The Music Major Minute : Delving into Latinx Art Songs

The Music Major Minute : Delving into Latinx Art Songs

This article is part of the July 2022 issue of Classical Singer magazine. Click HERE to read all of the articles from this issue or visit the Classical Singer Library.

Besame mucho. The end. 

Oh, you like that song? You wanted to read more about it? Well, I suppose if you are so passionately curious, I could share a few thoughts with you about the beautiful melodies and captivating rhythms that are so rich in Latin culture. I’ve had the opportunity to teach at a summer opera festival in Mexico, where I have been enchanted by Latinx art songs and inspired to study, teach, and perform this music.

First, a definition for “Latinx,” pronounced LATIN-EX: Time Magazine writes, “The term is becoming de rigueur (required) among artists and politically active youth. Media outlets like NPR are using it without remark or explanation. Another sign that this word has staying power: dictionaries have recently taken the time to define it.” 

Latinx (adj.): Relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino or Latina).

This author’s use of the term Latinx is chosen with the intent of inclusivity consistent with current media, dictionary, and scholarly publications.

At the university where I teach voice, we are promoting underrepresented composers with end-of-semester song festivals and striving to build our concert audiences. These song festivals serve to help both performers and audience members understand and enjoy new music. Most recently, we celebrated the art songs of Latinx composers from Mexico and Central and South Americas. This festival was set up as follows: 

  1. Each voice major is assigned an art song that fits the theme.
  2. A guest artist or our faculty professors share expertise with the students on the theme in lecture or masterclass format.
  3. For the concert portion, each singer introduces their song with a brief program note or fun fact about their composer. 
  4. After the concert, we share refreshments and good company. 

The Latinx festival was an entirely fabulous way to share culture through beautiful music. As we explore this repertoire, please note the difference between Spanish and Latinx music. Spanish music is born in Spain and has European roots. Latinx music is derived by composers with Latin American heritage and traditions including Brazilian songs in Portuguese. Zarzuela (Spanish Operetta) and Spanish art songs by composers from Spain are encapsulations of the sounds of España—we singers love them in their own category. 

Why is Latinx music underrepresented in the classical canon? First, because most Latinx musicians are not covered in music history textbooks or even the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Second, the music is hard to find. There are fewer publishers distributing this music, and that is in part due to lack of demand. Latinx music has not been granted equal credibility to European music in classical traditions. 

With academic objectivity, I would like to state that this is stupid, but my exasperation will not change anything. As Gandhi said, “If you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.” I have loved listening and learning more about music with Latin influence, and it is my hope, dear reader, that this column sparks your curiosity and leads to more performances that will change the world.

Mexican composer María Grever (1885–1951) was the first Mexican woman to gain international acclaim as a composer. With parents from Spain and Mexico, she travelled to Europe regularly through her childhood and studied with Claude Debussy and Franz Lehar. Her song “What a Difference a Day Makes” (originally “Cuando vuelva a tu lado”) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and has become a common reference in our vernacular.

Describing her musical oeuvre, she stated, “I had to leave my country, and now in New York, I am interested in Jazz and Modern Rhythms, but above all, in Mexican Music, which I long to present to the American people. I am afraid they don’t know much about it. It is music worth spreading; there is such a cultural richness in Mexican Music (its Hispanic and indigenous origins and how they mix) where melody and rhythm merge. It is my wish and yearning to present the native rhythms and tunes of Mexico from a real perspective with the necessary flexibility to appeal to the universal audience.” (Wikipedia, “María Grever.”).

Learning one Latinx art song could simply introduce you to a new style or it could be the beginning of a lifelong study. There is much to learn, so I will offer a few starting points to enrich your multicultural musical studies.

Dr. Marcel Ramalho, Brazilian American, Director of Choral Activities and Professor of Voice at Augusta University, states that “Brazilian art song tradition can be traced back to the 19th century, and the gamut of styles within that tradition is just as diverse as the Brazilian culture. Composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos, José Siqueira, Cláudio Santoro, Babi de Oliveira, Alberto Nepomuceno, and Waldemar Henrique are amongst some of the most important names in the rich Brazilian Art Song tradition.” 

For more information on Portuguese lyric diction, check out Ramalho’s recent article in the NATS journal, “Lyric Diction of Brazilian Portuguese as Applied to José Siqueira’s Oito Cançōes Populares Brasileiras.” He also recently published “Folkloric Nationalism and Essential Nationalism in José Siqueira’s Loanda and Maracatu: elements of the Maracatu tradition and interpretative suggestions” with Per Musi Academic Music Journal. Both articles are available online.

Feliz canto, amigos. Happy singing, friends.

Participants in the Art Song Fest 2022 Celebrating Music by Latinx Composers


Sources to learn more about Latinx Art Song:

1. People: The Latin American Art Song Alliance is a group working to publish and promote Latinx music. Learn more about their cause, connect with them on their Facebook group, and check out their store at

One of the many interesting anthologies available for purchase is The Latin American Art Song: A Critical Anthology and Interpretive Guide for Singers, a comprehensive anthology of Latin American Art Song. Edited by Colombian soprano Patricia Caicedo, the 158-page volume comes complete with translations of the Spanish and Portuguese texts, phonetic transcriptions, and performance notes in Spanish and English. It includes works by esteemed composers in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.


2. Catalog: “A Guide to the Latin American Art Song Repertoire: An Annotated Catalog of Twentieth-Century Art Songs for Voice and Piano,” edited by Maya Hoover, published by Indiana University Press, and available through your favorite bookseller. 


3. Podcast: Patricia Caicedo is a leading scholar and interpreter of Latin and Iberian art songs. You can subscribe to her podcast and find her recordings at


4. Sheet Music: Hard-to-find Latinx sheet music is available at


A Kickstart List of Composers for Latinx programming:


Manuel Ponce (1882–1948) was a Mexican composer/pianist who is best known for his guitar music and art songs, including the enchanting song “Estrellita” (1914).


Jaime León Ferro (1921–2015) was a Colombian composer/conductor well known for conducting the American Ballet Theatre and Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá in Colombia. He composed 36 songs based on Colombian and Ecuadorian poetry. Sheet music is available at 


Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983) was the leading Argentinian composer of the 20th century. His works brim with modernism. An exceptional opportunity for high-level artistry with a pianist who is unafraid can be found in Cinco Canciones Populares Argentinas. 


Edward Kilenyi, Sr. (1884–1968) was a Hungarian composer who was among the first to arrange Mexican melodies for concert stages. His arrangements are excellent for students of all levels and are published in Hal Leonard’s Anthology of Spanish Song, available for purchase at


James Demster, is a conductor/vocal coach/composer in Mexico City. Throughout his 30 years living in Mexico, Demster has held many positions, including musical preparer at the National Opera of Fine Arts and director of Coro del Teatro de Bellas Artes. He published concert arrangements of popular Mexican songs, including everyone’s favorite, “Besame Mucho.”

Christi Amonson

Christi Amonson is a soprano, a stage director, a curious reader/writer, a professor of voice and opera at The College of Idaho, and a curator of food, hugs, and good times for her family.