More so, perhaps, than any other music ensemble in the State, Coro Hispano de San Francisco draws its listeners off the beaten path of standard repertoire, crossing over into new sounds, finding new delight in old sounds, exploring traditions still alive and vibrant, but unknown to mainstream ears.
Founded in 1975 to celebrate the bicentenary of Mission San Francisco, Coro’s first members were largely from the City’s Mission District; 92% Spanish-speaking, more than half without prior music-making experience. Educational outreach to the community has always been an integral part of Coro’s mission. Its first concert drew an audience of more than 500, who stood in applause for ten minutes. Today, though totally professional in its performance standards, Coro holds true to its original identity: a community chorus of the Spanish-speaking of the Bay Area, open to all with requisite skills and a love of its defining repertory. In size, Coro is a chamber chorus, varying from a dozen to thirty-five or more singers, according to the requirements of occasion, venue and programming. Voice disposition ranges from solo to polychoral, a cappella to instrumentally accompanied, and accompaniment from a pair of guitars to orchestra, as the score requires. Authenticity of sound is a defining hallmark of Coro’s arrangements: folk-works with instruments from that place, Early Music works with instruments from that period.
Coro’s repertory embraces the choral and vocal music of all parts of the Spanish-speaking World, from the 12th century through the 21st, ranging from the cantigas of Alfonso el Sabio, through the Renaissance cancioneros, the songs of the Sephardic diaspora, the choral masterworks of Spain’s Golden Age, then crossing over and camping out in the Américas, with Aztec and Inca chants from the first century of contact, misas and motetes from cathedral choirbooks of Mexico and Peru, the playful villancicos of the Iberoamerican Baroque, the elegant masses and responsories of the Mexican, Venezuelan and Brazilian High Classic, the lush melodies of the Latin Romantic Era, and into the 20th century– the ‘New Age’ of Latin American choral music, where folk idiom fuses afresh with classic forms to produce a bright new bouquet of song for many voices.
The lyrics of this repertory are no less diverse, from poetry in formal Castilian to barrio street-slang, from Portuguese, Galician or Catalán to the Jewish-diaspora Ladino, from Caribbean Afro-Hispanic dialect to the authentic indigenous tongues of the First Peoples: Nahuatl, Tlaxcalteca, Mayá, Quechua… and then, of course, there are the works in Latin, sung in the pronunciation that singers would have used at the time and in the place the works were first composed.
Equally varied are the rhythms at work in any Coro program, from the throb of bombos legüeros in Andean processional chants, through the maracas-accented lacework of Venezuelan polyrhythms, the soulful pull of boleros or the rousing swing of corridos, to modern Latin dance beats, from salsa to samba.
Coro’s concert programming is constructed around feast-days and festivities observed throughout the year in the Latin cultural calendar, both sacred and secular: las Pascuas Navideñas, Día de los Reyes, Día de los Muertos, Día de la Raza, Día de la Madre, Cinco de Mayo, as well as local observances, like the Founding-Day of San Francisco. The works in any given program move freely from one genre to another, crossing styles, languages and centuries with ease, but each work drawing the listener ever more deeply into the meaning of the festivity itself: what it is that this music was written to celebrate. The result is a program that invites the audience into a whole culture, through music that thrills the ear and fills the soul. And that is a language that has no borders to cross: it belongs to all.
Coro Hispano de San Francisco functions as a program of the Instituto Pro Música de California, a community-based, non-profit 501(c)(3) educational/arts corporation.
Composer, teacher and conductor, Juan Pedro Gaffney Rivera has been researching, editing, teaching and performing the choral music of Latin America, Spain and Portugal for the past 35 years. He received early choral training from local maestros Herbert Bergman, Leonard Fitzpatrick, Richard Irven Purvis, Sergei Konstantinov and Waldemar Jacobsen, later earning advanced degrees in music from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University. His discovery of the classical and folk repertories of Latin America while working in Venezuela in the mid-60’s proved key in determining the path of his career. In 1975 he founded the Coro Hispano de San Francisco and Conjunto Nuevo Mundo, and conjointly, the Instituto Pro Música's Musicological Research Program, through which he has transcribed and/or edited more than 100 works by New World Renaissance and Baroque masters. Maestro Gaffney also serves as Director of Hispanic Liturgy at the Basilica of Mission San Francisco de Asís.