Catherwood & Stephens Do Amaze and Inspire Me

CatherwoodYes, it’s undeniably true: I am fascinated by Mssrs. Catherwood and Stephens – and now in colour!

So, here’s a quick reminder. These are the guys who, in 1840, set out and trekked around Mexico and Central America documenting all sorts of stuff. Stephens wrote a major tome entitled ‘Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán’ published in 1841. The illustrations, miracles that they are, were by Dr. Catherwood.

But I’ve never seen them in colour, as my very prized 1st.-edition of the aforementioned tome has all the illustrations in black and white (as line drawings). So, twice in one day, today, I discover two places: one in a travel brochure (more on this shortly) and the other on a website, where Catherwood’s illustrations are presented in living color (see, I can spell it both ways). Yes, I know, it’s probably just me and everyone else knows!

So why is this so important to me? Well, just like the images from ‘Nights and Days on the Gypsy Trail’, (see a previous post) being able to visualise places and settings when you are writing a musical theatre piece for the stage is sort of important! For example, Continue Reading →

Nights and Days on the Gypsy Trail (1922)

This is an image from the non-fiction volume, ‘Nights and Days On the Gypsy Trail’ published in 1922. Written by an American of Gypsy descent, Irving Brown, I finally obtained a copy of this book that I had heard about, but never actually seen available. To be fair, I was looking for a 1st. Edition and not a reprint.

Reviewer ‘Black Cat’ rated this 3 stars out of 5 on This is what he says:

“The author, Irving Brown, travels to different cities in Spain looking for Spanish Gypsies: their folklore, music, customs, language and more… The book reveals the nature of the spanish gypsy: care-free, passionate, lyric, impulsive and generous with their “kind.”

Not exactly illuminating – but accurate.

I started out reading this curiosity and not very long into the book, had a distinct feeling that this book, written in purple prose, was nothing but a paen to a nostalgic view of Andalusian gypsies that never existed. But I persevered and read on a bit further.

At some point thereafter, I thought: this book is written in 1921 and who am I to pass judgement on what was the reality of Gypsy culture in Andalusia throughout this period.

With descriptions like this:

“…IMAGINE yourselves in a square cave hollowed from the rock. A little Spanish Gypsy girl is dancing an abulea to the accompaniment of a wild song and the vibrant notes of a guitar. Other Gypsies sitting tensely on the rims of their chairs, in a half circle about the dancer, are beating time with vigorous handclaps, and Continue Reading →

Museo de la Canción Yucateca (Museum of the Yucatecan Song)

Located on Calle 57 near Calle 50, the Museo de la Canción Yucateca is one of the great places to visit in Mérida – and fundamentally important as an archive for researching music for The Mapmaker’s Opera!

The museum was founded on November 5, 1978, at the initiative of Mrs. Rosario Caceres Baqueiro Chamomile, granddaughter of the composer Cyril Baqueiro Preve “Chan-Cyl”.

The song, ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ from Act I of the musical – which I’ve written about in a previous post – is specifically inspired by the style of music called Trova Yucateca. Of course, I’m not myself writing, or attempting to write original ‘Trova’ but adapting some of the musical elements of the style into a Broadway soundscore. At any rate, it’s not a good idea to attempt to Continue Reading →

An Introduction To Classical Guitars

Guitars History ImageThis post is really a precis of a terrific article in Gramophone (June 2012) by William Yeoman. My take on this is that when you find a beautifully concise and elegant little article on the how the classical guitar has evolved from the 16th-Century Spanish courts, up to today, go with it!

In the C16, the two instruments in common use were the four-course (a course is a double string arrangement, rather than a single string) Renaissance guitar and the lute (image far left).

The guitar of the 17C became physically larger and more ornate in decoration, as well as a fifth-course being added (image No. 3). During this Baroque period, the technique of playing generally improved including the use of strumming (rasgueado) and plucking the strings (punteado). This was also the century of Gaspar Sanz (see a previous post about his music) and the period rings with dances entitled Preludes, Allemandes, Sarabandes, Chaconnes and other lovely French words! Continue Reading →