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Keeping Spanish music alive: Group focuses on Spanish music that dates back to medieval times

Cantigas d’Amigo is made up of, from left, Richard Savino, Polly Tapia Ferber, Drea Pressley, Juan Wijngaard, Sharon Berman and Catherine Harlow. They will play Saturday as part of the Traditional Spanish Market.

Cantigas d’Amigo is made up of, from left, Richard Savino, Polly Tapia Ferber, Drea Pressley, Juan Wijngaard, Sharon Berman and Catherine Harlow. They will play Saturday as part of the Traditional Spanish Market.

Drea Pressley believes there’s nowhere near enough Spanish music being performed in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

“There is so much amazing Spanish music,” she said. “I feel as if it’s getting lost.”

Cantigas d’Amigo, she added, “is my little bit to try to keep it alive.”

Tied in with the Traditional Spanish Market held all day on the Plaza, Pressley’s group’s concert will offer shoppers and lookers a chance to put up their feet and listen to some songs that date as far back as medieval times. It will be held 7:30 p.m. Saturday in First Presbyterian Church.

She was born and raised in Albuquerque, and her mother came from Santa Fe; her last name was Rodriguez, and both sides of that family emigrated to New Mexico in the 1600s and 1700s from northern Spain, Pressley said. “This land is just in my blood, it’s in my soul,” she said.

But she’ll also be sliding in a mix of Celtic tunes, honoring her heritage from her father’s side, she added.

Cantigas d’Amigo had its first performances in Santa Fe and Albuquerque last summer, and also will perform 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Old Historic San Ysidro Church in Corrales.

“As a native New Mexican, being part of Spanish Market has put me on Cloud 9,” Pressley said, adding that her mother’s pretty thrilled about it, too.

How did it happen? Simple. Pressley said she just called and asked if the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, which hosts Spanish Market, was interested in sponsoring a performance by the group. “They were looking for more concert-type events,” she said, and, just like that, they were in.

A 12-year performer with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Pressley said she met guitarist Richard Savino when he played a concert with that group. (He has received a Grammy nomination with his group El Mundo.) The two of them started working together, but then she put out word that she needed someone to play Spanish bagpipes – yes, there really is such a thing – and someone put her in touch with Juan Wijngaard and wife Sharon Berman, both “amazing world music folk musicians” who live in Corrales, Pressley said.

And cellist Catherine Harlow joined to add that sound, as well as viola de gamba, she said. With Pressley’s husband unable to leave his new job in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they now live, she recruited Polly Tapia Ferber, long-time world music teacher at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design specializing in Eastern European music, to fill in on percussion.

The group’s name comes from the term for poems written during the 13th century in the Galicia area of northwestern Spain bordering Portugal. Many of the works are written in the area’s language, called Gallego (also spelled Galego), or a mix with Portuguese.

Actually, the area also has a definite Celtic influence, Pressley added, because the Celts fled there from the British Islands when the Anglo-Saxons invaded from the 4th to the 7th centuries.

The cantigas d’amigo poems were written by men, but in the voice of women, she said. It’s the first genre of the type she’s found that actually presents the point of view of a woman (although interpreted by a man), she said.

“Some are just ridiculous: ‘Woe is me. My man is gone. I can’t live without a man,'” Pressley said. But some others have a woman telling a man he has to work for her love – she wants to find more of those, she added.

Only six of such songs, by Martín Códax, have survived with their melodies intact, though, so Pressley said she has composed music to go with poems lacking written notes.

The group’s concert will include some of these works, as well as a number of Spanish Baroque songs, said Pressley, who is the lead vocalist. (She and her husband previously lived in Los Angeles, where she found work singing on a number of movie scores, including “Avatar,” she said.)

The program will be rounded out with some Celtic songs, including a couple in English, said Pressley, who said she works with diction coaches, recordings and more to try to perfect her pronunciations of the various languages in which she sings. The toughest for her, she said, is Scottish.

And although the songs are all traditional, she said she has added a new one she has written herself – but in a traditional folk style.