Mexican songwriter composes song of joy for Anoka students

His rich baritone voice floating through the auditorium air as rose petals gently cascade onto the stage, José Galván ceremoniously expressed deep gratitude to 72 teen-aged singers who lent him their voices during the past year.

After donning the souvenir Anoka Tornado cap and T-shirt choir director Michelle Hayes presented, guest composer José Galván strikes a silly pose.
After donning the souvenir Anoka Tornado cap and T-shirt choir director Michelle Hayes presented, guest composer José Galván strikes a silly pose.Photo by Sue Austreng

Those singers – seated on risers and resting after the May 19 rehearsal led by Galván – are members of Anoka High School’s honors choir. Galván is the Mexican composer-in-residence who worked with them throughout the school year.

“You bring my Mexico with your voices. Thank you for lending your voices,” said Galván, who worked with the Anoka students as part of ¡Cantaré! (I Will Sing!), a music education program offered by VocalEssence.

Galván’s thankful gesture mirrors the heartfelt gratitude students also felt.

“You gave us a new sound  and the exploration of the language and all that that means … you gave us so much. I am so grateful,” Sterling Lind, a tenor in the honors choir, said to Galván.

Alto singer and honors choir president Ashley Davis also expressed her gratitude to Galván when she said, “For you to make a piece that fit us, that we know that you made thinking of us – that just means so much.”

The “piece” to which Davis referred is “Son de la Vida,” an original song composed by Galván for the choir after traveling from his home in Mexico to the high school and meeting choir members in October.

“Son de la Vida” celebrates the joy of life, joy that the Mexican composer recognized in those choir members and wished to celebrate in song.

“I really feel a special connection with this choir,” Galván said. “They have a great conductor and they are open to receive music, to learn and sing and grow,” he said. “I hope the students keep in contact. I have written more arrangements I’d like to share with them.”

Galván’s connection to the Anoka students came about when the vocal music ensemble, VocalEssence, invited Anoka honors choir members and conductor Michelle Hayes to take part in ¡Cantaré!. That musical education program pairs composers from Mexico with Minnesota students to compose and rehearse musical works.

After his October visit to Anoka High School, Galván returned to his home in Mexico and composed “Son de la Vida” over the holidays. In January, the composer sent that song to Hayes and the choir began to rehearse.

When Galván returned in March and heard the piece sung by the students, he was able to help them perfect the Mexican singing style and share with them the history and symbolism of music in his home country.

After that visit, Hayes and her students continued to rehearse and perfect the piece over the next several weeks.

And then, ¡Cantaré! crescendoed with a free concert performed May 20 at the Ordway.

Galván was in the audience for that performance, one that also included songs by high school choirs from St. Paul, Minneapolis, Maple Grove, and Eagan. Those choirs had also worked with Mexican composers as part of the ¡Cantaré! program.

“¡Cantaré! provides opportunity for students and teachers to immerse themselves in Mexican musical traditions and learn more about the culture of our neighbors – not only our neighbors to the south, but in our community,” said Jennifer Weismann, spokeswoman for VocalEssence.

Hayes expressed her gratitude for the experience provided by ¡Cantaré!.

“We are so completely grateful to VocalEssence. There is no cost to the school for this program and the program is stunning and the gift is immense,” Hayes said.

“The students have made a friend for a lifetime and these students will remember this forever. They will always have a good feeling when they think back to their work with José, the music, the lessons, the history, the joy he shared with them,” said Hayes.

At home in Mexico, Galván – who studied choral conducting at the National School of Music in Mexico – works as choral conductor for Voz en Punto, a vocal ensemble which performs on stages around the world.

As for Galván’s experience working with Anoka students, it seems a life’s dream come true.

“I’ve dedicated my life to show Mexican culture through voices. This is an opportunity to hear Mexico in American voices … Mexican and American sounds together amazing,” Galván said.

Sue Austreng is at
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