A Musical Inspiration

By Beatriz Cabrera

Mayaguez, PR—- Dr.Jose Antonio Lopez, a well-known professor at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez campus (UPRM), tackles the issue of acculturation with his students in his course Musi4995, also known as, Cultural Puertorican Music.

Born in Juncos,Puerto Rico, before becoming a professor of the Humanistics Department at UPRM, he was a student of the classical guitar. The professor is the first Hispanic classical guitarist to receive a Ph.D in classical guitar. He also has specializations both in musical education and instrumental conducting, received from the world renowned Indian University School of Music.

Jose Antonio Lopez, with his lovely guitar

He is the director and founder of “El Concurso Nacional de Guitarra Clasica”, a very important event sponsored annually in Mayaguez for guitarists to display their talents in front of a large audience. In 2006, in four occasions, he was a soloist with the Puertorican Symphonic Orquestra, where he interpreted the “El Concierto Antillano de Ernesto Cordero” and “El concierto de Aranjuez de Joaquin Rodrigo.”

The professor began his investigations by asking the students about their exposure to music. Most of them replied that they never heard this music out of the classroom. The professor became worried to see that his students could not recognize native musical pieces  when he has traveled the world and in other countries, they praise him for his talents and for our native music.

In 2008, the professor offered his Musi4995 course for the first time, and on the first day of class, he gave his students a quiz in which all they needed to do was listen to some pieces of music and answer in the sheet whether or not they had heard them before. The quiz consisted of 30 pieces. The professor was shocked to see that no one even recognized our Anthem.

He said, “The course Musi4995 thoroughly studies the impact and the function that our music has had as a medium of cultural resistance since the colonial period until the decade of the 1950s.” He added, “I had to change the syllabus a bit so that I could investigate how it was possible that these students knew nothing about their musical culture.”

The professor divided his class in several groups. He sent each group to interview and to question the artists themselves as to why they believed this could be happening. Among the artists interviewed were Benito de Jesus, Danny Rivera, Edwin Colon Zayas, Rafael Scharron, Tony Rivera, Rafael Rosado, Tito Auger, Cali Rivera, Luis Marin, Alfonso Fuentes, Polo Ocasio and a few others.

When the interviews were over with, the students compiled all the information and handed it to the professor. The book also consisted of essays written by the 28 students who wrote the book as the epilog. And so “Queja del Alma”, the first book of the course was published in 2008.

The title, when translated means “The Soul’s Complaint,” was chosen by the professor because of the contents of the book, and also, it is the name of a famous piece composed by one of Puerto Rico’s own artists, Jose Maria Rodriguez. “I feel proud of the book and of my students because instead of living in ignorance, they decided to do something about it. Instead of hiding this issue in the darkness, they decided to try and put a candlelight to try an enlighten others.”

On Wednesday, December 1st ,2011, the professor performed, free of charge, at the Yaguez Theatre in Mayaguez. The activity began with an introduction of the artists that are an inspiration to our island and there was a brief message from the mayor of Mayaguez. There was also an introduction of the professor and the professor’s work at the University. He performed many pieces from well known composers such as Bach and Danny Rivera. He later performed a piece dedicated to his daughter titled, “Flores para Natalia”.

Jose Antonio performing along side Erwin Colon Zayas

After his solo performance, he began to play pieces alongside Edwin Colon Zayas, a long time friend and fellow musician. Johnny Rivera, a close friend of the professor, expressed his admiration of the professor, “Jose Antonio is a great man and an even greater musician. Despite having this amazing talent of his, he’s still willing to give back to our society and inspire our younger generations.”

The professor performed wonderfully, the audience stood in respect and admiration for the professor. At the conclusion of the event, he thanked his audience and his students for taking part in this wonderful night.

Jose Antonio is the author of four books and editor of the four books written in the course Musi4995. Jose also has his own radio show every Friday, usually speaking of the same issue that he tackles with his students. The professor not only teaches the Cultural Puertorican Music course, he also dictates Music Appreciation in the university.

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