Two Hundred Years Later – Sacred Music at Mission San Borja
Dutch Mezzo-Soprano Christel Veraart offered an Angelical Concert in the Central Desert
(Translation by Christel Veraart of an article written by Carlos Lazcano, journalist for “El Vigia”, Ensenada and writer of numerous books on Baja California, Mexico)
Sunday, March 27, 2007
When the Jesuit missionaries established the missions of old California, one of their fundamental intentions was to develop in the Indians a taste for the arts, including Music. Thus several of the missionaries formed choirs of sacred music, with indigenous voices, mainly with the cochimí of the central region of the peninsula. The most famous choir was the one of the mission at Mulegé, thanks to one of its missionaries who had a strong interest in music. According to some missionaries, the indigenous Californians had an interest and talent for the sacred song, and after some music education their voices sounded wonderful. The return to the sacred With the departure of the Jesuits in 1768, the indigenous choirs of sacred music practically disappeared. More then two hundred years had to pass until this sacred music , in the form of a perfectly trained voice, would return to the missions. This historic event took place last Sunday on March the 18th at the mission of San Francisco de Borja Adac, thanks to the mezzo-soprano Christel Veraart.
Christel visited the missions of San Francisco de Borja and Santa Gertrudis the Magna a year earlier and fell in love with them, as well as with the central desert of Baja California. It was then that she suggested to Father Gabriel Alvarez, Episcopal delegate for the restoration of both missions, the project of singing a Sacred music concert, first at San Borja and at a later date at Santa Gertrudis. After months of preparations and with the support of several organizations and people, the first concert was carried out successfully. The Jesuit missionary of Czech origin, Wenceslao Linck, established this mission in 1762. Its temple is of clear quarry rock, which gives great beauty to the building and makes it the most beautiful and historical structure in the State of Baja California. The acoustics of the mission are perfect for such an event, and Christel’s voice sounded marvelously clear and powerful. To several of the attendees it seemed as if they were listening to the voice of an angel. The Singer’s Background Christel Veraart was born in Bergen, The Netherlands. It was on her native soil that she began her music education at the “Maastricht Conservatory of Music”. Later she continued her studies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she graduated from the National Conservatory “Lopez Buchardo”. She continued studying diverse voice techniques with Gemma Visser (Holland), Wendy Eathorne (London), and Ada Matus (Paris). Her singing talents have earned her numerous concerts and recognition in many countries in both Europe and the Americas.
The mission of San Borja is to be found around 500 km south of Ensenada. It is accessed by dirt road, some 30 km from the small community of Nuevo Rosarito. Its big temple surprises, not only by its beauty but also because of its placement in the middle of nowhere, with only one family living nearby. In the time of the missions it housed more than three thousand natives. By Saturday afternoon many of the guests interested in the concert started to arrive at San Borja. People mainly from the vicinity of Bahia de los Angeles, Nuevo Rosarito, Villa Jesus Maria, Guerrero Negro, Vizcaíno, El Rosario, San Quintín, Ensenada and Tijuana, but also some from Loreto, La Paz and even from San Diego, California. Many of them camped out around the mission; others installed themselves inside the mission, thanks to the support of Father Gabriel, who welcomed everyone. On Sunday the 18th, after the mass that father Gabriel celebrated, the concert began. About 140 people filled the temple. Because there were only one hundred chairs, about forty people had to stand. After Father Gabriel introduced her, Christel appeared in front of the altar; blond, tall, with features characteristic of the northern regions of Europe. She explained that due to the remoteness of the place it had been impossible to bring a piano for live accompaniments, and therefore she brought a pre-recording of the piano. All sound equipment was put together by her husband, who operated as technician and sound engineer. Speaking in excellent Spanish, she explained the pleasure it brought her to sing in San Borja, surrounded by a place as special as the central desert. Commenting about the program, she explained that she carefully selected sacred music from the 18th century, the same time in which the missions were formed. Compositions stemmed from Europe as well as the Americas. Some would be interpreted in Latin, others in Spanish, German and English.
The concert started with a classic composition by Mendelssohn “Oh Rest in the Lord”. The beauty of the piece, combined with the magnificent voice of Christel, caused people from the beginning to stay engaged as if in trance. The frame of the altar, the original image of San Francisco de Borja, the entire stone wall, and the mystical air, gave a magical touch to the unique moment. “Face me vere tecum flere” by Haydn was next, followed by, an “Ave Maria” by Charles Gounod, “Ya la naturaleza redimida” by Manuel Sumaya, “Ave Maria” by Guilio Caccini, “Haec est Regina Virginum” by Haendel, “Panis Angelicus” by Gounod, “Dignare O Domine” by Haendel, “Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen” by Schubert,” Jesu bleibet meine Freude ” by Bach, and closing with ” The Lord Bless you and keep you ” by John Rutter. In order to listen to the concert without interruptions, the church was closed and an absolute silence was requested, which was responded to perfectly. Nothing else could be heard but Christel’s singing. It was amazing to hear the fineness of her voice and to see there, sitting in their pews, on the floor, on the stones, enchanted, astonished, the rancheros of the region, but also impresarios, some tourists, scientists, geologists, historians, housewives and people that love this region profoundly. It had been more than two hundred years that in this mission and all the others, God had been praised in this way. After the concert there was food, during which one could congratulate and talk to Christel and to Father Gabriel, we mixed together and drank good wine. Although the event was free, it was organized to benefit the Organization “Comanji”, which is directed by Father Gabriel, and whose objective is to raise the necessary funds for the completion of the restoration of the missions of Santa Gertrudis and San Borja. In the case of San Borja, the proceeds provided an advance for 30% of the restoration work. A lot of attendees and participants also donated money to Comanji, motivated by the excellent concert and the beauty of its natural surroundings.
This Concert was Recorded and Released as the album Musica Sacra