(Page 2 of 2)
Brown and Sah are still adjusting to the Mexican way of making music, which is more relaxed than the norteamericano fashion in two senses of the word: Orchestra members typically work just that one gig, instead of chasing around after others. “Rehearsal ends at 1:30 and the day is over,” marvels Brown. “You can take a walk, cook, practice….” Free time — what a concept! And the chains of punctuality don’t bind so tightly as in a U.S. orchestra: “Arriving at rehearsal a few minutes late isn’t such a big deal.”
That flexibility cuts both ways. Up north, the season is set before it starts. In Mexico, says Brown, the schedule evolves as it progresses. “It makes plans and trips more difficult.” Or maybe not: “They just say, ‘Send an email a couple weeks before you want to go,’ and it always seems to be granted.”
The public response to the music is anything but casual. Subsidized tickets (from less than $4 to $22 U.S. for the Mahler concert, often free in other venues) make concerts accessible to a broad social swathe. On weekends the Sinaloa orchestra travels to plazas in small towns around the state: “Everybody in town will be out in plastic chairs, waiting for hours in order to get a good seat,” says Brown. “It’s really wonderful.” They may never have heard classical music before, but they’ve grown up on a distant cousin: banda, the village brass-band tradition, which began with German polkas but has since absorbed everything from rock, pop, and cumbia to an occasional opera overture. “People grow up living and breathing music,” says Brown — no more so than in Sinaloa, a magnet for German immigrans and seedbed of banda in the 19th century, and of narcocorridos today.
I got a taste of the unselfconscious enthusiasm of local audiences in the mid-’70s, when I whiled away a layover between buses in Mazatlán at a matinee screening of Jesus Christ Superstar. The kids hissed and threw popcorn at Judas. Mahler got a warmer reception last month: a standing ovation after a spirited performance, repeated for many of the section principals.
It’s all a far, far cry from the crime and violence that, for most norteamericanos, are inextricably linked with places like Culiacán and Sinaloa. “We don’t see any of those things you read about in the papers,” says Brown. “Of course, we don’t go looking. There are some places you don’t go. It’s all about practicing good sense.”
When we started talking, Jason Sah waxed tentative: “This is the job you get when your career’s at a level where you want to coast a bit. It is totally not the last stop of either of us.” By the end, after he and Brown had described the pleasures of making music Mexico, he was waxing differently: “I really like the lifestyle down here. I think I could get used to this.”
Should any musicians still shivering and scrambling for work up in the States feel the same way, perhaps some of the orchestras in all those other states are also scouting for ringers — for now, anyway. Music schools are also spreading (Mazatlán and Culiacán both have them), training the homegrown violists of the future.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!