Musical Adventures in Mexico

Hi everyone! This is Aileen from Mrs. Miracle's Music Room. Today, instead of writing about strategies to use in your music lessons, I thought I'd share a story about my recent trip to Mexico, which gave me some perspective about music of other cultures.

My husband Scott and I were fortunate enough to visit the island of Isla Mujeres over Spring Break, which is close to Cancun, Mexico. Here is one of my favorite pics from the vacation:

Yeah, pretty amazing!

But I'm not posting this blog to brag about my wonderful vacation....I had a very interesting experience that I think only a music teacher--especially a Kodaly-inspired music teacher--can appreciate, one early morning at the hotel.

I woke up to the sound of kids. In my dreary state, I didn't really know what was going on, but then heard someone over a loudspeaker--someone who was evidently trying to organize the kids or give them directions. We were staying at a mostly adult resort, so I had a hard time making sense of what the noise could be.

So I stepped out onto the balcony. Here is the view that we normally saw from our balcony:

I didn't really think about why there was a basketball court there...until I realized, looking out over the balcony at a couple hundred kids, that it was a school! Here is a picture sans kids...

...and here is a picture with all of the students participating in this early morning assembly!

Soon after I peered out over the balcony, music began playing from the that, to me, seemed patriotic. Brass music poured out of the speakers, and soon the students were all singing along.

I had to laugh myself...I came all this way to be across the street from a musical assembly in Mexico? Most people would have been annoyed by the noise (which started at 7:15 in the morning, early by American school terms!) but I was enthralled. I got out my phone and as inconspicuously as I could, started videotaping what I saw. I did this not to share it on any blog, but so I could watch it later (and as you'll read later, this came in handy!)

The music continued for a while, interspersed by periods of talking. At this point, I was cursing myself that I didn't know any would have really come in handy! But it seemed to me that the students were all familiar with the music (although, at times, some of them were shouting instead of all too common problem anywhere!) They also seemed very familiar with the routine. At one point they seemed to be reciting something, which reminded me of our Pledge of Allegiance. 

The students in the school were in uniforms--all in white tops with different bottoms--but soon, students dressed all in white started marching with a flag to the music. Their movements were very formal and rehearsed. I could only guess this was a well known and understood ritual.

After this, students sang another song. This was followed by talking over the loudspeakers. The students seemed to relax a bit, and then other students started setting up for a play. The students, although chatty here and there, were very well behaved, especially since there were very few adults in the courtyard!

This whole experience led me to quite a few questions. This was our first weekday in Mexico. Was this a daily ritual? It seemed like a special occasion to me. I also was very curious which songs they were singing, and if they performed plays on a regular basis.

Thanks to the internet and to technology in general, I soon received many answers!

My husband mentioned that he had read reviews about the resort, and that one of the guests had complained about a noisy school assembly, but the hotel had replied that this only happened on special occasions. After googling the date (March 31) and Mexican holidays, I found out it was Cesar Chavez's birthday!

Now onto the could I figure out which songs they were singing? I tried to google Mexican patriotic songs but wasn't really getting anything back. Then I remembered the free app "SoundHound."

This app can sometimes identify songs from the radio. Say you hear a song you really like but don't know the title or artist...SoundHound can usually identify these songs...but for more obscure music, I have seen the response "no entries found." I played the video from my phone and put my Ipad right next to it with SoundHound running. I had little to no hope that this would work...but it did!!!

The first song was "Marcha de Honor D.P." by Banda de Guerra de las Guardias Presidenciales. After some research, I realized this was indeed the Mexican Pledge of Allegiance!

The second song was "Himno Nacional Mexicano" by Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional...the Mexican National Anthem!

I was thrilled to not only find these titles, but to realize that regardless of my lack of Spanish, my instincts were right. Music truly can transcend language!

After doing some searching on You Tube, I found these videos:

Marcha de Honor (Honor March, or Mexican Pledge of Allegiance):

This was very similar to what I saw in the courtyard (although what I saw was even more formal.) 

I also found this--the National Anthem of Mexico.

So besides this being an interesting story to tell, why am I blogging about this?

It occurred to me, as I was standing on the balcony, looking at this assembly of singing children, that I was lucky to be watching this. How often do you get such a view into a different culture? How often do teachers get to see how schools in another culture operate?

But more than that, I thought I could improve my teaching with this experience, by:
  • Discussing how other countries have national anthems when teaching the "Star Spangled Banner" (and discussing this very experience)
  • When discussing patriotic music, and reflecting on the difference between the Pledge of Allegiance and the "Star Spangled Banner," discussing this experience as a way to make students understand that other countries have similar customs
  • Comparing and contrasting the customs of our culture vs. other cultures. It is important to not only discuss the differences between cultures but the similarities. This experience is perfect for this. We could discuss the differences (different music, different customs with the students marching) and the similarities (students were familiar with the music, students were proud of the music, etc.)
  • Having students who are from other countries share their musical customs as they are comfortable
More than that, the experience made me realize how aware I need to be when I travel. You never know when you are going to have the chance to observe and collect music of other cultures. In fact, it made me more motivated to observe and collect the music of my own students--whether it be by listening to hand jives the students are doing while waiting in lunch line or listening to jump rope games while I am on recess duty.

As Kodaly said, "To write a folksong is as much beyond the bounds of possibility as to write a proverb. Just as proverbs condense centuries of popular wisdom and observation, so, in traditional songs, the emotions of centuries are immortalized in a form polished to perfection."

I hope you continue to listen around you, whether you are on recess duty or on vacation! Have a great week!

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