Posts Tagged ‘Ouro Preto’

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