Though not one of my talents, I find myself surrounded by those who not only love music but love to sing and sing well. For 15 years a Cuernavacan local treasure, relocated Canadian Andrea Carr (“Maestra Andrea”), has made singing available to the entire community – expat and native Cuernavacan alike.
Maestra Andrea formed the choral group called Agrupacion Coral “Deo Gracias” (Deo Gracias Choral Group) after her retirement in 2012 as head of the Music Department at Cuernavaca’s La Salle University. The community choir draws talent from throughout the State of Morelos with ages spanning six decades. The singers represent Mexico and eight other countries of origin. Maestra Andrea comments, “Our chorus strives to blend languages, cultures and voices into one harmonious sound, serving as an example of unity amidst diversity, harmony out of dissonance.”
This month the Agrupacion Coral is performing an ambitious concert titled with the name of one of the pieces they will sing, “Va Pensiero”. The chorus will present 20 pieces from the 16th through 20th centuries sung in five different languages. They will perform in two churches in northern Cuernavaca, just a 45-minute drive from the toll house on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca expressway.
Va Pensiero, the title of the concert, is from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco. “Choristers have worked tirelessly to master the music we’re performing,” Maestra Andrea said. "I chose the title Va Pensiero because it is a particular highlight of our program, and it is my hope that our music will spark the public's imagination to fly."
“I’ve sung in large church choirs my entire life,” says Charlie's Digs collaborator Carol Hopkins. “Imagine my surprise and delight when a few members of Cuernavaca's St. Michael’s and All Angels Church came together in 1998 to form a Christmas choir under the direction of Andrea. In only a couple of weeks we sounded like we’d been together for years. When Christmas passed we demanded a permanent choir. Andrea has directed us ever since. She’s a phenomenal director, pianist, organist and soprano soloist. What a gift she is to this community.”
Maestra Andrea was a piano prodigy as a child. Born in Montreal, she spent most of her childhood in Mexico, performing from the age of 10 in major recitals and concerts. She traveled to England for high school and continued both musical studies and concert performances. Returning to Canada, Andrea received bachelor and masters degrees from McGill University, studying under piano greats Luba Zuk and Charles Reiner. She then went on to a postgraduate program in Advanced Performance Studies at Concordia University studying with the great piano pedagogue Phil Cohen.
While always pursuing her love of piano, Andrea took voice lessons and sang in choirs wherever she lived. At the age of 19 she began to accompany those choirs, eventually leading to sectional choir direction. From 1990-94 she was director of the Montreal West Presbyterian Church choir.
In 1994 Andrea permanently (we hope) returned to Mexico. At first she did freelance accompanist work and taught private lessons. “Getting resettled in Mexico was frustrating. No one knew me, knew my training. It took a long time to establish my credentials as a musician and music educator.” In 1996 Maestra Andrea began teaching at La Salle. She was later made head of the music department. Through the ensuing years she taught hundreds of music students.
“I attended Andrea’s first choral concert at La Salle”, Hopkins reminisced. “It was an amazing event considering six months prior there was no chorus. That night two dozen young musicians sang their hearts out in multiple languages. The choral concert was combined with instrument soloists giving student musicians a forum for a true public recital.”
“Throughout her life Andrea has battled Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. Since 2003, Andrea has had 6 surgeries to repair her eyes and to maintain her limited vision; nothing slows her down,” Hopkins continued.
Morelos’ new Secretary of Culture, Cristina Faesler, spoke recently of the need to strengthen the fabric of society through cultural events. Those words spoke directly to Andrea. With her recent retirement from La Salle she was looking for meaningful work and decided to take Faesler’s goal to heart. The choir is her way and the way of her choristers to do what they can to strengthen and 'create' community.
I invite you to hear the Agrupacion Coral "Deo Gracias" present their Va Pensiero concert this month. On June 14th they will perform at 7 p.m. at St. Michael’s And All Angels Parish, Calle Minerva #1, Colonia Delicias, Cuernavaca. On June 20th they will perform at 7 p.m. at Parroquia María Madre de la Misericordia, Calle Río Tamazula #25, Colonia Vista Hermosa, Cuernavaca. Durring the June 20th concert Maestra Andrea will sing mezzo as part of the vocal trio "Ensamble CantARTE" with piano accompaniment. I hope to see you there.