Brazilian Sacred Music

Collegium Cantorum is devoted to the interpretation of national and international choir repertoires and especially to the research of Brazilian sacred music.
Since the multiple races and creeds are a unique factor that reflects itself in all areas of the Brazilian people and culture, so it is in its religious music.
The Brazilian people have a peculiar understanding of the sacred music and even nowadays communities keep their roots intimately connected to the “Divine”. Religious music mixes itself into beliefs, into everyday life and into the economical subsistence. Supernatural perception is very acute. People depend on nature to survive and the “sacred” becomes very present. Chants are sung at births, at many of life’s occasions, at work and at death. Chants that represent the mixture of the popular profane and folk that comes from the people’s soul and beliefs with the sacred erudite that comes from the Brazilian colonization
In the sacred music one can observe the mixture of dominant styles from the European court, sometimes citing the baroque with sounds from the gallant rococo and from the classicism, creating a perfect and unique identity. It’s also common to see a “Gloria in excelsis Deo” inserted in a popular text.

Due to the comment “ Brazil there is no genuine Brazilian Christmas music...”, the musical direction of the Collegium Cantorum endeavored to prove the contrary. In 2002 the choir developed a research to find the roots of Brazilian Christmas. It noticed that this particular aspect of our culture is practically forgotten in our modern and internationalized society. This research arrived at the folk factor, which is not restricted simply to the musical expression, but to a set of traditions and dramatic expressions filled with meaning and that shaped our people, our music and our way of being and of celebrating.
As the research was carried out the richness of the melody and material related to the “Pastoris” became more and more evident. “Pastoris” are dances and chants originally from Portugal which came to Brazil at the end of the sixteenth century and were here recreated with new characteristics. Christmas developed in its folk aspects related to the “Missa do Galo” (“Cock Mass”, a midnight traditional catholic mass) and to the building and visitation to Nativity scenes. There are no quotations of Santa Claus or even of Christmas trees or candles. The Nativity scene becomes the center of the world and unites all peoples: pagans and Christians alike. Chants and worship songs are sung in Christmas melodies that portray the musical richness of our people. Collegium Cantorum collected those melodies and worked them with the feminine choir the way some of our biggest composers wrote them. Presenting from one voice singing, to many voices “a capella”, to the singing accompanied by a string quartet and percussion.

In the musical research on “work chants” made by some members of the choir in rural communities, we found a closed community, almost without any ethnic mixture where a lady, who was 5 years old during the winter of 1904, sang to us a procession chant to worship Saint Luzia, characterizing it as a work chant. The belief in Saints and protection divinities (not yet canonized by the Catholic Church) which intercede for men to the Divine is very common in the countryside of Brazil. The processions are ways of taking the sacred to the streets, mixing it up with the everyday of the population. They walk carrying images, pictures and photographs of the Protector Saint.

One of the focus of the research was a reflection about the relationship between the music of Brazilian colony and the influences received from and also sent to Europe. This program evidenced the “Messe” in C major of Sigismund Neukomm who, when living in Brazil for a while, was together with the Catholic Priest José Maurício Nunes Garcia, one of the first composers to incorporate melodies, “modinhas” and genuine Brazilian motifs in his compositions. With this proposal the group had an important participation in the XV International Festival of Ancient Music and Colonial Brazilian Music in July of 2004 in Juiz de Fora, MG. This Festival also goes to Ouro Preto, a Brazilian city considered by the United Nations as a Historic Heritage of Humanity. There the choir received excellent critic concerning the developed work, the complexity of the repertoire and the quality of its presentation that took place at a marvelous local church.
Our sacred music is unique for its mixture of elements. There is an important influence from the European music since the time of the colonization of Brazil and on the other hand from the African culture, due to the slavery period, and from the local Indian culture as well. More recently, there has been a strong influence from the North American sacred music, above all present in the younger branches of the protestant church, which is expanding, and also from our own popular music. Brazilian composers have been trying to portray the soul of our people and their relationship with God, mixing all of these elements in rhythms and sounds that are genuinely Brazilian.
Sacred Art groups are little known in Brazil, where the erudite music tradition receives little support which causes the work to be restricted even nationally. The Festivals of Sacred Erudite Music in Brazil are limited to 2 or 3 per year, and the Brazilian artists that choose not to live abroad are little known.
The choir movement in Brazil is still in its implementation phase. Villa Lobos was the major enthusiast of this art, but after his death his project of saving the Brazilian youth through choirs hasn’t been continued. Today there are many initiatives, some very promising, but all of them striving with big difficulties to establish and keep a good musical level. Choir sacred music has not been widely spread, firstly due to the difficulty in finding an adequate repertoire and secondly due to the technical difficulties inherent to these works, and still thirdly due to the retraction of its participants who are many times obligated to give up the activity in order to make a living. There is, however, a common and fascinating characteristic in Brazilian choirs: the vibration, the enthusiasm, the emotional involvement of the singers by interpreting the works that are entrusted to them wholeheartedly, be it works on their own language, be it international works. The average Brazilian is very expressive and lives the music body and soul.

Collegium Cantorum looks to inspire and let itself be inspired, to reflect this singularity and above all to lend its soul interpreting the religious music of a suffering people, of a people that has survived through centuries of colonial and economical oppression and even so, still works with its feet on the ground, but sings happily to the glory of God.

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