Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cantores de Cienfuegos

"Tomorrow evening, we'll be hearing a choir here" said Ernesto, our tour guide, as we walked by a building in Cienfuegos on our city tour.  "They're quite good." he added.

As time went on, we realized that Ernesto was not one to over-sell the events on our carefully planned agenda in Cuba. We expected something like a high school or church choir, swaying to the inevitable samba/rumba beat with castanets and bongo drums -  lots of enthusiasm and probably more energy than musical expertise. The concert began at 5:00 and after a full day of sight seeing (photos below) and an hour on the bus, we were hoping it would be over quickly and we could get back to the hotel and a glass of wine.

The Cantores de Cienfuegos was a shock.  23 singers performed for our small audience of only 18. We were all blown away. At the end of the performance Richard and I agreed that it was worth coming to Cuba to see and hear just that 40 minutes of perfection. Glass of wine? Hotel? We could have sat there for hours listening to them.

The elegant choral group sings under the direction of Honey Moreira Abreu, who became their conductor originally as part of Cuba's required community service and loved it so much that she stayed on. The choir has an eclectic repertoire, singing everything from Renaissance and Baroque to Negro Spirituals and Japanese fisherman's folk music.

Honey, the director, is a beautiful, poised and articulate woman who dresses in garments with flowing dolman sleeves. When she raises them as she conducts she looks almost angelic, the sleeves billowing around her arms like wings. You feel like she's physically pulling the music out of the choir, note by note, modulating it as she desires. The choir's control of volume is so precise it's as if the director is turning a dial, like the volume control on a radio.
Right from the start, the performance is mesmerizing. Facing the audience, she introduces the piece they will perform and then turns to the choir. You can feel a change as she shifts into music mode. She settles her stance; they follow suit. From the folds of her garment she removes her tuning fork, strikes it against her wrist and presses the forks behind her ear. After a small nod with her head bowed for a second, she looks up and hums two or three notes to tune the choir. Her voice is clear, bell-like and even.  She raises her arms, counts a couple of beats using subtle movements of her shoulders, wrists and head and the choir starts. She conducts holding the tuning fork in her hand. It glints occasionally in the light and you can't help shifting your eyes to it once in a while. There's something magical about the small sparkles appearing and disappearing as she conducts. 

Rarely can you hear a choir with such skill. They rehearse three hours a day. Singing is their full time job and they're paid by the government to perform. Some of the performers have been singing in the choir for 20 years or more. 

I fought back tears at the beauty of the sound. It was exquisite. 

Here's a link to a youtube performance with poor sound quality. It just barely represents the superb choir but will give you an idea of their skill. 

Cantores de Cienfuegos

Since returning home, I've found that Cuba is well known for these high quality acapella choirs. Here's a clip from a madrigal group, Exaudi, world renown: 

Exaudi Cuba


  1. I tried to leave a comment several days ago and it didn't work for some reason.
    I love your photos and I love the choral group. I could almost hear them from your description and then I found that I could really hear them (via youtube). They're wonderful!!!!

  2. Our Road Scholar tour had the pleasure of hearing these people, too. They were exceptional musicians and their beautiful, moving rendition of Shenandoah drove us to our feet! Loved them.