November 30, 2012
Preserving Chamorro songs and chants: Concert highlights efforts of group
By Lacee A.C. Martinez
Pacific Daily News
Guam has a long tradition of family gatherings during the holidays, where prayers are said and music is sung — often in Chamorro.
These traditions, however, have been slipping away, taking the music and language with it.
Through a grant from the Association of Native Americans, Pa’a Taotao Tano’ has been working to preserve much of the music, as well as the newer chants and songs sung in Guam’s native tongue. Tomorrow is your chance to hear some of that music live in concert.
Pa’a Taotao Tano’ and the ANA present a Chamorro music concert to launch a songbook and CD, “I Ukon I Mañaina-ta, Chants and Songs from Our Elders.”
The concert will feature the St. Francis Children’s Choir, EMMAUS! Choir, the San Isidro Catholic Church Christian Mothers and the Pa’a Taotao Tano’ Chanters performing the music documented and recorded in the project.
The work to perpetuate and share the songs nearly lost to the previous generations began in 2010, says Nicole Calvo, project director for Pa’a Taotao Tano’s Chamorro language through chants, prayers and song project.
Two resource tools
The goal was to produce two resource tools — a musically notated songbook and a CD recording of some of the select songs from the book.
The project included a year of interviews with: manamko’ on and off island; techas, prayer leaders from the churches; and the fafanague, the dance leaders of the different guma, or houses, that fall under Pa’a Taotao Tano’. Pa’a Taotao Tano’ is an umbrella organization of 11 different dance groups of Chamorro cultural practitioners, Calvo says.
“We interviewed the manamko’ and talked to them about some of their childhood memories of some of the songs,” she says. “Many of them came back to us singing some of the secular songs and most especially the non-secular — the religious church songs from ... novenas and so forth. We kind of captured that.”
The second year of the project began the transcription of some of the songs into musical notes, for the songbook, which is comprised of some 70 songs — secular and non-secular.
Some of the music includes original compositions from musicians such as Bill Paulino and Cathy Calvo Cruz, who directs the St. Francis Children’s Choir and also worked to document the music with the project.
“We have had a couple of people who had passed away, like a woman named Bernadita Tenorio who had collected volumes and transcribed so many Chamorro songs,” Calvo says. “The family allowed us to go ahead and use her original compositions.”
“My mother’s novena is a continuation from her mother’s and her mother’s mother’s traditions,” Cruz says. “We’re realizing that this is not going to continue unless we make sure it’s absolutely out there physically, not only that our families can benefit but our entire island. If we lose that, we lose who we are entirely and it’s becoming scary. If we don’t make a concerted effort to bring something from the past and make it concrete, we’re going to lose it.”
The project includes secular songs such as “Atan Jesu Kristo” and “Kantayi Gue,” as well as other songs that would have been sung in church or at novenas.
“We have a really beautiful mix of little snippets of our identity,” Cruz says. “Once you sing that, it just gives you a sense of wow — I’m glad I still sing this song.”
The project also includes original chants, many of which have come from Pa’a Taotao Tano’ creative director Frank Rabon, who’s revered as a master of Chamorro dance, Calvo says.
“Over the years, with the help of other students and colleagues, he’s written chants that go with dances and the songs,” she says. “A lot of it, we knew it was very important to capture that and musically notate it for people to enjoy for generations to come.”
If you miss the concert, you will be able to purchase the CD and songbook at the Pa’a Taotao Tano’ office in Hagåtña.
“The next part of this is to take them into the different gumas — the dance houses — and teach that to the children and youth to also learn how to sing it,” Calvo says. “Hopefully from that we’ll be teaching them the Chamorro language as well.”