Playing With Friends

Jun 4, 2015

Daniel Afonso

Daniel R. Afonso, Jr.

Daniel Afonso is the 2015 San Francisco Choral Artists Composer-in-Residence.

Writing for the San Francisco Choral Artists is the type of opportunity every composer hopes to have! An ensemble of superior musicality and exceptional technique, the SFCA always amazes me with their ability to take audiences through a kaleidoscopic musical journey that is beautiful, inspiring, and thought-provoking. I had no doubt they could handle pretty much any music I’d write for them, no matter how challenging it could be.

But I’m not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into when they asked me to write for them.

When Magen Solomon initially approached me to be their Composer-in-Residence this season, I told her that for the last 15 years I have only written music that was inspired by or based on Brazilian folk music—that has always been my passion and also a wonderful way for me to remain connected to the rich musical traditions of my home country. Magen replied enthusiastically saying, “yes, that would be wonderful, go for it!!” And so the fun began!

The first two pieces I wrote for the ensemble were based on Brazilian folk songs I knew or had heard before. And I chose them mostly because I found them musically interesting: a beautiful melody, challenging rhythmic patterns, humorous lyrics, etc. But for this final concert, I chose something much closer to my heart, to my own personal experience: I wrote a suite of five short pieces based on songs that I used to sing as a child.

[pullquote]When I hear each song in this set, I’m immediately transported to my childhood.[/pullquote]Cinco Cantigas de Roda is based on a traditional children’s game in which young kids gather in a circle, almost always holding hands and going around together. Some songs have specific movements or “choreographies” that require the children to go in and out of the circle, make funny movements or gestures, point at each other and choose who will get in or out of the circle next, etc. I remember vividly singing and dancing with my friends to these tunes. Back then, we didn’t have portable electronic games, we didn’t watch television as much as we do now, and we didn’t stare at computers for hours. We spent most of our free time playing with our friends, running around, and simply enjoying being outside. And “having fun” always meant playing with friends—and that meant even more to an only child like me.

Writing this suite was a particularly fun experience for me. When I hear each song in this set, I’m immediately transported to my childhood. But, more importantly, I feel very fortunate to share them with Magen and the SFCA. I couldn’t think of better friends to play with me.

Dr. Afonso is Director of Vocal and Choral Studies at California State Univ. Stanislaus, where he is active as a conductor/educator. He has been recognized for his research and performance of Brazilian choral music and continues to present workshops and lectures about the Latin American choral repertoire.

A composer, arranger, and editor of choral music, his compositions and arrangements reflect his Afro-Brazilian musical heritage, and are characterized by skillful vocal and rhythmic writing. His works are published by Earthsongs and Alliance Music Publications.

Dr. Afonso has performed with choral groups in Brazil, U.S., and Europe, and has previously taught music at the Conservatório Brasileiro de Música, Universidade do Rio de Janeiro (UNI-Rio), and Doane College, Nebraska. In 1988, he won the first prize and the best performance of Villa-Lobos work award at the Concurso Villa-Lobos de Canto Coral, a national choral competition sponsored by the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Afonso is strongly committed to the performance of new music and has premiered several choral works in the last few years, including Michael Mitchell’s I Will Praise the Name of God with a Song (1997), Deborah Kavasch’s Amor (2001) and Feather on God’s Breath (2003), John Marvin’s Ophélie (2003), and John Hillebrandt’s A Clear Midnight (2004). In 2001 he was appointed conductor of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus and has prepared choral masterworks with the ensemble.