Carnegie Mellon University
December 08, 2014

Local Children to Sing Spanish-Language Carols

Local Children to Sing Spanish-Language Carols

By Christine Hucko

On Saturday, December 20, music will fill the air in Oakland as children aged 6 to 12 gather on stage at the Frick Fine Arts Building to sing carols learned during a workshop they’ve been participating in at Carnegie Mellon University this semester. A second concert will follow the next day, December 21, in Coraopolis, PA, at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School. Both performances are free and open to the public.

The young carolers are taking part in an outreach program called El Círculo Juvenil de Cultura. Launched in 2007 by three Department of Modern Languages professors of Hispanic origin, this biannual workshop aims to create an environment where children gain exposure to Spanish language and Latino culture by participating in arts activities alongside their peers.

The professors who started the program—Mariana Achugar, Kenya Dworkin, and Felipe Gómez—want children to see that speaking a second language is an asset, not a liability, and to feel proud of their capabilities. The trio hopes that by creating a community where Spanish language is valued, and where children can explore their heritage in a fun environment, the kids will nourish both sides of their identities, and foster strong connections to the two worlds they are part of.

The workshops take place over a period of ten weeks, twice a year, at Carnegie Mellon. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 assemble for a few hours each Sunday to partake in activities centered on a chosen theme. Most often, the themes revolve around the arts, a focus that “allows for creative involvement and joint collaboration among people of different ages and language abilities,” explains Achugar.

Past workshops have immersed children in Hispanic culture through songs, dance, theater, photography, and film. In a session on the earth and the environment, the children sang and danced, created decorative recycling bins, and were encouraged to “take the recycling message home to their families,” says Dworkin.

Each workshop features student volunteers, as well as other talented individuals from the community, who guide children through the various activities. In doing so, the volunteers benefit as much as the children do. The program gives them “an opportunity to use their Spanish language skills, develop their knowledge of Spanish speaking cultures, and serve as role models of successful bilinguals,” says Achugar.

In its current workshop, El Círculo is collaborating with Coro Latinoamericano, a Pittsburgh-based group “dedicated to building bridges to other peoples and cultures in Pittsburgh and beyond through choral music from the countries of Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Iberian Peninsula.”

The children are learning songs related to end-of-year celebrations, songs that “come from different traditions, time periods, and regions,” says Gomez. In working with the lyrics, Gomez adds, the children’s vocabularies may expand, and they may develop an ability to discern similarities and differences between the songs, and between “the worldviews that are being expressed with these songs.”

When El Círculo started in 2007, fewer than 10 children took part. Today, around 20 kids participate in each workshop. As the number of participants has increased, so too has the number of people involved in running the program—dance instructors, health practitioners, and a soccer coach are among those who have lent their time and talents to the program in recent years. Folding more community members into the mix has added depth to the workshops, introduced families to “the diverse talent and varied efforts” being made by Hispanics in the region, and created an opportunity to further strengthen the sense of community among the local Hispanic population.

The talents and efforts of those participating in the current workshop will be on full display on December 20 in a concert titled “Festival de Luces” (Festival of Lights). In this first of two performances, the “El Círculo choir” will join Coro Latinoamericano to sing Spanish-language holiday music from Spain and the Americas. The following afternoon, El Círculo participants will team up with the Novus Children’s Choir to perform carols in English and Spanish at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Coraopolis.

Families of all backgrounds are cordially invited to attend. The carolers hope to see you there!

Event Details:

Festival de Luces (Festival of Lights)
Performance with Coro Latinoamericano
Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
University of Pittsburgh
Frick Fine Arts Building Auditorium
Free admission; donations accepted

Performance with the Novus Children’s Choir
Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 3:00 p.m.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School
1504 Woodcrest Avenue, Coraopolis, PA 15108
Free admission; donations accepted

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