Today, many people choose to tithe or
donate a weekly offering to their religious institution. Several
hundred years ago, this practice was also expected in early Catholic
Mexico. As the church was in its infancy, it needed wealthy patrons as
well as money from all attendees. Because most native people were
forced into a Catholic conversion or faced death, those attending
needed a way to pay their required monetary tributes.
Offering a way to exempt poor natives
from paying, male choirs were formed. These choirs were introduced to
the Catholic, European Church’s Sacred Music. Appointing friars to
serve as choral directors, religious servants also taught natives a
trade: instrument making. Since instruments were expensive to import,
with the abundance of natural resources available, it was cost-effective to manufacture instruments in Mexico.
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Native people could pay their debts to
the church by participating in the choir or by making new instruments.
Later, as they became more comfortable with the roles other
opportunities for composing and distributing music were available.
Opening doors for other races, Mexico’s Creole population became known
for their Colonial Period operas and classical compositions. A historic
moment for Creoles, their first recorded and performed opera, La
Partenope, opened in Mexico in 1711.
Other social groups followed suit.
Composition and recording skills, along with the mass distribution of
the printing press allowed for more ethnic groups to distribute their
music throughout Mexico. As time passed, Mexico’s Native Americans
began to document their tribal music played on the flute and drum while
the Spanish were able to record compositions created for the guitar.
Today, instrument making is an important part of the Mexican trade. Guitars and other popular instruments are sold
for personal use and the tourist market. Known for their excellent
craftsmanship, these skills have been passed down from generation to
generation and may in fact lead back to the days of the early choir. If
going to Mexico, be sure to visit one of these shops and learn about
the maker’s history. You may be surprised where the maker’s ancestors
learned these skills.
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