The production of films by the División de Educación de la Comunidad (DIVEDCO, the Community Education Division) gave Puerto Rican musicians and composers an important forum for their work. With its musical films, DIVEDCO preserved and disseminated the rich variety of Puerto Rico’s national musical heritage, refined music as well as popular music, from the city and the country. In times when Puerto Rican culture needed to be accorded value and appreciated, the DIVEDCO films preserved the best of our musical tradition and its performers.
The principal composers: Delano, Veray, Campos ParsiDuring DIVEDCO’s first decade, three composers set the standard for quality and cultural identification that helped to make the films effective: Jack Delano, Amaury Veray and Héctor Campos Parsi, who joined DIVEDCO when their refined music compositions were just beginning to appear and formed the repertoire that Campos Parsi referred to as the Escuela Nacionalista Puertorriqueña (Puerto Rican Nationalist School).
Delano was associated with the government-sponsored film project for educational purposes from its beginning, when in 1946 the División de Educación Visual (Visual Education Division), attached to the Public Parks and Recreation Department, was founded. The scarcity of financial resources explains the simplicity of the sound tracks of the Visual Education Division productions, for which Delano used few instruments and criollo melodies that were in the public domain, especially children’s songs. Of those first scores, that of the film Una gota de agua (1949) stands out. Delano took children’s motifs – especially from “Mambrú se fue a la Guerra” – and made a charming children’s march of it.
When DIVEDCO was founded as an autonomous agency – though attached to the Department of Public Instruction -it answered directly to then Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, and was allotted a larger budget and superior technical facilities. Then Delano had the opportunity to direct projects that were artistically more ambitious, which is reflected in the scores. Los peloteros (1951), the last of the films done for DIVEDCO, is not only the first feature-length film done by the division with a large cast and filming on location, it featured a sound track that was much more complex than films like Una gota de agua. The principal theme, written for wind instruments and recurrent until the tense culminating moment in the film, even quotes the initial chords of the popular song by Roberto Cole, Romance del campesino.
Before leaving DIVEDCO, Delano took some important steps: he promoted his assistant, Amílcar Tirado, to the rank of director, and he contracted Amaury Veray as a composer. Tirado began successfully as a filmmaker with the drama, Una voz en la montaña (1952), for which Delano composed another potpourri of children’s songs, played on an accordion -which gave the story of a jíbaro, a person from rural Puerto Rico who wants to learn to read and write- an appropriate air of melancholy and optimism.
Veray began his contribution to DIVEDCO with the score of the second film by Tirado, El puente (1953). This work – a well-crafted combination of incidental melodies in classical style with children’s songs such as “Pase Misín” – was the first in the largest body of scores by any composer for DIVEDCO. Veray was to compose music for seven films: El puente, Pedacito de tierra (1953), Doña Julia (1954), El de los cabos blancos (1955), Milagro en la montaña (1955), Mayo florido (1956) and La quiebra (1963), which showed his versatility and talent in genres as different from one another as educational drama (Pedacito de tierra), Christmas fantasy (Milagro en la montaña) and comedy based on local lore (La quiebra).
In a class by itself, for the originality of the concept, was Mayo florido – a collaboration of directors Willard van Dyke and Luis Maisonet with Veray – a lyrical audiovisual poem, with elegant music that accompanied a lovely, colorful montage of flowers, buds and plants in full bloom, waterfalls and rivers with water plants, culminating in the participation of a trio of guitars and voices interpreting the song, “Mayo florido,” and closing with a shot of the sun’s rays through a barrier of leaves, just as the voices and guitars come to the end of the song.
Like Veray, Campos Parsi joined DIVEDCO when he returned from Europe, where he studied classical music and composition. Campos Parsi composed scores for six films: Modesta (1955), El secreto (1957), El cacique (1957), El yugo (1959), La noche de don Manuel (1963) and Geña la de Blas (1964).
In Modesta, Campos Parsi experimented in using jíbaro music in a score of traditional structure. There is a sequence in the film showing how a chisme, or bit of gossip, used by Modesta against her husband, sped from person to person; and this was accompanied by a melody that, with hints of the seis chorreao, comments ingeniously on the bochinche, gossip, the fastest means of communication in our culture.
Other Composers: J.R. Ramírez, Peña, Aponte Ledée, and L.A. Ramírez From the beginning of the Visual Education Division, José Raúl Ramírez worked as an assistant to Delano in musical matters, doing administrative work (musical contracts, coordinating rehearsals) as well as handling creative issues. In fact, Ramírez was the only person in the musical area who would remain with DIVEDCO for more than twenty years.
Ramírez composed music for four pictures: La voz del pueblo (1948), Las manos del hombre (1952), Ignacio (1956, in collaboration with Rafael Umpierre) and La casa de un amigo (1963). But the most interesting facet of his work behind the microphone was experimentation in electronic music, with Delano and sound engineer Héctor Moll, during the first few years of DIVEDCO. The presence of electronic music is evident in Juan Sin Seso (1957), a film by Luis Maisonet, the most experimental work by DIVEDCO, which warned the public of the alienating effects of publicity and the mass media.
By the 1960`s, when DIVEDCO changed the style of its films to make them more aesthetic than educational, other composers added to the musical heritage of the agency, and among these the work of Lito Peña stands out. Though he only composed for two films – El resplandor (1961) and La guardarraya (1964) – Peña made an impact with the dramatic character of his scores, which were based more on popular than on classical music. El resplandor was impressive for the initial fanfare and the intelligent use of African percussion, which made this drama on slavery powerful.
We will end this account with two talents of quite different temperaments: Rafael Aponte Ledée, a pioneer of avant guarde music in Puerto Rico, who composed the score for the documentary on patients of the Instituto Psicopedagógico (Psycho-Pedagogical Institute), La ronda incompleta (1966), and Luis Antonio Ramírez, who was responsible for the poetic sound track of the film, La buena herencia (1967), by Amílcar Tirado.
Fulfilling its purpose of fostering Puerto Rican values, DIVEDCO produced films that document our musical history, even on occasion with the participation of stars of Puerto Rican music.
Trulla (1951), directed by Delano, was to be the first DIVEDCO film to treat música campesina, music from rural Puerto Rico. This short film had an exceptional cast, at the height of their powers: Chuíto el de Bayamón, la Calandria, Ramito, Maso Rivera, Don Felo and Toribio “el Rey del Güícharo.”
Following the pattern of Trulla, a number of musical shorts – almost all on the Christmas season – depict for posterity aspects of Puerto Rico’s música de tierra adentro, mountain country music, and popular music.These productions stand out: Parranda campesina (1958), with Gala Hernández y su grupo and Juaniquillo, “el Cantor del Campo y del Pueblo”; Romance musical (1958), which illustrates the tradition of the controversia musical, a singing duel between suitors, who crooned boleros like “Obsesión” and “Silencio,” in the presence of their would-be bride; Cantares de Navidad (1965), which presents the Leocadio Vizcarrondo group; and Mensaje de Navidad (1971), with the Tuna Estudiantina de Cayey.
One of the DIVEDCO films that people remember best depicts the history and evolution of another genre of popular music, this from the coasts and of African origin. In La plena (1957), Amílcar Tirado filmed sequences of interpreters of those rhythms in Ponce and in the dances of the coastal areas, and he presented the fusion of popular and refined genres in presentations by Ballets de San Juan of the ballet-plena by Amaury Veray, Cuando las mujeres.
Refined music was also disseminated by DIVEDCO. La guitarra (1951) presented the Spanish classical guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza, playing classical pieces such as “Preludio ensueño,” by Francisco Tárraga, while in Danzas puertorriqueñas (1956), José Raúl Ramírez explained the way an electrical organ works and – more than forty years before he recorded his work – played a selection of danzas on the organ, including “Felices días” by Morel Campos and “Tus caricias” by José Enrique Pedreira.
Amaury Veray made use of his work as a researcher and historian of Puerto Rican music in writing the score for the short film, Elisa Tavárez (1956), which shows the distinguished concert pianist together with his students.
Augusto Rodríguez participated as the arranger and directed the University of Puerto Rico Choir on the sound track of two films by Amílcar Tirado. Santero (1956) features an impressive interpretation by the choir of sacred pieces such as “Adoramus te Christi,” “Agnus Dei” and “Contigo Santa María,” and El contemplado (1958) presents general shots of the central mountain range with a choral version of “Los carreteros,” by Rafael Hernández.
Delano, Veray and Campos Parsi met their responsibilities as incidental composers at the same time that they polished their talents and concerns, preparing themselves for chamber music and ballet, with which they would create a classic Puerto Rican repertoire with its own form, content, and style. Pieces like El Sabio Doctor Mambrú, by Delano, La Encantada, by Veray and Juan Bobo y las fiestas, by Campos Parsi, have their roots in the scores and arrangements composed and interpreted for the films of DIVEDCO.
Author: Francisco González Miranda
Published: September 12, 2014.
This post is also available in: Español