Visitors to this year’s Santa Fe Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival will get a chance not only to hear tunes that were played in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado in the mid-19th century, but also to learn some of the dances popular at the time.
That opportunity comes with the inclusion of Lorenzo Trujillo and his Southwest Musicians in the schedule, the first time the Denver-based musicologist has appeared at the festival.
“We tour a lot,” Trujillo said in a recent telephone interview. “Our summer schedule is incredibly busy.”
While most people associate Santa Fe’s festival with bluegrass and roots-type music brought to the Appalachians from the British and Celtic isles, organizer Tony Mora said there also has been an effort to include musicians who play traditional Hispanic music from this region. “We had Cipriano Vigil in 2011 or 2012 and Antonia Apodaca before that,” he said of some notable northern New Mexico musicians.
The festival still features the type of music long played by the sponsoring organization, the Southwest Pickers, with Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, based in Washington, D.C., and Grammy nominee this year for best bluegrass album, coming in as the bluegrass headliner and Uncle Henry’s Favorites, a string band from Virginia, serving as the old-time music headliner.
But Mora said that, in recent years, an increasing effort has been made to stress education and “have an important music educator in for the event.”
“Lorenzo is really, really entrenched in the whole education scene,” Mora said.
With a doctorate in both music and law, Trujillo has lectured and published a range of articles on both the music and the dance of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
Over the years, he has established some folk dance groups and documented the traditional music of the area, as well as playing it. He teaches in the music department at Metropolitan State University in Denver and, in 2009, was inducted into the Colorado Chicano Music Hall of Fame.
Most recently, he said, he has been working with recordings from some of the premier violinists from the 1890s, such as Gregorio Ruiz and Meliton Roybal. “The music has been lost. It has not been played,” Trujillo said, adding that many of the younger violinists today can’t master its technical difficulty.
“Most traditional music is a three-chord pattern, played with the dominant chords of G, D or F,” he said. “These fall in a unique category, in 6/8 time, in D minor or G minor.
“There are some New Mexico musicians doing this stuff, such as Lorenzo Martinez in Albuquerque,” Trujillo added.
With his own roots in Arroyo Seco near Taos, Trujillo said his performing group includes musicians from the Taos area, as well as Albuquerque and Colorado. They will play concerts at 8 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Saturday, as well as provide music for tonight’s dance, which gets started at 10 p.m.
Trujillo said he hopes to teach some of the old dances, such as the broom dance, which he says includes movements of sweeping the floor and which he calls “the Hispanic version of the Virginia reel.”
Another dance is the varsoviana, a dance he said his cousins (now retired) taught in Santa Fe schools and which he associated with the line “put your little foot right down.” (Online sources describe it as similar to a gentle mazurka.) Also in his repertoire and included on his CD, “The Golden Age of the Southwest: 1840 to Hollywood,” is “Las Cuadrillas,” a suite of tunes for folk dances some describe as similar to a square dance.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, Trujillo will conduct a workshop titled “History of Traditional New Mexican Music.”
“I’m going to talk about the history and origins of this music,” he said. “How the polka, waltz and schottische got to New Mexico.” Most likely, they came up through Europeans who settled in and around Mexico City, he said.
Many of the old musical and dance traditions that disappeared elsewhere survived in this area because of its long-term isolation, Trujillo said. “In only two cultures of the world have the language and culture been maintained: the Jewish people and Hispanos,” he said. “I like that deep sense, that it’s not something people study, but that they just do.”