From native ritual to symphonic score
Gary Robert Buchanan conducts the Foundation Orchestra’s fall multicultural concert
Somewhere deep in the Amazon, descendents of the Chachapoyas tribe of Peru still perform music for ancient sun dance rituals. Their breath travels through bamboo pan pipes to create melodies curious enough to confound even the ears of a seasoned musicologist.
“People think maybe it’s barbaric or savage,” says Gary Robert Buchanan. “But as a musicologist, I can assure you, it’s not. It’s incredibly complex.”
So complex that Buchanan, who traveled to the village of Levanto in 1989 with the Reno-based Andean Explorers Foundation and Ocean Sailing Club, was finally able fully to decipher the piece’s pattern 10 years after first hearing and recording it. Some of the musical phrases, he notes, are extremely rare.
A classically trained composer and musicologist who holds a doctorate in musical arts, Buchanan founded the AEF’s Foundation Orchestra Association in 1988, but first began his study of the music of indigenous cultures during a lectureship appointment in Australia in the 1970s. Then, after meeting Gene Savoy, founder of the AEF, Buchanan embarked on world travels with the foundation.
“We have discovered well over 40 cities in the Amazon cities of Peru. It’s always incredible to find those cities, see these buildings, thousands of years old, that nobody [in the West] has seen before. When you find people who can do Chachapoyas [music and dance], it’s like finding an ancient city. The [Chachapoyas] people are not here any more, so when you find remnants of their culture …”
Sitting outside Java Jungle on a bright fall morning, Buchanan lights a cigarette and reclines in his chair. His silver hair is slicked back, his moustache neatly groomed. He wears a dark blue pinstripe suit and an ocean-blue tie.
Over 10 years after Buchanan recorded the Chachapoyas song, Sun Dance will be performed as part of the Foundation Orchestra’s second annual fall concert Oct. 14, in addition to a colonial-era Peruvian piece titled Festival Dance, two Native American selections and a number of “wild west” pieces, including music from the scores of High Noon, The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The concert, Magnificent Music: Seven Selections from the American West and Native America, includes everything from tunes inspired by cowgirl poet Sue Wallis to traditional Navajo songs. Last spring’s concert included Japanese, Russian, Israeli and Chinese arrangements. Its performers range from veteran musicians to 13-year-olds.
“We believe that that’s the way to perform multicultural music, with an orchestra,” he says. “We want everyone to experience the cultures of everyone, and the orchestra is the ideal vehicle. [Some] say, Oh, I don’t like that symphonic stuff, but about three-fourths of all music that people hear on TV and in film is orchestral. It doesn’t have to be Beethoven or Bach or Brahms.”
But it should be enlightening, Buchanan believes. Hearing music from cultures throughout the world, Buchanan says, fosters an acceptance of those who have different religious and cultural practices than we.
“It increases our consciousness and our capacity for understanding one another,” he says. “It promotes peace.”
“Don’t get me started politically," he says, laughing.