Cuban Music: new class, old traditions

Gliceria Gonzalez

Most of us are familiar with Cuban jazz—but what about Cuban classical music?

Explore the centuries-long tradition of classical Cuban music in a six-week course this fall with Gliceria González Abreu, a member of the world-renowned Afro-Cuban All Stars.  From Sep 13-Oct 18 community members, musicians, and University of Wisconsin-Madison students can learn about Cuban culture through a lesser-known genre of music.

“We want to make the experience broadly accessible by opening it to community members and UW-Madison students, says Continuing Studies Program Director in Music and Performing Arts Jessica Courtier. “We’re able to subsidize the cost of the course through partnerships and grants.” In partnership with the Arts Institute and supported by a grant from the Anonymous Fund, the Cuban Music Ensemble offers a rare opportunity at the affordable price of $50.

The ensemble rehearses every Sunday afternoon, culminating in a free community performance on October 18. The concert will feature string pieces by the ensemble, music by a local band Charanga Agoza, and performances by González Abreu and her sister.

Cuban Music instructor Gliceria González Abreu
González Abreu is the daughter of famous Afro-Cuban All Stars musician Juan de Marcos González. Photos by Nicolas Switalsky.

Learning new culture through music

“There’s a really long history of music as a cross-cultural exchange,” Courtier says. “In some ways, this course continues a long tradition of music as a site for learning across national and cultural lines.”

The ensemble is set to learn a piece by a 19th century composer from Louisiana, a place known for its cross-cultural intersections. The piece is one of four the ensemble will rehearse. As they play, students will learn the cultural relevance of each piece and expand their own cultural repertoire.

“It’s an opportunity for musicians to talk to somebody from Cuba and to learn about what it’s like there, how it’s changing right now,” Courtier says.

Local composer, conductor, and UW-Madison student Mikko Utevsky will co-instruct the ensemble on alternating weeks with González Abreu.

The Cuban Music Ensemble is just one of several Cuba-related programs coming this fall, including travel, talks, and a residency by Juan de Marcos González.