Do Canadians feel duende?

There are many hours of work and thought that go into the creation of art. As musicians, we spend years perfecting technique in order to properly execute difficult passages. We learn how to read languages including music notation, directions in Italian, German, or French to discover the nuance they communicate. Dolce doesn’t simple mean "sweet" but should trigger within our consciousness the tangible feeling of sweetness. We must then communicate this to our audience through the act of performance which is in itself, its own skill set.

We have been talking about duende in our movement classes. That is, the soul behind music. Most famously, this theory was documented by the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca. In his article, “Theory and Play of the Duende,” he writes that all art has an angel and Muse but only sometimes duende. The angel represents the inspiration from the heavens. This is the spiritual force in music that gives us clarity and connects music to otherworldly feelings. The Muse is our intellect and speaks to why music is so powerful through our analytical understanding. Duende is the mysterious force that shows us the magic within the music. It is communicated through the act of performance but it is not present in all performances. It most often appears with duality of emotion and therefore is most likely to be found in music that is multidimensional. Even in Spain, the flamenco singers and dancers and bull fighters most associated with duende do not all possess the ability to communicate this duality. It is an emotion that does not simply exist in the composition itself but is harnessed by the performer.

Every Monday in our movement class, the teacher chooses a different piece of music for us to dance. I use the term dance lightly, for it is free movement without required steps. A student could sit in absolute stillness with his or her eyes closed and still if the music is felt in a meaningful way, movement exists within the mind. The other day, we were listening to a bright passage from a Mozart symphony. At the end of the class, the teacher asked me what I had felt when I danced and what myself and my partner had tried to communicate. At first my response was the typical Mozart interpretation, "yes it was cheeky and bright," but on this day I felt throughout the cheeriness of the passage there was a darkness. It wasn’t particularly sad and definitely not foreboding but the writing kept evading a sense of cadence. Of course, the conclusion was very satisfying but in the moment of moving without knowing where we were headed, there was a sadness in this happy music. This is duende, the ability to feel depth and be transported by art to a place that brings you meaning. There is a balance in nature and art of light and dark. Mozart, probably like no other composer, appears at first to only possess the angel. We approach the music perhaps with our Muse, but it has depth because it communicates far more than joy. This is because there is no comparison for joy without experiencing darker emotions of anger, fear, isolation, and sadness.

Lorca says that it is the Spanish that feel duende the most for it is built into their country and culture. Does this mean that they are the only ones to experience duende? In such a reserved Canadian culture, are we able to communicate the same passion as the Spanish who seem to exude it on every level? Lorca says this mysterious duende is present in all cultures. As a person to have grown up on the prairies, my experience with the outward environment is far different than the mild climate of Spain. Every winter, we battle severe weather that can sometimes be life or death conditions. Every person in Saskatchewan has been personally affected by death due to inclement weather. This is tangible and we are deeply aware of our own mortality. The Spanish may celebrate death in a visual way but our struggle as Canadians is to protect and safeguard against the unnecessary accidents that appear on our highways.

The act of performing music in an authentic way can be called any number of things. Duende is an interesting label that sparks ideas of magic and mystery. It is a word that attempts to codify the experience of life and death. Lorca as a poet is fascinating. Unfortunately, his life was cut tragically short during the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. His ideas about duende are described almost like a person or a friend who has come for a visit to explain the purpose of art. This is a powerful idea that can be used by any culture with any name for it helps give imagination to the abstract world of art.

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