What Matters to Me and Why

I work at a university with a leadership studies college. The school invites varying faculty, staff, and administration to talk about personal priorities and interests. As I always say, the more we know about one another, the more that the lines of separation fade. I love this notion of inviting people to talk about themselves. It becomes the living libraries favored by many communities. Here is one of my stories.

My father used to tell me, “Know something about everything and everything about something, and you will always be able to find common ground with another person.”  I have a penchant for music, literature, geography, history, art, language, biology, architecture, travel, navigation in air travel, and people.  Curiosity was the most important thing to my father.  He taught me to be curious, always!  Actually, I think my varied interests greatly inform my work in intercultural development, or helping humans find common ground with one another. It’s what I live.  It’s what I love. I like to begin my classes, workshops, and presentations with a land acknowledgment:

My homeland is the Uncompahgre Valley in Western Colorado, from where colonial settlers displaced my father’s people (Ute).  

In Kansas, I live and work on the ancestral territory of many Indigenous Nations, including the Kaw, the Osage, and the Pawnee. Kansas is currently home to the Prairie Band Potawatomi, the Kickapoo, the Iowa, and the Sac and Fox Nations. 

  I am grateful to these Nations. 

Please remember these truths.

It can be quite enlightening to research and discover what Indigenous Nation occupied the land on which you live, work, and play. We can think about:

Who granted the land?​

Who held the land previously?​

What was the U.S. Homestead Act of May 1862?​ Who was given land, and who was removed from said land?

So, I begin all my teaching with this acknowledgment. I am honored and obligated to my ancestors to do it.

Next in my processes of teaching, I acknowledge myself and my identities. Here are a few of the things with which I identify:

•Native (Ohkay Owingeh/Diné/ Uncompahgré) •Human Ecologist/Geographer •National Geographic Society Explorer •Social Researcher •Banjo player •Mother, daughter, friend, spouse, aunt, grandmother, motorcycle rider, writer… •King Alfonso X enthusiast, the original pluralist! •Blogger •Craftsperson •Nature enthusiast.

I could also say, I’m a mother, daughter, friend, spouse, aunt, grandmother, motorcycle rider, and writer.

Embedded in each of these identities that I share with you denotes aspects of my of my culture. However, the most challenging part of working to educate students, especially those from a dominant identity (Anglo-European descent) about culture is that they possess a culture. Many of my students tell me, “I don’t really have a culture. I’m just an American.” That just tells me that they have not thought about their identities.

Each of us, if we think about it, has several identifying factors that contributes to our cultural identity. You have the same sets of identities – each with sets of verbiage, practices, and thought processes that are part of your culture.

Certainly, our environments influence our patterns of behavior, our ways of knowing, our ways of living. I grew up in a mountain environment, as pictured here. We learn certain behaviors to thrive in mountain valleys, which can be different than the tallgrass prairie where I live now. In humans’ cultural practices, we learn, adapt, and adopt, often maintaining our foundational family and community systems.

Prairie or mountains: both are beautiful, and we adapt and adopt the cultural aspects of each geography.

Speaking of geography, I grew up in a household where National Geographic magazine was honored as much as the family bible.  My father read them from cover to cover.  My brothers saw them as anatomy lessons.  I vowed to visit all the places imaginable.  My work with National Geographic Society, as an explorer, put me in company with the likes of Maria Mitchell, noted astronomer in the 19th Century, Munazza Alam, 21st century astrophysicist searching for Earth’s twin, Harriet Chalmers Adams, journalists in the French trenches of World War 1, and notably, traveled to Africa to see Haile Selassie’s coronation as emperor of Ethiopia.  Of course, everyone knows the names of Edmund Hillary, Jacques Couteau, and Alexander Graham Bell as NGS explorers, but I encourage you to seek out the females who made great strides in the name of discovery.  Being a NGS explorer is the greatest way I can honor my father’s love of knowledge.

Two of the great products of my NGS funding was developing introductory course in geography for females of color, now in its fifth year, also thanks to our Center for Engagement and Community Development’s incentive grants, I was able to study the women in the African diaspora in rural SW Kansas, which became a chapter in a book recently published.  Here’s a picture of the book. My chapter covers the women of the African Diaspora now settled in Southwest Kansas. It tells of the brave women, displaced from their countries by war, worked in the beef packing plants while raising families and navigating health care, educational, and faith systems.

If you have read previous blog entries of mine, you would know that I greatly esteem George Washington Carver, the great genius in botany, invention, music, art, and philosophy.

Carver had a small homestead in Beeler, Kansas.  As a child, his slave owners near Diamond, Missouri actually saw his genius in plant pathology.  He came to Kansas, finished high school, and applied and was accepted into Highland college until he showed up. Carver was denied a college education in Kansas, because of teh color of his skin.

He found his academic home, first at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.  Only being allowed to study the fine arts, his art teacher took great interest in his botanical illustration.  She connected Carver to her biologist husband who was teaching at what is now Iowa State University.  Carver received is Master’s degree there where his brilliance was duly noted by Henry Ford, who had invited him to work since Carver had created rubber out of golden rod. Thomas Edison tried to recruit him as an inventor since Carver was noted as a great inventor, having patents on wood stains made from peanuts and sweet potatoes.   Alas, he went to work at Tuskegee “Normal” Institute at the invitation of Booker T. Washington, because it was there that he’d “do the most good.” Carver taught chemistry, botany, and other biology at Tuskegee until his death. I found this picture on the internet with Carver’s rules to live by: “Education is the key to unlock the golden doors of freedom.”

Once a year, I pay homage to King Alfonso X, who ruled Castile-Leon (now Spain) in the 13th Century. Here are a few facts about the “Learned King.”

He ruled from1252 – 1284 13th C. Medieval – Father of Castilian language, which we now call Spanish.  During his time, his language was Galician-Portuguese, also called “Romance” 

420 songs, poems, and commissioned 3 dimensional pieces as a way to teach morality to his subjects. 

He had just missed being crowned the Holy Roman Emperor because he was “too learned!” according to the Pope of the Catholic Church at the time. I wrote a blog better examining the King last November. No doubt, I will write another about the king in the coming fall.

I like learning about different species in the animal world. I was a volunteer teacher at a zoo in Southwest Kansas. If you want to learn more about a subject, teach it! I was able to handle lots of cool animals. Here I am with a goshawk.

Finally, exploring my Indigenous roots remains an important part of my identity. I still practice the food, the songs, and the rituals of my grandmothers. The fire featured as my main image illustrates one of those practices of cleansing with smoke. I am born for the Ohkay Owingeh and the Dine and born to the Uncompahgre Ute.  I have DNA ties to the Athabascan, Alaskan Native.  My people, called the San Juan Pueblo by Spanish colonizers of what is now New Mexico. Spaniard plopped right on the Village at the confluence of the Chama and the Rio Grande Rivers.  Our villages straddled the rivers, so there was much struggle to keep our culture, our food ways, and our identities as The People of the Strong Land.  You can see a stature of our great leader, Popay, in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.  Despite the push toward erasure, we are still here!

My family remains the most important, my children, grandchildren, spouse, parents, siblings, and extended family, natural and adopted, as I call my dear friends. Find what makes you happy, and develop curiosity about an array of subjects. For me, I can only think knowledge is the best brain food.

Thank you for reading.

Gorilla, My Love: A Commentary

My featured image was painted by one of my best friends and favorite artists, Carole Geier. Her Ribbon Dancer comes later in the narrative, too. I’ve featured her art previously on my blog. It relates to this blog entry as it features a contemplative woman, which may describe me and the main character in the short story of which I will review.

Before I was a geographer and human scientist, I was an English major. It seemed a likely choice given my interest in literature. My love for music also drove my work in public radio. Like comparative analyses that we do in literature, I like to do the same with music.

Toni Cade Bambara, who was active in the 1960s and 1970s as a writer, film-maker, social activist, and college professor, wrote some fabulous short stories. I like that her writing used great rhythms in the narratives. Gorilla, My Love stands out for me, so I share this review that I wrote for Bambara’s narrative about Harlem through the eyes of the young “Hazel.” The story addresses many experiences of the young African American female, including her views of social injustices. This short story brilliantly illustrates a gifted young female, who, for many reasons, does not get her due respect from society.

My commentary is rather dense, so I will break it up with photos that may or may not connect to my narrative.

Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara

Critics writing about Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “Gorilla, My Love” agree that her use of language promotes positive images about black urban life, and teaches important lessons without becoming preachy.  Ruth Burks, Elliott Butler-Evans, Klaus Ensslen and Madhu Dubey point to no weaknesses in Bambara’s story.  Rather the weaknesses lie in their criticism because of detachment from Bambara’s characters’ culture, misuse of words, and faulty interpretation of the text. The critics, rightly, cite Bambara’s use of a young female as a brilliant tool to give the story the ability to address social injustices without heavy-handed didacticism (Dubey 19), but they show disconnectedness with the writer’s culture, for example, by not recognizing the difference between street-wise and precocious when describing Bambara’s main character, Hazel. Each espouses strong opinions about a culture that perhaps none truly understands. The four critics each agree that Bambara’s language received heavy influence from the music of black Americans.  They don’t; however, appear to know what elements in the music Bambara imitates when she writes.  For instance, they use terms interchangeably, like jazz and Negro spiritual, when explaining the rhythm of Bambara’s story. The faulty criticism, however, does not lessen the strength of Bambara’s tale because the overall tone of the critics’ ideas stayed supportive.

     Burks, Butler-Evans, Ensslen and Dubey each cite Bambara’s use of Black urban vernacular as a successful way to give readers a realistic picture of a black child’s life in her neighborhood and community.  Elliott Butler-Evans describes Hazel’s speech patterns and delivery as a “restricted linguistic code of Black urban life” (94).  His narrow vision doesn’t consider that some of Hazel’s verbal expressions come from immature language development and have nothing to do with her ethnicity. For instance, she uses the term “scary” for scared. She contracts the demand, “let me” to “lemme.” She calls Big Brood’s Spaulding basketball or baseball glove a “Spaudeen” (Prescott 676).  She uses incorrect placement of a possessive in, “And I’m flingin’ the kid in front of me’s popcorn” (Prescott 677). While many might point to Hazel’s dialect as “the language of lazy or under-educated Americans,” that illustrates the dominant dialect in the United States.  For example, she uses contractions of words heard in everyday speech: cause for because, musta for must have, and most noticeable, she leaves the –ing sound off many words like grabbing, flinging, something and throwing. African-American vernacular does not claim exclusivity to these terms. Bambara mixes the black vernacular with the immature child’s linguistic skills to address social issues through the eyes of innocence.

     None of the critics’ main points appear to be original since they mostly agreed that Bambara’s strengths lie in her use of language.  No opinions strongly oppose each other.  The critics strayed when they stated their opinions without support from the text, cultural insights, or background.  Klaus Ensslen attributes to Hazel, supposedly between the ages of eight and 12, the power of profound insight.  For instance, Ensslen notes that Hazel’s term for Brandy’s friend, Thunderbuns, refers to “the borrowed or relegated thunder of her authority” (48).  This shows detachment to the culture of youth and to the mind of a precocious girl.  Hazel attributes to Brandy and Thunderbuns slothful, animal features to show inferiority to her own energetic, intelligent self. Hazel likes to pop empty potato chip bags so that “the matron come trottin down the aisle with her chunky self” (Prescott 676).  Later Hazel reminds the reader that Thunderbuns “do not play and do not smile” (Prescott 677).  Hazel does not possess the idea that the name, Thunderbuns, comes from the thunder of borrowed authority. In her youth, she attacks physical elements of the two adults with less-than-authoritative airs by condescending to them and by using names that describe their physical appearances.  This instance illustrates Hazel’s youthful intelligence.

     As if to say that a young, black girl could only get her intelligence from the streets, Dubey and Burks refer to Hazel as “streetwise.” The term streetwise usually refers to one with enhanced survival skills from living in the streets, which does not appear to be Bambara’s intention for her young character.  Hazel does not come from the streets.  She lives surrounded by a close-knit, loving family, which does not usually describe a child with street smarts.  Hazel reads maps, asserts herself to protect her loved-ones, shows self-confidence in her knowledge, and asks intelligent questions.  By reading maps, not a usual skill of a pre-pubescent child, she directs the pecan-gathering trip. She protects Big Brood in the park and protects the money from bullies by putting it in her shoe (Prescott 676). She asks for ticket reimbursement from the theater manager claiming false advertisement, which is good insight for a preteen. Her questions, apparently, threaten teachers since she often hears that they are out of line. Hazel expresses confidence in her consummate knowledge of things by proclaiming, “When in reality I am the smartest kid P.S. 186 ever had in its whole lifetime and you can ax anybody” (Prescott 678). Burks and Dubey wrongly assume that Hazel gains her intelligence from the streets, which further shows a misunderstanding of  her youth and the culture.   

     The four critics of record hit the mark with their highlighting Bambara’s strengths in language use.  Each takes a different approach, however.  Burks sees the story as having more anger, sadness and negative points. Her notion of “incongruity of language” (50) sheds a dark light on Hunca Bubba’s not waiting for Hazel to grow up to marry him.  The conflict of the story does not lie in Hazel’s misunderstanding with her uncle’s false marriage proposal.  It lay in her friction with the theater manager and the school. Hazel’s experiencing disappointment with a family who loves her does not need to be ranked with the injustices of false advertising to children and teachers who ignore a precocious child because she’s black. The family offers support to a disappointed child, but the schools and theater are less likely to show empathy. Perhaps Klaus Ensslen meant to say the same thing when he noted that Bambara used “family and friends as a social backdrop” (44). Incongruity of Language describes the conflict with those outside the family, and that language shows differences from the dominant culture, as Butler-Evans charges.  It seems more likely that Bambara wanted to emphasize conflict of blacks with the dominant culture rather than conflict within the family, which would be a less positive approach.

     Ensslen, Dubey and Butler-Evans look at Bambara’s short story with optimism toward Bambara’s linguistic genius. Butler-Evans and Dubey agree that Hazel’s vernacular paints her as a cultural insider and note that her speech is accessible even to those outside the culture.  It has reach outside the culture. How else would Bambara make her political statements?  Hazel’s voice lends credibility to the story with her view on social injustices.  Told by an older person, the same views would be construed as observations made by an under-educated, embittered and angry adult: “…grownups playin’ change-up and turnin’ you round every which way so bad. And don’t even say they sorry” (Prescott 680).  This supports Dubey’s claim that,  “Hazel’s voice functions as the sharpest linguistic weapon allowing Bambara to attack social issues without heavy-handed didacticism”(19). Ensslen called Bambara’s “didactic impulse” usable lessons in a committed life(41). This strength and the multi-layered use of language in Bambara’s short story stand out as the hallmark of “Gorilla, My Love,” according to Burks, Butler-Evans, Dubey and Ensslen, but the points missed with Hazel’s linguistic voice parallel the critics’ misunderstanding of the elements that make Bambara’s writing emulate jazz.

     Burks and Ensslen refer to the music of Black Americans when describing Bambara’s written cadences, but they appear to be unsure of the elements that make it jazz. In referring to the rhythm and musicality of Bambara’s story, Ensslen notes that her improvisational use of oral forms of expression owes much to the black music especially to the bebop of the postwar decades, as she herself acknowledged” (42).  He alludes to an interview in which she credits bebop jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie for her literary voice.  Ensslen merely alludes to one of the strongest elements of Bambara’s story, perhaps, because he doesn’t fully understand how “Gorilla, My Love” truly parallels an improvisational jazz piece.  Consider Parker and Gillespie’s tune, “Night in Tunisia.”  The tune, played by their jazz quartet, begins with the string bass introducing the theme, which is then joined by Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, which takes the lead while being accompanied by Parker’s alto saxophone, the bass and drums (recording). The introduction in “Tunisia” parallels Hazel’s opening “That was the year Hunca Bubba changed his name.”  Both introduce a theme. The quartet broadens its theme within several bars and measures, so does Hazel name the characters to set the story’s stage.  Staying in the same musical key, Charlie Parker departs from the main theme to improvise his musical self-expression the same way Hazel uses an image in the photograph, one of many sub-themes, as a springboard to relay her story about an experience at the Washington Theater. In the jazz piece, Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet overtakes a slight nod to the theme with a second improvisation. Gillespie’s improvisation parallels Hazel’s story within her story, Big Brood up on the cross, because it represents additional expression influenced by the original theme.  At the end of Gillespie’s ad-libbing, the remainder of the quartet rejoins him with the original theme like Hazel who brings her two stories, the theater and crucifixion, to an end with her yelling, “Shut is off.”  If Ensslen understood jazz improvisation, he may have been more successful in connecting Bambara’s strong sense of rhythm and pace with jazz improvisation.

     Ruth Burks makes a similar mistake by lumping all black music into one category to describe Bambara’s cadence.  Burks likens the tempo of Bambara’s story to Negro Spirituals, which is incorrect.  Burks declares that the plaintive voice of spirituals permeated “Gorilla, My Love.” Consider the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”  The song opens with a slow-moving theme followed by a sorrowful response, “Comin’ for to carry me home.”  The song continues with call and response, short statement with repetitious reply, through to the end (Quick 184). Unlike jazz, no one leaves the theme to improvise another musical interlude or uses the theme as a launching pad to tell a story within the story.  Bambara’s “Gorilla, My Love” possesses very little elements of the Negro Spiritual.  In contrast to the spiritual, Gorilla moves quickly as several vignettes unfold within the story.  The energy is high since it’s told from a young, precocious girl’s point of view.  Quick beat and high energy hardly describe Negro spirituals with their slow cadences and, often, melancholy themes. Burks’ allusion to, “constant repetition” (49), connotes jazz improvisation, but she describes Bambara’s pace as Negro spiritual because of unfamiliarity with jazz and with Bambara’s influences.  The mistakes still don’t detract from the over all positive tone of the criticism, however.

            The four critics, Burks, Butler-Evans, Dubey and Ensslen, all in all, like Bambara’s writing.  They agree that her use of language promotes positive images about black urban life while teaching life’s important lessons without proselytizing. They find no weaknesses, but their own lack of knowledge, regarding black culture, weakens their interpretation of the story through misuse of words.  The critics’ own stereotyping of the black culture becomes evident when they don’t recognize the difference between street-wise and precocious when describing Bambara’s main character, Hazel. Butler-Evans confuses black linguistic patterns with the speech skills of a preteen. Ensslen gives Hazel’s coping mechanism of name calling an adult’s scrutiny by charging her with deeper thought than one her age may practice. Dubey and Burks miss the mark by equating Hazel’s intelligence to the survival skills of a child from the streets. Finally, the four critics each agree that Bambara’s language received heavy influences from the music of black Americans.  They don’t, however, appear to know what elements in the music Bambara imitates when she writes.  The intent of the critics appears supportive of Bambara’s message, but faulty interpretation of the text lessens their credibility.

So, find the short story by Bambera. then find Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” or one of Charlie Parker’s upbeat Jazz pieces, and experience the rhythms for yourself. I find it most pleasurable.

Thank you for reading.

Cantigas de Santa Maria: A Musical Exploration of Medieval King Alfonso X of Spain

One of my greatest passions is the music, originally poems authored by King Alfonso X of Castile-Leon, now Spain, from 1252 to 1284. My great love for what the King, referred to “the wise,” or El Sabio, was trying to do with his kingdom, was to bring about unity among Christian, Jewish, and Muslim peoples, though he had inherited separation, and it continued after his death in 1284. Then the Inquisition happened in 1492 along with colonization of the Americas.

What follows here is my transcript for an upcoming holiday special in December. At this point, I know that High Plains Public Radio will run this program, usually, on December 25. We have put it up for national acquisition, so check your local public radio station for listing. I begin, here, with an image of the Learned King, taken in Spain last year by Alfonsine Scholar, Dr. Jessica Knauss.

Embedded in this narrative are the songs, their timings, and their performers. You will see pictures as well.

Prologue: Ensemble Unicorn, CSM #60 2:16

Hello. I’m Debra Bolton, and welcome to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria (The Holy Canticles of St. Mary), Songs and poems in praise of Holy Mary – and the poetic/musical biography of Alfonso, “the wise”, who lived from 1221 to 1284. I appreciate your joining me today. 

King Alfonso ruled his Kingdom of Castile-Leon, now Spain, from 1252 until his death.  We began with Ensemble Unicorn presenting the prologue, which is Cantiga de Santa Maria, which I will refer to as CSM, #60, when the Learned King declares himself Mary’s Troubadour to the “noble lady” and asks her to bestow the inheritance of eternal life and grant Alfonso’s kingdom a place in eternity. Interesting to note, of the 420 Marian poems written by King Alfonso X and his assistants, about every 10th poem is a song of love for the Virgin, and since this is not an “official” prologue, since it has the even number #60, it would also be considered a “cantiga de loor” song of love for Mary.

Now we hear the Prologue of the five festivals, performed by Eduardo Paniagua and his Musica Antigua. Paniagua, a musicologist and an early music instrumentalist, devotes much of his time to researching, performing, and recording the vast catalogue of Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, poems and songs in praise of Holy Mary. This is was from “The Life of Mary” songs of the festivals devoted to her. The number is CSM #410.

CSM #10 Rosa das Rosas, “Cantiga de loor”                             4:01

Throughout the life of King Alfonso X, he devoted himself to learning and being surrounded by the learned.  He believed a learned King and court with great knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, architecture, human behavior, and great discernment could only benefit the people of his kingdom. Being a pluralist, he employed Christian, Jewish, and Muslim in his court to advance learning.

Let’s turn to the marvelous miracles of Mary found in CSM#37.  This is a story of Mary healing a man with a sorely infected and inflamed foot.  When Mary went to the church to heal the man, there she found many other who needed healing.  The poem tells us that because they believed that Mary would heal them, so it happened.  Antequera                    6:17

CSM Como Poden   Hesperus                                                                3:36

You just heard Hesperus, founded by the late Scott Reiss and Tina Chancey. Named for the Venus and the West Wind, Hesperus specializes in exploring musical parallels between the Old World and the New in what they sometimes call, Medieval Fusion.  Band member Tina Chancey continues an active performance and teaching schedule in the Washington DC area with music of the Sefardi.

Later in this program, we will explore how this music continues to inspire musicians, musicologists, historians, and other social scientists.

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of Spain’s King Alfonso X and his praise to the Virgin Mary.  I’m your host, Debra Bolton

Instrumental, CSM #323, Musica Antigua, “Nino de Coria”             3:13

                                                                   Total Time (music) 25:33

End of Segment 1

Segment 2

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the holy canticles of the Virgin Mary in music, poetry, and art.  My name is Debra Bolton.  I am your host for this special music.  If you go out to my website on WordPress, you will find examples of some of the art that corresponds with the songs and poetry. King Alfonso employed artists to create two and three-dimensional works of art to correspond to the poems and songs, which would have made the Learned King an early pioneer in multi-media (Knauss, interview, 2018).  Now, here we are putting it all in digital form!  Some scholars point of the works of art, the songs and the poems as Alfonso’s way to teach morality to the subjects of his kingdom on many levels.  While those in his court were, themselves, learned and well-educated people, there were many in his kingdom who, perhaps, could not read or write.  Hence the need for the lessons on morality in more than written forms.

Let’s continue with the miracles performed for the people in Alfonso the X’s Kingdom.  Some of the miracles awarded people for their faith while some punished people for their transgressions. We hear CSM#163, “The Gambler who renounced the Virgin.”  A gambler, playing dice in Huesca, lost everything and renounced the Virgin. He was instantly crippled and struck dumb. He could not move from that place, and if he wanted something, he had to gesture for it. Using sign language, he asked to be taken to Salas. At Salas, he gazed at the Virgin’s statue and asked her pardon. The Virgin healed him and he praised her from then on.  Performed here, by another Alfonsine scholar, Maestro Jordi Savall, and his Hesperion 20 featuring the late soprano, Montseratt Figueres.

CSM# 163                                                                             4:53.

Go to Esther Lamandier and CSM #159 Cantiga de Loor    4:56

Back announce Esther Lamandier:

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the holy canticles of the Virgin Mary in music, poetry, and art.  I’m the producer and your host, Debra Bolton.  I began exploring the history of the CSM, because I found the tunes, songs, poems, and art pieces so wonderfully extraordinary with their passion and multimedia approaches.  I love the instruments of the time, too.

The poems and songs employ the language of the time, which is Galician-Portuguese, Medieval Galician, or as some linguists and historians simply call the language, Romance, the root language of Castilian, the language of Spain. 

After 1492, in addition to colonizing the lands and its people, Spain, also, colonized the languages of the Americas and the Caribbean. Since the so called, “first contact,” we saw Castilian overwhelming, and often erasing, many Native languages of the islands and the continents, thanks to the Doctrine of Discovery establishing a  so called, “spiritual, political, and legal” justification for colonization and seizure of land NOT inhabited by Christians.  Again, the Spanish we hear today differs widely from that of the CSM and Alfonso X’s time.  However, you don’t need to understand Galician-Portuguese to enjoy this music, known for its complex musical structures and its use of what we now call, ancient instruments.  Let’s turn to two more miracles, “The Baby Rescue” and The Priest who steels an altar cloth, performed by the Martin Best Ensemble

CSM #7 (Pregnant Abbess)CSM #327 (Priest who steels altar cloth)

An abbess became pregnant by her steward. The nuns in her charge discovered her indiscretion and were vindictive. They accused the abbess to their bishop, who travelled from Cologne. He summoned her.

After meeting with the bishop, the abbess prayed to the Virgin. Mary appeared to her, as if in a dream, and had the baby delivered and sent to Soissons to be raised. The abbess appeared before the bishop and he made her undress. He declared her innocent and berated the nuns.

A church dedicated to the Virgin stood outside the town of Odemira. It was a venerable church and many miracles were performed there. A woman offered to the church a finely woven altar cloth. It measured a little more than a vara. A priest admired the cloth and coveted it. He stole it and took it to his house. He had a pair of underpants fashioned from it.

He put on his new underwear and lay down, but he could not sleep because his heels began to press into his thighs. The pain was excruciating, and, confessing his sin, he called on the Virgin. He repented and had a large linen cloth placed on the altar. He was taken to the church and everyone prayed for him to the Virgin. She cured him and they praised her name.

Both songs 5:20

We heard the Martin Best Ensemble with Cantigas de Santa Maria performing CSM 7 and 327, the miracles of the Pregnant Abbess and the Priest who stole an altar cloth. 

You’re listening to this holiday special, Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of 13th Century King of Spain, Alfonso, the wise.  I am Debra Bolton, your host.

As we continue in this exploration of this very small part of King Alfonso X’s tribute to the Virgin Mary, my references come from the writings of Dr. Jessica Knauss, whose books continue to inspire me. Coming up in the next segment, I will explore Dr. Knauss’ book, Violence in the Cantigas de Santa Maria. In addition, I refer to the writing of  Professor Joseph F. O’Callahan, Mr. Andrew Casson, Maestro Jordi Savall, Maestro Eduardo Paniagua, John Esten Keller, Robert I. Burn, Editor of “The Emperor of Culture” and from Oxford Univesity’s CSM database.

Let’s take a moment to talk about some of the instruments that you’re hearing on this musical journey of 13th Century Spain, then called, Castile-Leon. 

Shawm – 12th c conical bored double reed instrument of Middle Eastern origin, a precursor of the oboe. Like the oboe, it is conically bored; but its bore, bell, and finger holes are wider, and it has a wooden disk (called a pirouette, on European shawms) that supports the lips

Recorder – Yes.  That woodwind instrument that many of us learned in grade school. We hear this in the CSM, usually, on a wider variety of wood recorders.

Organetto – a small portable organ, which you heard performed by Esther Lamandier

Oud – Literally, wood in Arabic, short-necked, pear-shaped with 11 – 13 strings grouped in 5, 6, or 7 courses.  A few of the oud players that stand oud are Driss El Maloumi, a group called 3MA and Halk Egitim Merkezi Yalova, both Maloumi and Yalova perform with Jordi Savall’s Hesperion groups.  The Oud is considered the most important instrument in Middle Eastern Music.  

Qanun (a.k.a., kanun, ganoun, kanoon) an Arabic stringed instrument, introduced to Europe in the 12th Century.  It’s played on the lap with picks that surround both index fingers, and the player can change the pitch of the strings with brass levers.

Hurdy Gurdy, a.k.a. Viola de Rueda, and the Zanfona.  Here we hear this instrument in Musica Antigua and by a group called, BIDAIA, featuring Caroline Phillips.

Vielle – the Medieval fiddle with five strings and six tied frets.

Rebec – A three-string “fiddle” often held between the legs as it’s played.

Viola de Gamba – (a.k.a., Viol or gamba), a six-stringed instrument, said to be a precursor of the four-stringed cello.  The Gamba, usually, is much larger and has frets, like a guitar. Pictured here, the great Jordi Savall.

Gaita – Galician bag pipe, also common in Portugal.  We’ll hear the Gaita in the next hour of this musical journey. Pictured here, Cristina Pato.

Duduk – Double reed Armenian flute, featuring those mournful, lamenting tones.

Let’s listen to another Cantiga de Loor, a lively dance, CSM#20 and CSM#353 –  A rich man in Venice sent his son to live in a monastery to be raised by the abbot. The abbot, who called the boy his son, let him play in the cloister. While playing, the boy would go into the church to admire a statue of the Virgin and Child.  Captivated by the Christ Child, the boy visited often and gave the Christ Child food. He promised to bring the Christ Child food every day, for 15 days, and encouraged him to eat. Then the statue of the Child spoke to the boy, bidding him to eat at his Father’s table the next day.

The abbot noticed that the boy was growing thin. The boy said that he had been sharing his food with the Child on the altar and said that the Christ Child had asked him to dinner. That night both the abbot and the boy fell ill; at the sixth hour they were taken to heaven.

Performed here by the Swiss Medieval music ensemble Freiburg Spielleyt. (Free-borg Schpee-loyta), we hear CSM#20 and CSM#353       7:10

-Freiburg Spielleyt performing CSM #20 and CSM #353 here on Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of King Alfonso X.

You’re listening to a musical journey of 13th Century Spain’s King Alfonso the X and his devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Alfonso X ruled from 1252 to 1284.  To put the world into perspective at the time, the English language continued to change from its Germanic-rooted Olde English of the Beowulf poet (circa 9th or 10th century) after the Norman invasion of 1066. In the next century, we hear the English of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Gawain Poet.  Europeans now use Arabic numerals in favor of Roman Numerals. In the Mongol Empire, Mongke, officially, marks the worship of his grandfather, Genghis Khan while Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity flourish. The Inca Empire of Peru is thriving. England begins the process of segregation of Jewish peoples, and other countries begin to follow suit. The Mexica people, also known as Aztecs are building their great city on a lake in what is now Mexico City. King Alfonso X’s bid to be King of the Holy Roman Empire fails in favor of Count Rudolf, bringing prominence to the Habsburg family, Rudolf was considered mediocre as Alfonso was to ambitious.

This body of work was written in the language of the time, Galician-Portuguese. Scholars argue today that Galician and Portuguese are dialects of the same language. As you hear it, it will remind you more of Portuguese than of Castilian, the root language of modern day Spanish, and you will hear the softly spoken syllables of the Portuguese language, Portugal being directly south of Galicia, which was home to the Celts the Sephardim, the Jewish peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. We hear now from the band, Milladoiro (Millan-dwowro), often compared to Ireland’s Chieftains. Performing on the regional instruments of the Gaita (Galician bagpipes) Ullean pipes, flutes, whistles, button accordions along with guitar and bouzouki.  We hear their interpretation of CSM #49, The Lost Pilgrims led to Soissons by the Virgin after they lost their way in the mountains and prayed to her. It will be followed by a traditional Galician tune, Alalás da Ulla.

CSM#49                       4:41

Alalás da Ulla              4:49

Traditional, Alalas da Ulla – You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of King Alfonso X, I’m your host, Debra Bolton.                              

Hour 2, Segment One:

Begin with the Prologue by Waverly Consort   Cuts 1 and 2: 3:45

Hello, and welcome to hour two of Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the musical biography of Medieval King of Castile-Leon, Alfonso X, the wise and learned.  I’m your host, Debra Bolton.

We just heard an interpretation of the prologue, where the wise King announces himself in the role as the Virgin Mary’s troubadour.   The Waverly Consort, founded by Kay and the recently deceased Michael Jaffe performed that piece.

Alfonsine scholar, Dr. Jessica Knauss describes the importance of the Cantigas de Santa Maria saying, “The most appropriate single adjective for the corpus of cultural work produced under Alfonso X is ‘encyclopedic.’” He wrote books of history, astronomy/astrology, law, poetry and music.  Even his written leisure activities continue to survive the vagaries of time, bearing the King’s name as patron or author.”

In Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the CSM, we witness a general feeling that 13th century Castile is a rather unsafe place populated with people who engage in counter-productive behavior, according to Dr. Knauss. However, a point to ponder would be to write songs and poems, or commission works of arts to correspond with the songs and poems that contrasted good and evil.  How are we to know what is righteous if we don’t know what is truly evil, asks the learned king. For example, CSM 34 tells the story of a man who disgraced an image of the Virgin hanging in a street in Constantinople. The man finished his deed by throwing the image in a latrine. As the story goes, the devil killed him and the people washed the image and cleaned it with sweet spices. From then on, the image emitted a sweet smelling oil as a testimony of this event. We hear Ensemble Alcatraz, from their album “Visions and Miracles.” (Cut 6, 8:04).

That was Ensemble Alcatraz, from their album “Visions and Miracles,” CSM#34, the story of a man’s not-so-nice deeds.

For more perspective of the time, King Henry III ruled England about the same time Alfonso X ruled Castile-Leon, the greater part of what is now known as Spain.  While El Sabio ruled his lands with Christians, Muslims, and Jewish peoples living and studying side-by-side with some appreciation and great tolerance, it would not be until 208 years later that Isabella and Ferdinand would expel all non-Christians and the time Christopher Columbus would set sail for Asia but landed in the Americas, which changed extensively the lives that he touched. Before that, well-civilized Indigenous tribes had not yet had contact with European colonialists. The surnames that most people connect with Latin American countries were the surnames of their Spanish conquerors.  During and after the inquisition, many non-Christians, Jewish and Muslim people, added the suffixes of –ez, -es, or -os to their surnames. For example, the Muslim man, Alvar, became Alvarez.  The Jewish man, Martin became Martinez.  Consistent with most surnames, there remained a connection to the family trade or place of origins.   The Herrera were Jewish iron-smiths.  Those hailing from Galicia, or Galego, were the Gallegos. 

The music of the time, including the Cantigas de Santa Maria, demonstrate a heavy influence of the people who were in Castile-Leon.  Here we have interpretations of CSM performed by Camerata Mediterranean under the direction of Joel Cohen and Mohammed Briouel.  We hear two Cantiga de Loor, the songs of love, CSM #230 and #130                                                        (Cuts 8 and 9, 7:00)

(Follow with Voice of the Turtle – La Prima Vez  (Cut 1, 3:10)

Poder a Santa Maria – Syfonye, Taquism   (Cut 5, 3:21)

Second Segment, Second Hour

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria on this public radio station. I’m your host, Debra Bolton, and I appreciate that you’re here with me today.

Before that short break we heard a group based in Massachusetts and Turkey called, Voice of the Turtle exploring the music of the Spanish Jewish peoples of Spain an Turkey.

(Go directly to the Prologue and Cantiga de Loor performed by Theatrum Instrumentorum (Cuts 1 and 2, 4:34)

That was Theatrum Instrumentorum performing a prologue, speaking of Alfonso’s devotion to the Virgin Mary followed by a song of love, Cantiga de Loor.

El Sabio, King Alfonso the X ascended the throne of Castile-Leon, now Spain, in 1252 and immediately devoted himself to the creation of new laws, the Siete Partidas (seven parts) and the Fuero Real (Royal Municipal Code), both of which continue to be in effect here in the 21st Century. 

Alfonsine scholar, Dr. Jessica Knauss posits that the CSM continue to be a testament by which the king wished to be remembered after his death. That means that we, also, are part of the intended audience.  Knauss continues that the learned king, likely, did not fathom this kind of dissemination, now in this digital age.  She says, “With these technologies, it grants scholars who study the CSM a place in his highly exclusive circle of apprentices.”

Here we have a group focused on the music of the Middle Ages with their interpretation of CSM#100. Then we hear from another of the great and contemporary apprentices of Alfonso X is Eduardo Paniagua who leads the Musica Antigua, performing CSM#77, the story of a contorted woman in Lugo, who prayed to the Virgin and since was relieved of her paralysis.

Sonus  (Cut 2, 4:31)

Musica Antigua, CSM #77 (Cut 2, 4:58)

That was Musica Antigua with CSM#77 in which you heard the hurdy gurdy, a chorus, flutes, psaltry, and Egyptian hand drum, among others. Before that, Sonus, featuring Hazel Ketchum, and their interpretation of a song of love to the Virgin.

In my exploration of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, I continue to celebrate the creativity in which musicians arrange their interpretations of the CSM into their musical genres.  Hesperus is one of the band who have made Medieval and Appalachian genres sit very well side by side.  This is a song made popular by Doc Watson, Little Sadie with a CSM tune woven in. We’ll follow that with Jazz guitarist, Frederick Hand and his interpretation of a CSM tune. 

Thank you for listening to Cantigas de Santa Maria, I’m Debra Bolton (Pictured here with Jordi Savall)

Hesperus, (Cut 4, 3:44)

Frederick Hand – CSM 100, (Disk#67, Cut 3, 4:36)

Thank you for reading, and I hope you get to listen to this show on your local public radio station.