Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

Autumn in Minas Gerais: Part III

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Outono em Minas Gerais: Parte Três

Monday morning, Jaimie and I arose to squeeze in a bit more historical tourism in Ouro Preto. We climbed the ladeira up to Praça Tiradentes. On the way, I took this picture of an oratório perched on a corner overlooking a steep valley.

Passo de Antônio Dias: an example of an oratório in Ouro Preto

(Note: an oratório is a structure constructed for personal worship and prayer. It ranges in size from one wall of a room, to a portable chest, to a medallion worn around the neck. Click here to visit the photo gallery of the Museu do Oratório in Ouro Preto to see examples).

The small plaque to the right of the double door explains that this oratórioPasso de Antônio Dias—is one of five remaining in Ouro Preto. It opens only during Semana Santa (Holy Week), specifically during the Processão do Encontro on Domingo dos Ramos (see my prior post), the Processão do Enterro (Procession of the Interment of Jesus Christ), e Sexta-Feira Santa (Good Friday).

Looking back at my photos after the trip, I realized I had snapped a picture of that same oratório the day before—on Domingo dos Ramos (Palm Sunday). What luck! I remember having watched ouropretanos (residents of Ouro Preto) pass by, pay their respects, and resume the quotidian, such as running errands, shopping, visiting relatives.

Passo de Antônio Dias: open for only a few days of the year, I snapped this on Palm Sunday

This aspect of individual spirituality fascinates me. Historically, it seems to have arisen out of colonial necessity. Portuguese settlers simply couldn’t build churches fast enough, especially not in the remote, mountainous state of Minas Gerais. But, portable oratórios helped keep people invested in the Catholic Church.

Here are two more oratórios that opened during the evening processionals of Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Oratório in Ouro Preto open during the Processão do Encontro on Domingo dos Ramos (Palm Sunday)

Oratório in São João del Rei open during Quarta-Feira das Cinzas (Ash Wednesday)



















Monday evening, Jaimie and I parted ways. She returned to Belo Horizonte to continue her biological research on tadpoles (so neat!), and I took a bus to São João del Rei.


Rio de Janeiro in Five Days and Four Nights

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Rio de Janeiro: A pior viagem da minha vida

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an announcement for an ethnomusicology conference that would take place in Rio de Janeiro. It was set to begin in just two weeks—a little tight for flight shopping—but as I read the program I decided it was not to be missed.

The conference was to focus on the Palavra Cantada (or, Sung Word) and among the presenters listed in the program were numerous well-respected and widely published researchers of Brazilian music, including Liv Sovik, Carlos Sandroni, José Miguel Wisnik, Luiz Tatit, Marcos Napolitano, Elizabeth Travassos and David Treece, and my own mentor at UFMG (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais) Glaura Lucas.

The guest speaker, much to my delight, was to be Anthony Seeger, an American ethnomusicologist whose best known work Why Suyá Sing: A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People is never missing from required reading lists in academia. He has also written extensively about ethics, recording practices, and copyright, and served as executive producer at the Smithsonian Folkways record label for more than a decade. [A surprising sidenote: Why Suyá Sing has never been translated into Portuguese!?!?!]

Upon taking a closer look at the program, I realized that all of the events started at 2 pm each day—nothing at all was planned in the mornings! I have NEVER seen a conference schedule like that in the US or UK. Rather than spending my time on the beach, as many of my friends recommended, I planned to spend the mornings doing archival research in the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library).

Photo Credit: Agência Estado. Interior of Biblioteca Nacional de Rio de Janeiro (Nacional Library).

Delighted by all I would learn and discover, I enrolled in the conference, found a cheap flight, and booked a moderately-priced hotel in Glória, a neighborhood just south of Centro and a few metrô stops away from the conference site in Urca.

At this point, my perfectly planned—and nerdtastic, as my husband would say—research trip started to unravel.

Rather than bore you with all the hairy details, I decided to write a little story about my failed trip. In fact, as I write it, the trip still hasn’t ended—I still have two more hours until my flight leaves Aeroporto Santos Dumont.


Rio de Janeiro in Five days and Four Nights


Day 1: 98.6o

I dreamed of five days and four nights in Rio de Janeiro,

until the workers of the National Library went on strike: Biblioteca fechou.*

I dreamed of five days and four nights in Rio de Janeiro,

until I forgot the often-elusive, but ever-essential charger for my waning cell phone.

I dreamed of five days and four nights in Rio de Janeiro,

until Prince canceled his scheduled appearance with Chaka Khan. Prince. PRINCE. NOOOO!!

I dreamed of five days and four nights in Rio de Janeiro,

until I awoke at 3 am with tonsils each the size of a small plum.


Day 2: 100.5o

I dreamed of four days and three nights in Rio de Janeiro,

as I bought my first box of Cimegripe** from the farmácia.

I dreamed of four days and three nights in steamy Rio de Janeiro,

while I shivered, sweated, and slept, waking only to eat or pee.

I dreamed of four days and three nights in Rio de Janeiro,

including a nightmare of a Brazilian wandering spider attacking my spine as I slept.


Day 3: 102.1o

I dreamed of three days and two nights in Rio de Janeiro,

as the garçonete*** looked pitifully at me upon arriving late for breakfast. (She let me eat anyway).

I dreamed of three days and two nights in Rio de Janeiro,

as I bought my second box of Cimegripe from the farmácia.

I dreamed (in vain) of three days and two nights in Rio de Janeiro,

until my dizzy head and flaming cheeks were no match for the conference in its second full day.


Day 4: 100.8o

I hoped for just two days and 1 night in Rio de Janeiro,

until I turned on the hot water in the shower and absolutely nothing came out at all.

I pleaded for two days and 1 night in Rio de Janeiro,

while I napped through my third consecutive morning in the Cidade Maravilhosa.****

I longed for two days and 1 night in Rio de Janeiro,

and when I made it to the closing night of the conference, I listened, weak and bewildered, but left without meeting a soul.


Day 5: 99.2o

I settled for one last day in Rio de Janeiro,

and just missed extending my hotel room to accommodate my 8:50 pm flight.

I left the hotel for one last day in Rio de Janeiro,

and bought my third box of Cimegripe, much to the pharmacist’s amusement.

I wandered through the last day in Rio de Janeiro,

and huddled in a dark café corner with an extreme-garlic-and-potato soup, a new book, and no one in sight.

I could not face the last day in Rio de Janeiro,

and settled in for five long hours at the Aeroporto Santos Dumont.


Home: 98.6o

I spent five days and four nights in Rio de Janeiro,

and all I got was a cold and this lousy poem.

*Biblioteca fechou—library closed

**Cimegripe—Tylenol- and chlorphenamine-based cold medicine and sister to the infamous Benegripe, but without the wallop of 250 mg of caffeine. (Note: an average cup of coffee/tea contains 75-100 mg of caffeine).


****Cidade Maravilhosa—marvelous city, Rio de Janeiro’s nickname


[Note: Apologies to the city of Rio de Janeiro—I am sure you are perfectly marvelous under normal circumstances.]

Autumn in Minas Gerais: Part II

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Outono em Minas Gerais: Parte Dois

Two of the reasons Ouro Preto attracts so many visitors: historic churches and the mountainous landscape

The next morning, Domingo dos Ramos (Palm Sunday), Jaimie and I awoke early in order to participate in another processão. This one was to depart the beautiful Igreja de São Francisco de Assis—the church that uses the second largest amount of gold in its interior design in Brazil (the first is in Salvador da Bahia). We heard ringing church bells as we showered and prepared to leave, but when we arrived at the church, it was empty. Despite local advertisements, the processão had already departed before 8 am!

We asked some locals and discovered that we could walk a few short blocks and find a mass in session. We did so, and took part in the blessing of the ramos, or palms. A choir sang accompanied by an ad hoc group of instrumentalists—flute, trumpet, organ, a few clarinets.

After the mass had concluded, I spoke briefly with a few of the singers. When they found we were Americans, they seemed very excited that we would be interested in the church music, and shared their personal experiences.

A woman in her thirties said she had only been in the choir for a year and learned mostly by ear, but that she hoped to learn how to read music. The choir director, a man in his early fifties, had been with the church for thirty years, and was proud to be able to keep the music going as part of religious services. The elder member, a man in his late sixties, complained that cell phone use during services was becoming all too common. He also ridiculed local politicians for having closed a government-funded music school in the area, the only option for those of modest means to access music education.

As we happily chatted, the elderly man explained that his voice felt very hoarse that day and not to judge him too harshly. Then, he told us that we couldn’t miss the evening processão which would feature the Cerimônia do Encontro, a reenactment of the meeting of Mary and Jesus Christ as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We promised to be there.

Bells ringing outside the Santuário Nossa Senhora da Conceição

After a full day of visiting historical sites of Ouro Preto, Jaimie and I struck out to find the evening procession. I had read conflicting information about where the processão would begin, but when we saw an elderly trombonist in a marching band uniform, we knew he would lead us in the right direction.

Trombonist heading to the processão. The windows in the distance are decorated with red banners in honor of Palm Sunday.

We arrived at Praça Tiradentes—the central town square—just before sunset. We found an empty curb in view of the temporary stage set up for the occasion and watched the crowds slowly gather. My favorite scene is of a young girl in an angel costume being photographed by her adoring grandfather. He snapped picture after picture in front of the setting sun as the I-know-I-am-adorable-but-I-will-pretend-I-don’t-notice-all-of-the-people-watching-me girl gave smile after smile.

Angel granddaughter in Praça Tiradentes

The sun set. The humming crowd of over one thousand quieted and an hour-long sermon commenced as the moon slowly rose over Praça Tiradentes. I marveled at the silent attention this huge mass of ouropretanos gave to the impassioned guest bishop. Only the sounds of fidgety children could be heard and the occasional hum and creak of a passing car.

Moon rising over Praça Tiradentes

The priest gave particular attention to Mary, or Nossa Senhora das Dores (Our Lady of Sorrows), explaining the significance of this encounter and the pain she would endure at the impending loss of her son. Mary’s significance for this priest was as a metaphor for the pain and suffering of motherhood and a reminder for ouropretanos to honor the matriarchs of their families.

As the priest spoke, two wooden images squeezed their way through opposite sides of the crowded square. Each dais was accompanied by costumed sentinels in Roman dress and a band of brass, winds and percussion. As the priest spoke, the images neared closer and closer until his passionate speech reached a peak and the images met face to face.

Cerimônia do Encontro: the images of Mary and Jesus Christ meet in Praça Tiradentes

The priest closed his speech, hundreds clapped, and the processão began. Jaimie and I were unprepared for what followed.

The processão wound through street after street, over a river, past warmly glowing restaurants, solemn-looking churches, and many open windows. The two bands following each wooden image traded off playing hymns throughout the 3-hour journey.

Processão under a nearly full moon

A musician struggles to find the next song while descending a steep street

Church elders leading the processão

After snapping pictures of the happy but tired musicians, Jaimie and I found our way back through the winding streets to eat a quick dinner and collapse into bed. The next morning we awoke feeling like old women—our legs ached, we limped around our little pousada room, and only long showers could prepare us to climb the ladeira for our last day in Ouro Preto.

Autumn in Minas Gerais: Part I

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Outono em Minas Gerais: Parte Um

Evening in Ouro Preto with Jaimie

One of my goals here in Minas Gerais has been to try to get a broad understanding of the types of cultural production that involve music-making. Though my research focuses on the Clube da Esquina—a musical collective often categorized as MPB (música popular brasileira)—I am devoted to investigating the many musical manifestations in Brazil and Minas Gerais that influenced their output.

One of those influences comes from Catholic religious celebrations. During Semana Santa (Holy Week), I traveled to two colonial cities in Minas Gerais in order to learn more about the importance of Catholicism in civic life. First, I took my dear friend Jaimie to Ouro Preto.

Ouro Preto celebrated its 300th anniversary this year (1711 – 2011). Its original name was Vila Rica (Rich Village) due to its status as the center of Brazil’s gold rush and was the capital of Minas Gerais for much of the 19th century, well before Belo Horizonte (the current capital) was constructed. Today, Ouro Preto teams with domestic and international tourists, stumbling through the many ladeiras (steep streets; or literally, ladders) to museums, churches, and shops.

Looking down the "ladder", or ladeira, past the Casa da Ópera (in yellow), the oldest working concert hall in the Americas

Although Jaimie and I ventured into museums and a few shops, my willing assistant accompanied me on at least three of the many processões (processions) scheduled throughout Semana Santa. We arrived on Saturday afternoon, the day before Domingo dos Ramos (Palm Sunday). After checking into a modest, but very well-kept pousada (bed and breakfast), we climbed our way back up to Praça Tiradentes (the central town square) in search of the first of many processions.

We wandered down a few winding streets and found the Matriz Nossa Senhora do Pilar (head church, or also womb, of Our Lady of Pilar). At 7 pm, the church was already overflowing with a softly buzzing swarm of worshippers. The priest gave a brief sermon introducing Holy Week, and then unveiled a wooden image of Jesus Christ inside of a purple-cloaked dais.

Priest blessing the image of Jesus Christ with smoke

Image of Jesus Christ leaving the Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar

The churches in Ouro Preto share the responsibility and honor of hosting the images of Jesus Christ and Mary. This night, the image of Jesus Christ was carried through the steep and winding streets of Ouro Preto to arrive at Santuário da Imaculada Conceição (Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception).

Church volunteers carried the dais while followers filled the narrow, cobbled streets from door to door. A city band in navy uniforms accompanied the procession playing religious hymns. Marching over the uneven ground at night and reading the sheet music attached to the musician’s backs certainly made for challenging music-making (and photography—my apologies), but ouropretanos are used to scaling these streets.

Processão with the image of Jesus Christ at left in purple

City band marching under onlookers leaning out open windows

Two things particularly struck me about this event. First, the processão seemed to be an event for generations to gather together. I saw granddaughters assisting very elderly grandmothers over the cobblestones, nephews walking with uncles, and parents greeting children arriving from other cities in Minas Gerais who had come home for the holiday week.

Second, despite these encounters, the followers were solemn. Mineiros (residents of Minas Gerais), and brasileiros in general, greet family and friends with enthusiasm! But, this night was muted and reserved for an internalized religiosity.

My subsequent travel to São João del Rei would be a very different experience.

Arrival at Santuário da Imaculada Conceição


New Recording Project: Bossa Nuevo

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Last night, I sang with my dear bandmates from Bossa Nuevo in celebration of our self-titled debut release: Bossa Nuevo. The group came together after several conversations about mutual interests in music from South America informed by our training in jazz and classical music. In particular, Bossa Nuevo decided to dedicate itself to two genres and our name reflects this interest–Brazilian bossa nova and Argentinian tango nuevo. Click on the album cover below to hear it!


Bossa Nuevo

Bossa Nuevo ©2010

Our CD release party was a treat! We performed for a very appreciative audience at V. Picasso in Urbana, and now I am really looking forward to your comments on the CD itself. We are distributing the record through CdBaby. If you choose to buy a copy there, we would love it if you left a comment on our CdBaby page. Since our debut primarily features Brazilian bossa nova and MPB (música popular brasileira) songs, we plan to put any profits right back into another recording project that will highlight tango music.

But for now, enjoy the debut!


6th Annual Meadowbrook Jazz Walk

Bossa Nuevo at the 6th Annual Meadowbrook Jazz Walk

Trip to Brazil

Friday, August 20th, 2010

When I tell people I am going to Brazil, they always respond with jealous comments about the time I will spend on the beach. Maybe it was my landlocked Midwestern upbringing, or my dangerously pale skin, but I am just not seduced by beach life. Instead, I head straight to the third largest city in Brazil.

Belo Horizonte sits in a valley in the mountains of the Southeast, an 8-hour bus ride North of Rio de Janeiro. This past June and July, I spent two lovely months escaping from the oppressive heat and humidity of central Illinois in Beagá (Portuguese for BH). Winter in Beagá is fantastic—75 or 80 during the day, 50 at night and sunny every day—perfect for Northerners like me and my Canadian husband.

I first went to Beagá in 2003 and fell in love with the giant intersections of downtown, labyrinthine streets of the suburbs, and, most of all, the people. I stayed four months in 2004-05 and discovered mineiros (residents of Minas Gerais state) to contradict the stereotypes assigned them by other Brazilians. My next few blog posts will be dedicated to describing my experiences in Belo Horizonte—if you have any comments or questions, shoot them my way!