Monday, February 18, 2013

A bit of Flamenco for the Spanish class

Last week I was at school and one student asked me if there were lots of guitar playing and dancing every day where I originally come from. She was curious because she had just started guitar lessons and her teacher mentioned this in the class. Being a Spaniard in Canada, it is not the first time they have asked me a similar question and it won't be the last time. I must admit that before coming to Canada, my knowledge of flamenco was very limited. I was only interested in  guitar playing which I found enjoyable and fascinating. But it seems many people expected me to be an expert in flamenco music so I did my research to keep up with expectations.

Seriously,  I think flamenco is one of the most distinctive cultural manifestations from Spain and it can be a great topic for the Spanish bilingual class. Flamenco includes singing, guitar playing and dancing and it is deeply related to other artistic fields such as literature and cinema. Numerous  artists, writers and poets from Spain and many other countries considered flamenco as an exceptional artistic representation full of passion and artistry. Moreover, flamenco is in debt with many cultural heritages in the world. Although flamenco is, as I said, distinctively Spanish it has roots with most of people from different cultures that have influenced Spain in history: the Arabs, the Jewish, the Gypsies and more recently, the Spanish speaking countries. Therefore, some multidisciplinary work can be done with other subject areas such as Music, Art and Social Studies.

For a bilingual program high school or even grade nine, the workshop on flamenco created by Agustín Yagüe is phenomenal: the proposed activities include cultural aspects, history and background of flamenco, and study of the different styles. All these element are combined with linguistic activities based on the lyrics of different flamenco songs. He also introduces some of the most famous flamenco singers and players such as Camarón de la Isla and Paco de Lucía. The workshop starts with demystifying some misconceptions most people have, even in Spain, about flamenco. It continues with references to the history and formation of flamenco and with linguistic activities based on several pieces representing some of the styles in flamenco. It is a great resource that can be very useful in a bilingual or IB Spanish program.

If we want to focus on the cultural aspect of flamenco rather than in the language or the historical background,  the film Flamenco by Carlos Saura can be a good choice to give students an insight of what flamenco is and means. The film  presents 13 different styles through a performance by some of the most famous flamenco artists of all time. All the performances are interesting and worth commenting but I would like to focus on 4 pieces:
  • Guajira,  it shows the link between flamenco and Latin America, one more proof of the relation of flamenco with cultures from different origins.
  • Martinete, probably the oldest style in flamenco. Martinetes are usually performed just with "the body" and no musical instruments are included.
  • Paco de Lucía,  the most influential flamenco guitarist. His influence has trespassed flamenco and has reached guitarists of all styles. 
  • Camarón de la Isla, the man who changed flamenco singing forever. Years after his death, he is still revered as the master of "cante jondo" by the aficionados to flamenco.
The film is available in YouTube:

I mentioned that flamenco has had a close relation with other arts. The cinema is one of them, and besides the before mentioned film, there are other titles that we can use, such as Sevillanas, El Amor Brujo. The link with literature is also profound. For many years flamenco was considered a minor form of art for uneducated people. However, this vision changed at the beginning of the 20th century with the group of writers known as Generación del 27 and especially García Lorca and his poetry book  Poema del Cante Jondo. In this book, the poet writes songs following the traditional structure of the flamenco styles and deals with the same themes of loss,  unfulfilled love, fate, tragic destiny and death, so common in the flamenco singing. My suggestion to complete the topic of flamenco is to use the poem La Guitarra by Lorca as an activity to summarize what we learnt about flamenco. Other poems from the mentioned book can be used too or by poet Manuel Machado


 I wouldn´t conclude this post without talking about the classical guitar and its meaning for Spanish people. Not in vain we call it "guitarra española", Spanish Guitar. It is probably the most extended and traditional instrument in Spanish speaking countries. Spanish musicians were also the first ones who gave the guitar the status of musical instrument for a classical concert. I would like to give just two suggestions: one classical piece by the father of classical guitar, Francisco Tárrega, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, performed by classical guitarist Andrés Segovia.

The second suggestion is a young virtuoso guitarist, Nemanja Ostoich, who regularly performs classic pieces written by composers from different Spanish speaking countries, Leo Brower, Heitor Villalobos, Isaac Albéniz. In this video he uses a baroque guitar to play a piece by Gaspar Sanz, a composer from the XVII century:

Flamenco and classical guitar, two interrelated topics for the Spanish class. They are distinctively related to the Spanish culture and can be used to introduce cultural aspects but also linguistic activities.

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