I just had the blessing again of being able to spend time with our brothers and sisters in Matanzas, Cuba, as well as visiting with other brethren from all over Cuba. Jill Hoebelheinrich and Johnny Estes also went on this trip to get to know more of Cuba. I enjoyed their company, and I know the church was glad to meet them.
Though this trip involved working with a TIBI training project, as well as being with the church on Sunday and in cell groups, one of projects I wanted to share with you regards the Matanzas chorus.
I first learned about this group from Tim Archer several years ago. He kept telling me that there was an excellent chorus in Matanzas, and that I would enjoy hearing them. Thanks to his encouragement and also the invitation of the church there, I was able to first go almost 5 years ago.
I remember the first night I got to rehearse with the chorus, teaching them several arrangements I had used with other choruses in Latin America. I was amazed at their sound and how quickly they learned the arrangements. I found myself smiling and almost laughing for sheer pleasure as I listened to them. Though the group only has between 15-25 members, it has a balanced sound and quite a bit of talent, including several who sing professionally with the chamber choir of Matanzas, and other groups.
This group has a rich history. It began in the early 2000s, and its first director was the first chair violinist of the national symphony, whom Tony knew from his performances with them. Under her direction the chorus started, and on two separate occasions, they were invited to sing for Raul Castro, president of Cuba. He seemed to enjoy it.
Since that first November, on every trip to Matanzas, I’ve been fortunate to sing several nights with this group, either learning or teaching new songs. Several UCC members like Ted and Ellen Presley, Daniel Austin, Roberta Brown and others have also been able to jump in for rehearsals or occasional concerts. We’ve been blessed to sing for the church, for the youth conference, and a special concert in one of the historic cathedrals atop one of the hills of Matanzas.
In November 2014, together with the talented director of the chorus, Ivette Burgois, we challenged the chorus to record a CD. They had a good repertoire, but had never done a CD—only several short videos captured at concerts. They worked hard, and that November spent about 16 hours on four nights recording 20 songs. Upon finishing, the chorus was jubilant and satisfied, knowing their work would bless many in Cuba and in other places, after we put the songs on YouTube.
The ministry continued, the complexity of the music increased, and the talent level grew, to the point where Ivette and I set a goal to record a second CD. On this trip we spent about 15 hours in 3 nights, recording another 15 songs with the group. These songs were much more difficult, and three of them were arrangements done by a Cuban professional with Cuban rhythms, harmonies, and style. They were enormously entertaining to learn and sing, and I’m very pleased with how the CD turned out. I look forward to hearing the edited version this summer.
One other pretty amazing feature was that the recording engineers were friends of Ivette and several chorus members—Jorge and Pepe Mendez, a father and son who are internationally famous. Jorge, the father, is probably the best choral director in Cuba. Pepe, at age 32, is one of the best orchestral directors in Cuba, and regularly directs orchestras on tours in the US and Europe. To watch them work, to listen to their suggestions, and to be able to talk to them and learn from them during breaks and after rehearsals and recording sessions, was truly a great blessing and a unique privilege.
I thank the Lord for opening this door years ago, because it has greatly enriched my life. I know He will use this group and their music in unexpected, surprising ways for years to come.
– Steve Austin