Music to tell story of Jewish Cubans

Sep 11, 2011 (La Crosse Tribune – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) —
Viterbo University will open its 2011-12 One-of-a-Kind Chamber Music Series on Saturday, Sept. 17, with a musical program featuring the customs and culture of Jewish Cubans with anthropologist and filmmaker Ruth Behar.

The concert, “The Saga of Sefarad: Never Forget You,” will focus on the journey and displacement of Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal to other countries such as Cuba.

Behar, a cultural anthropologist from the University of Michigan, has researched the cycle of displacement that began when her Sephardic/Ashkenazi grandparents moved to Cuba, and continued when her Cuban parents settled in Queens, N.Y.

She will share her thoughts and readings at the evening concert and show her film, “Adio Kerida,” her personal story, at 1 p.m. in Viterbo’s Fine Arts Center Recital Hall.

Mary Ellen Haupert, a Viterbo music faculty member who coordinates the chamber series, said the concert will feature Ladino or Jewish Spanish music.

“We’re using music to tell a real human story,” Haupert said. “These people moved from one place to the next in what I describe as a spiritual heart transplant. Ruth Behar’s personal story reflects our common human desire to know who we are and where we came from.”

Haupert said Jesus Jambrina, chairman of Viterbo’s Latin American Studies program, and Jean Saladino, director of the Viterbo Concert Choir, shared ideas about music and culture, a mutual exchange that begged the question, “What do you know about Sephardic Jewish music?” Research ensued, inspiring the possibility of a concert of Sephardic music, she said.

Jambrina actually worked on Behar’s film, doing some filming of images and then worked on translation from English into Spanish.

Jambrina said Behar’s work is important because she brings to light a common myth.

“There is a thought that there are no Jewish people in Latin America or Jewish people in Cuba. That is not associated with Cuba because you think Castro. The reality is there was a huge Jewish community in Cuba from the 1920s to 1950s. Now, there are not that many — about 1,500.”

Jambrina said Behar’s story is powerful because it makes the larger issue personal — the journey she takes to find her Jewish and Cuban roots.

He said he was surprised to discover the lack of knowledge about Ladino music here in the Midwest. “It is not so popular in this part of the country. To me, it was kind of a surprise. In Europe, the music is well known.”

The Viterbo Concert Choir, directed by Saladino, will sing several Sephardic prayers and folk songs and Ladino choral music.

Haupert will perform “Serenata Cubana” by Ignacio Cervantes and “Malaguena” by Ernesto Lecuona.

“The music is very light,” Haupert said. “Lecuona is known as Cuba’s George Gershwin, and he elevated Cuban music to the classical style.”

Haupert also will play six Afro-Cuban dance pieces accompanied by Viterbo dancers and a slide show.

Soprano Ann Schoenecker and pianist Judy Stafslien will perform selections from a Ladino song book arranged by Richard Neumann.

___ (c)2011 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.) Visit the La Crosse Tribune
(La Crosse, Wis.) at www.lacrossetribune.com Distributed by MCT Information
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