Grade level: 2
Commissioning info: Kenwood Trail Middle School, Lakeville, MN, Reid Wixson, conductor
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Voladores is a piece for wind band that attempts to depict a traditional ceremony of the Nahuat people of Central Mexico. As a member of the St. Olaf Band, I was part of a tour to Mexico, and one of our most memorable stops along the way was to a small indigenous village called San Miguel Tzinacapan. The people of this village performed this remarkable ceremony for us. Three of our band members would eventually do their student teaching in this village, where they worked to start a band program. Reid Wixson, who was one of those student teachers, is now the Director of Bands at Kenwood Trail Middle School in Lakeville, MN. When I had the idea of writing this piece, it was obvious that Reid would be the perfect person to conduct the piece's premiere performance.
Reid describes the ceremony below: The Nahuatl people, who descend from the Aztecs, and the Totonic people of central Mexico continue to celebrate their beautiful, ancient culture through their language, clothing, music and especially through their dancing. One of the most famous dances is the Danza de los Voladores, or, Dance of the Flying Dancers. Five dancers, representing the five elements, begin by circling a tall pole in a steady, slow rhythmic pattern. The dancers each wear jingles attached to their leggings and shoes, helping them to keep the beat. Accompanying this dance is a small, recorder-like flute and a tiny drum. Next, the dancers climb up to the top of the pole and four of them tie one leg to a long rope. The four ropes are wrapped tightly around a rotating platform that is placed at the top of the pole. All at once, the four dancers fall off the pole, slowly and steadily descending toward land. The fifth dancer stays on top and continues to play the flute while dancing at the top of the pole. By the time the ropes have unwrapped, the four dancers have made a thirteen revolutions each, fifty-two in total, representing the weeks in the calendar year. The full purpose of this dance for these people is to get the attention of the gods and bless the Earth with rain.
Today, indigenous people throughout central Mexico perform this dance for tourists and on special celebration days. The dance is spectacular and awe-inspiring due to the high risk on the part of the dancers.
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