The past year or so two friends of mine, John Walker and his wife, Catalina Andrango-Walker, have been cooking up a plan to make music from Latin America more accessible to musicians around the globe. The result is Cayambis Music Press. After taking a look at some of their publications, I am pleased to introduce this new company to readers of my blog. To learn more about John and Catalina's endeavor I asked John some questions. I hope they give you some insight into this couple's passion. You can also check out their Facebook page for up-to-date information about new additions to their roster, composers they are featuring, and upcoming performances of music they publish.
Click here to receive a special discount if you purchase their 2 volumes of collected solo piano works. Spice up your students' and your own repertoire!
ES: What is your connection with Latin America?
JW: My connection with Latin America dates back to the early 1980s, when I accepted an orchestral position with an orchestra in Mexico. I really enjoyed being there, and quickly learned Spanish, and later ended up writing a dissertation about Latin American chamber music. Another job offer came along, this time from Ecuador, which basically cemented my interest in that region and its music.
ES: Why did you decide to start Cayambis Music Press?
JW: While researching Latin American chamber music I discovered that although it represented an unusually rich repertoire, that there hadn’t been very much of it published. At the same time, part of my duties as a member of the Air Force band (this is now early 1990s) involved using computers and laser printers to create scores and parts out of the many pieces in manuscript form in the band’s library. I began to think about how I could combine this with my interest in Latin American music, but finally decided to act on this late last year.
ES: What is the significance of the name of your press?
JW: The Cayambis people lived in the area around and just north of present day Quito prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. I chose this name not only because of its distinctiveness, but principally to honor my wife’s heritage (she's from Quito).
ES: How do you choose composers/compositions to represent/publish?
JW: The selection process has undergone some evolution. At the beginning it was mainly based on personal and professional relationships. For example, one of my best friends in Ecuador happens to be a very accomplished composer. So, he, along with a number of other composers that we knew, were approached with the proposition of contributing his unpublished works for small ensembles. So our initial group ended up consisting of about ten composers. At the same time, we were putting together an editorial board whose primary responsibility, from early January, is the evaluation of composer submissions. They evaluated the music we received from a call for compositions that we sent out this past spring that resulted in five or six new composers. We’ve also received some unsolicited submissions, which are also sent to the board. In any event, once we have determined if any of the highly rated pieces can fit into our catalog we negotiate a contract with the individual composer.
ES: What are your goals when publishing a piece of music?
JW: I would say that there are technical, aesthetic and historic goals in mind. On a technical level, we want our printed editions to be as perfect and as complete as possible. During the preparation of each and every piece we work very closely with the composer to ensure that the performer can clearly and unambiguously understand his music. This may mean discussing the addition or elimination or markings, the choice of language for text-expressed indications, or any other issue related to the printed representation of a musical work. We send the composer a proof or galley version, which oftentimes engenders further revisions. Beyond the music itself, with every edition we publish a brief biography in English and Spanish. Also, there’s additional information that we publish on our website about any interesting or important details that a performer might need or want to know about a particular work. From an aesthetic standpoint, we want our printed editions to be visually attractive and inviting. We put a lot of thinking into the layout of each piece, we use “concert sized” (9x12) paper because it’s more “roomier” and we print on acid-free papers and cover stocks especially cut for us. However, our fundamental objective is historic: we want to create the new generation of Latin American composers. Many may have heard of Villa-Lobos or Chávez, but who are the great Latin American composers of today? We are hopeful that in the not too distant future that our group of composers will begin to be recognized as significant and important representatives of classical composition in Latin America.
ES: Do you feel that music by Latin American composers is often ignored? If so, why might this be?
JW: It may not be so much a question of being ignored—there’s a lot of interest in Latin American music—but clearly cultural and linguistic differences can create a barrier. Most North Americans may be completely unaware of how different the classical music tradition is in Latin America. I taught in Ecuador’s national conservatory and experienced these differences first hand. It’s a strange situation between strong support for music in certain areas, and almost non-existent support in others. For instance, although there’s really no training in music education to speak of, we did graduate a number of very fine players. However, if their professional performing career doesn’t pan out, their degree (which is roughly equivalent to a U.S. high school diploma) leaves them completely unprepared for any other type of job. Young aspiring composers have it a lot worse, though: after having to go abroad for professional training in composition, upon returning to their homelands it’s difficult for them to get people to play their music and places to play it in.
ES: If you could give music teachers three reasons why they should encourage their students to play music by Latin American composers, what would they be?
JW: The typical response is to say that Latin American music offers technical and rhythmical challenges that might prove interesting and beneficial to the student. However, the better answer is that music of Latin America represents unparalleled diversity. Although it may look like any other musical score—there will be staves and key signatures and all of the other elements typical of European musical notation—depending on its country of origin this music may incorporate a multiplicity of influences generally not found in European music. In Peru, for example, young composers learn harmony and counterpoint just like we do. However, it’s very common for their compositions to reveal a strong blending of European as well as indigenous and African elements. The various localized religious traditions and how these mixed with Catholic and other European religions are also quite important to how music developed and how it is still developing in Latin America. And fundamentally, throughout that entire region there is always the impact of the Spanish conquest and its repercussions that continue to influence Latin American musical thinking. So by studying and performing Latin American works, American students may be exposed not only to unique rhythms, melodies and textures, but also there’s great opportunity to appreciate and become more aware of the broader cultural contexts that produced these works.