Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lorenzo Candelaria

Here is a profile of Lorenzo Candelaria, Assistant Professor of Musicology, University of Texas at Austin

When Lorenzo Candelaria’s 7-year-old daughter asked what he does at work, the University of Texas musicologist told her, “I study the way people pray.”

“Sacred music and art allow us to touch the face of God, through our perception of the world around us,” says Candelaria, an expert on the Catholic sacred music of Spain and Mexico. “They’re the direct ways through which we try to make sense of life and the afterlife, to understand and gain favor with God. The emotion is the magic that happens at that point of contact.”

While intended to be enigmatic, devotional music was not meant to be esoteric, says the scholar. “So I try to make it meaningful and accessible to others; take it out there to people. It’s fun to see my students get charged up about medieval sacred music.”

A few years ago, Candelaria lived briefly amid the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo, Spain. While at their abbey, he reveled in the sound and study of Gregorian chant. Even today, pondering an old manuscript of church music evokes for him the transcendent experience of a Catholic mass: the mystical sounds, aromatic incense, sun light filtered through stained glass, robed clergy in ritual movement. It is this multi-sensory experience that he seeks to recreate for his students and readers.

“Those chant manuscripts, illustrated with gorgeous pictures, are the multimedia of the Renaissance,” he says. “With their words, music, images, even border decorations that are almost like ads, they’re not dissimilar to the Web sites of today.”

Dr. Michael C. Tusa, associate director of the University of Texas music department, describes Candelaria as “an exceptional young scholar and a gifted teacher” who has already made a significant contribution to the university and to his field. But it wasn’t planned quite this way.

When embarking on his career, Candelaria originally set out to become a chamber or orchestral musician. He studied classical violin at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Subsequently, he took his talents as a string musician on the road, performing with two highly regarded Mexican-American Mariachi bands. Then he went to Oberlin College/Conservatory for further violin studies, and everything changed.

“We all dreaded taking classes like medieval music history — but I ended up having the most wonderful professors, who made it so interesting and compelling,” he says. Switching majors from performance violin to music history, he graduated with a special prize in the field and proceeded to doctoral studies at Yale.

Only a few years later, Candelaria is already co-author of a popular college textbook on American music history and has recently written a book on the role of “art music” in Mexican Catholicism. The book addresses the success of liberation theology, which blends Catholic and socialist concepts and imagery, in resonating among the poor of Latin America. For example, musical forms such as folk masses sometimes portray Jesus Christ as a humble worker. And now, among other projects in the works, Candelaria is collaborating with a colleague on ways to use movies as an instructional tool for medieval music history.

“People speak of genius — well, Lorenzo has that capacity to do something extraordinary in a number of areas,” says Dr. Craig Wright, a music professor at Yale, whom Candelaria regards as his primary mentor and role model. “The diversity of his interests and talents is remarkable. I see him becoming a leading voice in music education.”

Raised in El Paso, Texas, Candelaria came from a family of modest means. But his love of the arts was sparked by his music teachers in the Texas public schools. Several were alumni of the very university where he teaches today. In a short time, the young musicologist has come a long way — and yet, come full circle.

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