Guest interview with Cicely Winter IOHIO Oaxaca Mexico Jeannine: Please introduce yourself to our readers. How did you find yourself in the Oaxaca area of Mexico? Ms. Winter: I have been in Oaxaca for 44 years. I came here from the US with my husband who is an archaeologist working for the Mexican national government. We first came to Mexico because of my husband’s post-doctoral work and two years turned into 44. I am a pianist but before this project, I had never played an organ. I know about organizing projects in Oaxaca and I know about music. I met some organ people who introduced me to the organs and here I am still. in 2000, I co-founded theInstituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca México(IOHIO)and since then have served as its director doing festival organization and coordinating the documentation, preservation, and restoration of the organs of Oaxaca. J: My first “connection” to the organs of Oaxaca, Mexico was through my organ professor, Guy Bovet, in the mid-1980s. Guy, who at the time was involved in the documentation of historical instruments in Mexico, also introduced his students to the music of Spanish composers, Cabezón and Francisco Correa de Arauxo. Is there a connection between Mr. Bovet’s early work and your work to preserve the organs of Oaxaca? Ms. Winter:Yes, there is a strong connection. In the 1980s and 90s, Mr.Bovet and his team carried out an important survey of the organs of various regions of Mexico, including that of Oaxaca. His titanic work, sponsored by UNESCO and Pro Helvetia, documented hundreds of organs. It was amazing work given the horrible road conditions, lack of telephones, and difficulty in communication. Guy’s work formed the basis of our work. J:Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca Méxicois unique in its mission as it “is committed to protect, conserve, document, and promote the historic pipe organs in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico; to raise consciousness about their importance as part of the national and international cultural heritage; and to reintegrate the restored instruments into the present-day life of their communities.” As co-founder of this organization, why do you think the work ofInstituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca Méxicois of such importance? And urgency? Would you please give some examples of the work done by the Society? Ms. Winter: First, let me begin by giving a very brief history of the Oaxacan organs. (For more information please visit http://iohio.org.mx/eng/organhistory.htm The Oaxaca area of Mexico was evangelized by the Dominicans in the mid-1500s. The Dominicans brought with them tabletop organs, which would prove to be a powerful tool in the mission to convert the native population to Christianity. Within just a few years after the Conquest, the indigenous population was involved in all aspects of European music – singing in choir, composing music, playing and building instruments with organbuilding workshops, directed by Spaniards using indigenous artisan labor, began to appear. There was a great demand for organs, since a new church was not considered to be complete without one, and the organ was promoted by the Church as the proper instrument to accompany the liturgy. Thus, part of the work of IOHIO is traveling through the Oaxaca region to document the existing organs. Originally there were 100s of these unique locally built organs in our area. At this point we have documented 72.
After the documentation we then determine the best way to conserve the instruments for the future. Conservation begins with protection. Not only protecting the organs from natural deterioration but educating the local population as to the importance of the instrument as many people have no memory of the organ’s sound or even realize that it was once a musical instrument. (To learn more visit http://iohio.org.mx/eng/protection.htm) To receive the funds for restoring an organ we have to be able to guarantee that the restored organ will be played, tuned, maintained, cleaned, and watched over. Mainly, though, the goal is that the restored organ be played which means that the number of restored organs is linked to the number of organists in the area. Over the years, we have tried many different educational programs and now have a core group of organists and more appreciation from the priests – and even the Archbishop -- for the organ and how it can be used to enhance the liturgy of the Mass. Following that we move into concerts and of course, our Festivals to bring awareness of these unique treasures to the world.
J:We all have the opportunity to experience the Oaxacan organs live at the eleventh International Organ And Early Music Festival Of Oaxaca, Mexico which will take place February 18 – 24, 2016. Please tell us more. Ms. Winter:We are excited to announce our 11th International Festival February 18-24, 2016 and invite each of you to consider attending this unique Festival. Concerts, workshops, and educational opportunities fill the Festival schedule, but the field trips to the remote villages to see the organs (restored and unrestored) are the really the most exciting part of the festival. Riding in comfortable vehicles we are able to take festival participants to places they could not travel on their own to see these 18th century organs, the church art, and to experience life in these small villages. Because the organs are located in balconies out-of-the-way locations in the churches, we use live camera feeds to project the concerts to a screen in the front of the church. Many times, villagers have never seen or been aware of the organ in their church, so it is exciting for them as well as the Festival participants to experience the concerts in this way.
J: You recently released a CD of Oaxacan folk music played on the Oaxacan Cathedral organ. This sounds like an interesting and captivating juxtaposition of musical elements. What was your objective for showcasing folk music on a historic Baroque organ? Can we hear samples? And where may one purchase the CD? Ms. Winter: This music is the music of the local people and they love hearing it played on an historic organ! It is music everyone knows – they sing, they’re screaming – as a result they are attending an organ concert on their newly restored organ. It is not only the present, but it is a link to their past. It is a great way to bring people to the organ and then to introduce them to other sacred music written for the organ as well. Performing this folk music on the organ was one of the best decisions we have made in our restoration projects – the organ once again became an important part of the community life. You may find recordings made on the Oaxacan organs (including those by Guy Bovet) on the Organ Historical Society website (http://www.organsociety.org/) J: The IOHIO Vision Statement could/should be words all organists should live by as we seek to preserve our heritage no matter where in the world we live and work: “We believe that the historic pipe organs merit respect and support. These multifaceted instruments still delight us with their rich sound, their elegant appearance, and their fine mechanism. In addition, they represent a link to the history of their communities and remind us of the commitment of the ancestors of present-day Oaxacans who financed their construction.” Thank you for the inspiration and for keeping a visit to play the Oaxacan organs on my bucket list.
Ms. Winter:Again, we invite you to join us in Oaxaca for the 11th International Organ and Early Music Festival here in Oaxaca, Mexico.The IOHIO festivals are unique, one of the lures being the personal rather than institutional flavor of the event. Unlike most organ festivals worldwide, we do not present the organs solely as concert instruments, but also as part of a broader cultural panorama which includes their churches, their villages and local history, and their geographical regions.February is one of the most beautiful times of the year in Oaxaca. The air is clear and warm and the sky deep blue. Our field trips through the Tlacolula Valley and the Mixteca Alta highlight the splendid and varied Oaxacan scenery, as the trees will just be coming into bloom and the countryside is golden during the dry season. We encourage those of you from northern climes to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to escape the cold. Please join us February 18-24, 2016. Visithttp://iohio.org.mx/eng/fest2016.htm for more complete information.