Music as History Teacher – SAWAE’s Music

SAVAE’s Music – San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble.

I love music.  I like lots of genres–when I say eclectic I don’t mean rap and country; I mean classical baroque, bluegrass, new wave British invasion, blues, most subheadings under rock, R & B, etc.  As is the case with most of my hobbies and interests I love the old stuff, too.  Again, I am not just referring to Mozart, here, because I grew up with him, I mean well before his time, too.  My initial foray into pre-classical music came in the form of a Renaissance Christmas CD my parents purchased.  Not long after that, monks chanting in Gregorian Chant became all the rage!  Then I discovered the hauntingly beautiful music of the Middle East and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon opened the Far East (although, I am still not a big fan of Japanese opera).

Since then, my hobby has continued to expand somewhat haphazardly, aided occasionally by friends, NPR Tiny Desk Concerts and Pandora.  Recently, while looking for resources on a lecture for the Mayan ballgame I stumbled across the group above, SAVAE, short for San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble.  I have not, yet, been able to find much information on their methods or expertise, but much of their work has been directed towards historical reconstructions.  All of their early albums feature the music of Conquest-era New Spain and its fusion with Old World and New World instrumentation and language.  (I just got my first two CDs and think they are amazing on an aesthetic level.)  The idea I think offers some really unique possibilities for historians of the era, particularly in the classroom.

Students are already drawn to music.  I think a great way to use this in class would be to compare what SAVAE has reconstructed with today’s reggaeton a fusion of West-Indian music, such as reggae, and traditional Latin American rhythms and themes, such as salsa and bomba, with contemporary hip hop and electronica.  The result is a fusion, parts of which sound familiar to those acquainted to with any one of the root genres, but nonetheless strange.  This is frequently the case with SAVAE’s Conquest-era reconstructions.  If I had to describe the sounds, I would say they are something loosely like medieval European chant and the music we purchased in Taos, NM visiting the Pueblos.  But, that doesn’t really do it justice.  It would be a great introduction to the subsequent melding and blending of the two cultures in the wake of the Age of Discovery.

There are samples at the website link at the top of the post–check them out!  In addition, they as a group have continued to evolve (apparently, I am late to the game) and their repertoire has grown accordingly.


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Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Music

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