Music links Madison Spanish speakers and the UW
The word Bienvenidos -- or welcome, in Spanish -- greets visitors to Centro Hispano of Dane County from above the entryway to one of Centro’s brightly-painted front rooms.
The walls of this particular room are covered with a vivid mural of a scene outside Mexico City, where men and women tend gardens that float on a lake beside mountains. On another wall, figures celebrate the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos.
Centro’s bright murals will soon cover the walls of its building on 810 W. Badger Rd. in Madison. The murals celebrate the cultures of the 40,000 Latino immigrants living in Dane County, according to United Way estimates, and welcome Latinos to a place where they can access social services, educational programs, cultural events and language assistance.
Among the opportunities Centro offers, a unique program extends the University of Wisconsin-Madison's resources to the Latino community. The program, beginning its second year this fall, offers Spanish language music classes to adults. The classes are a low-cost opportunity for Spanish speakers, including non-Latinos, who can share culture and music while learning Latin rhythms and new instruments.
"Music is a big part of Latino cultures. A lot of people love music and don't know how to play an instrument, and these classes are their opportunity to learn," said Centro Hispano Deputy Director Kent Craig, who also directs CHICA: The Centro Hispano Institute for the Cultural Arts.
Guitar, voice and salsa percussion classes were held in the evenings at Centro Hispano for six weeks during spring and fall last year. Instructors and students spoke only Spanish.
Craig and Andrea Bontrager Yoder of UW-Madison's Division of Continuing Studies, who both majored in music, had discussed collaborating on a Spanish music program for several years. The idea aligned with University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Plan 2008 to make the university more accessible to underrepresented community groups, which helped Bontrager Yoder receive a Diversity Program Development Initiative grant from UW-Extension.
'My thought was if we work to meet Latinos in a place where they already feel welcome and safe, by using Centro Hispano and by working in their language, I thought that would be one way to offer a different perspective to this huge institution," Bontrager Yoder said.
Several members from Grupo Candela, one of the most popular salsa bands in the Midwest, agreed to teach. Craig co-taught the percussion class with Roberto Rengel in the fall and Manuel Vellón in the spring, both Candela members. Sandra Faitel, Candela's lead singer, taught voice, and Richard Hildner, a graduate student in physics who learned guitar from his Peruvian grandfather and uncles, taught guitar.
Grupo Candela helped get the word out about the new classes at their popular salsa dance parties, Kent said. But he found that people who heard about the classes while at a salsa show at the Majestic or listening to La Movida Spanish radio station were surprised UW-Madison would offer something for them.
"When people hear that it’s from UW, their immediate assumption is it's going to cost a lot of money, or I have to be a young person to register, or they see UW and they think this isn’t for me. So we have to explain that this is for adults in the community, you don’t have to be a college student, and it’s very low cost," Craig said.
After taking the class, many students had a new perspective. Bontrager Yoder, who interviewed students to evaluate the program, found they now feel more comfortable looking to the university for community activities, education and learning for fun.
Craig said the only complaint from students was that classes were too short. He is trying to coordinate opportunities for students to practice together outside of class, and some are interested in forming bands. The diversity of the cultural backgrounds, musical experience and ages of students allows them to teach each other. Last year's students included Latin dancers, a musician with a master's degree in piano who wanted to learn percussion and UW Latin American studies students.
"I think it's wonderful when people can get together through some common part of culture like music, or cooking or whatever, and learn about different cultures. This type of class allows people to build relationships, and building relationships is the only way I believe that we can truly understand different cultures. I think it enables peace, at the root of everything," Bontrager Yoder said.
Bontrager Yoder received funding for the coming year of Spanish music classes from the Anonymous Fund. Additions to the programming include a songwriting class in the fall and a piano class in the spring, taught by another Grupo Candela member in UW's piano lab. For more information, contact Andrea Bontrager-Yoder, 608-263-6670 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.dcs.wisc.edu/classes/music.htm.