said the project spreads Chicano culture and broadens the traditional definition of classical music.

“We’re sharing our culture with other people that maybe don’t have an idea,” she said. “I think it’s nice to let them know what it is to be a Chicana, what a ranchera is.”

Live performances are also accompanied by visual art of Chicana artist, Melissa Arangua-Johnson.

See a performance of the Chicana Art Song Project during a 2022 trip to Del Mar College in Corpus Christi below:

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1