José Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango

Notes by TŌN cellist Jordan Gunn

The Composer
One of the happiest pieces we’ve programmed at The Orchestra Now since I arrived in 2020 has got to be Huapango by the great composer José Pablo Moncayo. Moncayo was born, lived, and studied in Mexico in the first half of the 20th century. His music was heavily influenced by that heritage and his teacher, the well-known composer Carlos Chávez. Much of Moncayo’s legacy includes not only his compositions, but also his accomplishments as a conductor, having been appointed the role of director and conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico at age 37. His most famous composition, Huapango, is a bright and fun piece with traditional Mexican rhythms and soaring melodies played especially in the brass.

The Music
This piece is unique in the classical repertoire, notably because of the desire to dance to it. Classical music can sometimes create the feeling that you must sit and be silent during concerts, but Huapango invokes the opposite feeling. This music is about joy and pride, a characteristic not present in most 20th century compositions. The reason we in The Orchestra Now are musicians is to help people feel something when they come to concerts. It is important to me to showcase not only the injustices and sadness around the world, but also the light and joy.

In Moncayo’s Words
In a letter to one of his students, Moncayo recalled: “Blas Galindo [a fellow composer and colleague] and I went to Alvarado, one of the places where folkloric music is preserved in its most pure form; we were collecting melodies, rhythms, and instrumentations for several days. The transcription of it was very difficult because the huapangueros never sang the same melody twice in the same way. When I came back, I showed the collected material to Candelario Huízar, who gave me a piece of advice that I will always be grateful for: ‘Introduce the material first in the same way you heard it and develop it later according to your own ideas.’ And I did it, and the result is almost satisfactory for me.”