Edmonton – “Dude, Where’s My Luggage?” “Nice to Meat You!” and “This Trip Is Making Me Feel Things” These were the first three daily blog titles from the Concordia Concert Choir’s spring tour to Brazil. Five staff and 25 members of the student choir from Concordia University College of Alberta toured Brazil for two weeks, singing concerts, sightseeing, and soaking in a feast for the senses. The trip was organized mainly around connections established through Concordia’s burgeoning international program, including visits to nine partner universities clustered in the immigrant-developed south including Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paolo.
The group was charmed by the warmth and emotiveness of people who hug and cheek-kiss upon introduction, and awed by never-ending barbecues and buffets and the intense flavour of native fruits, as well as a heart-stopping, hair-whipping display of a gaucho’s mastery of boleadeiras, a lasso with metal balls at either end. A visit to a samba school invited the visitors to challenge their feet and sense of rhythm in this high-energy dance, while North American paradigms bumped up against the realities of Brazilian sanitation, taxation, corruption, and infrastructure, along with notions of timeliness and efficiency.
A Rio native from Concordia helped interpret the culture as well as language, and students started to grasp the context of the Brazilian pieces they were singing, from the jaunty national anthem to the fluid sway of a famous samba. The choir’s performance of a prayer for deliverance, inscribed “To the Mothers of Brazil,” gained gravity as the group started to piece together current political and socio-economic tensions with the country’s recent chapter of harsh military reign, during which dissenters especially in university communities were tortured, executed, or “disappeared.”
The music spoke deeply to near-capacity audiences (up to 1600 in one venue), as concerts elicited tears, ovations, and numerous Facebook friend requests. While the Brazilian songs drew enthusiastic responses, it was the choir’s primarily sacred Canadian repertoire, from ethereal Kyries to jazz- and spiritual-tinged pieces, that amazed and intrigued listeners. “We’ve never heard music like this before!” was a common refrain. The choir sang for and with other choirs, in concert halls, on the streets, and in churches including a large Lutheran congregation, an exquisite chapel, and a cavernous cathedral. Whether well-planned or impromptu, each performance attracted new fans and friends for these young ambassadors.
One measure of the cultural impact of the tour was expressed later by Sergio, the gracious and spirited choral director who arranged a three-day billet experience in the inland city of Ribeirão Preto. While the intense personal engagement spurred growth for both groups, he raved about the calibre and ambiance of an “impeccable and unforgettable” concert, and about young voices producing a sublime music that can only reflect a society with a high cultural standard.
Sergio’s final comments recalled the choirs’ emotional farewells, hugged and sung. “Ay, yay yay yay,” sang his group, expressing the famously untranslatable word saudade, a profound nostalgia or longing, somewhere between happy and sad, for something, some place, or someone dear that is gone from you. Based on the choir’s Facebook posts, it seems it’s a term that no longer requires translation for Concordians who will never really leave behind the passion bound up with a culture and people a hemisphere away.
For tour highlights, visit choirtriptobrazil.blogspot.ca.