Quartet and Chava Florendo created collaborative ‘honor song’: ‘It’s straight from the river’
By Lupe Sims for Ashland.news
Before wrapping up a week of local events with a landmark reunion concert Sunday, Nov. 5, members of the Uptown String Quartet and two special guests took part in a public discussion Friday at the Ashland Elks Lodge about contributions of Black and Native women to American music, past and present, and connections between the Black and Native communities.
The Uptown String Quartet — four African American Women widely known for their classical music expertise, informed by cutting-edge jazz skills — were joined in the discussion by special guest Chava Florendo, an esteemed Indigenous artist (Wasco-Warm Springs), traditional teacher and lead singer of her family powwow drum, Dancing Spirit, who will be a special guest artist with the quartet on Sunday.
Facilitating the discussion was Teresa Cisneros (of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas), an equity/education advocate and Indian Education Facilitator with Southern Oregon Education Service District (SOESD).
Friday evening’s event, entitled “Let Us Break Bread Together,” brought approximately 100 people, including several children, to the Elks Lodge to share food and drink along with good feelings and fall season warmth while recognizing the vitality and relationship between Black/African and Native/Indigenous peoples and their continuing contributions to the cultures of art and music.
As ambassadors of the African musical tradition, the women of this revolutionary string quartet share a lifelong dedication to expanding the horizons of concert music.
The evening’s theme, “How do we come together to share and understand our vast cultures and break bread together?” was set with an opening poem, “Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees,” read to the audience by quartet member Maxine Roach, followed by the quartet’s rendition of the spiritual, “Let Us Break Bread Together.”
The evening continued with a quartet member introduction and comments shared by its founder, Roach, and also special guest Florendo.
Besides Roach, the quartet members are Lesa Terry, Diane Monroe, and Marika Hughes.
Roach shared her generational story of how the quartet began, and the “common theme of how songs — ‘spirituals’— have connection to grief, and how music heals.”
Roach further mentioned, “the arts will save the world, and as long as our children are exposed to it. This is Black and Indigenous folks coming together in art, with respect and knowing of one another through art and music, and learning the language of each culture.”
Roach reflected specifically on her experience with the quartet’s collaboration with Florendo. “There is beauty in collaboration with Chava, an Indigenous person,” she said. “Hearts and souls are coming together, notes on a page. There is an exchange of knowledge and increased respect of Indigenous cultures, breaking down barriers and bringing together commonalities with creativity and improvisation at the forefront in a universal voice. In sum, remembering who we are, with academia in the background.”
Florendo reflected on her preparation and experience, and her contribution and collaboration on an honor song she will sing with her hand drum along the stringed instruments.
“This collaborative piece with the quartet, it’s straight from the river,” she said, referring to Celilo Falls, located on her Tribal homelands of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Warm Springs, Oregon.
Florendo also talked about spirituals in reference to the relationship between Indigenous peoples and organized religion, as specifically related to “boarding schools, history, and the lived experiences of Indigenous women losing their children literally from their arms, and all the children still being unearthed, in the name of religion.”
Florendo shared her appreciation of the authenticity in the experience and importance of working with the quartet.
Following the initial introductions was a question and answer session that went into personal influences leading into a career of music, and the playing of the collaborative music piece they will be presenting as one.
The members all shared a common theme of familial guidance from their childhood homes and within their tight-knit communities of color. Roach also shared her experience of racism and sexism within the educational system as she took her place in music as a Black woman. Roach said the message she received was, “we welcome you, but leave your culture at home.”
The musical collaboration between the quartet and Florendo is an honor song titled, “Coming Home.” There is “freedom in song, and this honor song is for those loved ones we have lost, we are bringing them home,” Florendo said. Since this is an honor song, all of the audience will be asked to rise, as the musicians play, united in reverence as in a spiritual.
Closing the evening was a two-part group inquiry by Cisneros to the quartet members and Florendo, asking them to talk about their familial tribal ancestry, and the ancestor who most influenced them in their life with music and art.
The Cherokee Nation, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Wasco, a Tribe of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and Blackfeet Nation were all mentioned, with one member’s tribal affiliation still unknown.
Quartet members talked about their significant ancestral influence as coming from parents, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, siblings— and one shared a close invaluable relationship with American memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.
Florendo shared that her Grandmother Alice Florendo, “has been teaching me this whole time,” referring to her personal lifetime journey in becoming an artist.
Talent resident Lupe Sims, a graduate of Ashland High School and Southern Oregon University and a descendant of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, was instrumental in establishing a university-sanctioned Indigenous Peoples Day observance at SOU and coordinates the event there.Email Ashland.news at email@example.com.
Nov. 6: Photo captions corrected.