People and Community Research

In the name of cultural preservation

Editor’s note: The following opinion piece was submitted as part of the inaugural “Op-ed Challenge” hosted by the University of Miami Graduate School. Open to all graduate students, entries were judged by media professionals.

Twenty-three kilos.

That was the weight of my suitcase when I checked in for my flight to study abroad in the United States, leaving my family and friends in my home country, Venezuela. I have been living in the U.S. for over five years, and it has been a journey with ups and downs, like everything in life. 

Immigration inevitably severs the physical connection to the roots of your culture. It leaves you with a feeling akin to “ghost limb” syndrome; a dull ache for a part of you that is no longer there. As an immigrant, you fear that the process of adaptation and assimilation will slowly weaken the bonds to that culture which were once strong and unwavering. Instinctively you want to preserve your cultural heritage and carry it with you. 

Music is a wonderful vehicle through which heritage is preserved; however, unlike the visual arts, it is intangible. You can hear music, but you cannot grab it. You can feel it and see its impact on community, but you cannot touch it. Thus, the loss of visual art is more palpable than that of music. One only needs to watch the news to see and feel the devastating loss of historic buildings and museums. 

When Notre Dame caught on fire in 2019, the world mourned at the visceral images of centuries of art and culturebeing destroyed in an instant. More recently, the Chernihiv Regional History Museum in Ukraine was destroyedduring the war with Russia. The loss of music may be harder to notice, but no less tragic. 

How, then, can we prevent our musical heritage from vanishing?

Music exists in time; it requires someone to create and perform it for it to be experienced. For this reason, adedicated effort is needed to preserve its history and tradition, regardless of its country of origin. Cultural heritage preservation should be a world priority because it elevates our society and humanity.

Venezuela is a rich musical country with a significant choral music tradition. It is heartbreaking not to be able to perform music from my ancestors with the choirs with whom I’ve worked in the United States. Most of traditionalVenezuelan choral music is not available for purchase in North America due to copyright laws. This prevents its dissemination within choirs in this region. Furthermore, there are

myriad of obstacles to composers in Venezuela who want to publish their works. Domestic platforms that wouldotherwise be expected to help composers navigate the music publishing process are no longer able to do so because of a lack of funding. Similarly, seeking help from international organizations is a challenge due to obstructive economic policy. 

Traditional Venezuelan choral music must not vanish, and I will use my voice within North American academia to highlight it. My doctoral essay consists of a recording and a revised score of a Venezuelan mass based ontraditional music for choir and traditional Venezuelan ensemble titled Misa del Oriente Venezolano written by composer Albert Hernández. 

As a third year DMA student in Choral Conducting at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, I choose to usemy voice to advocate for my cultural heritage; for my home. Music is a vehicle for cultural expression, but it can only be experienced if it can be reproduced and shared through performance. Access to cultural diversity deepens withthe power of shared artistic experiences, and now more than ever, it is important to create spaces for traditional music to be performed with respect and authenticity. 

Victoria Nieto is a graduate student in the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Read more about the inaugural “Op-ed Challenge.”