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'Song of Pueblo' gets full orchestra premiere

The historical musical, which has been performed by a smaller band for 15 years, has partnered with the CU Boulder Chamber Orchestra for the first time.
CU Boulder orchestra rehearsing Song of Pueblo
Posted at 5:00 PM, Oct 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-20 20:34:14-04

BOULDER, Colo. — When the University of Colorado Boulder orchestra plays “Song of Pueblo," the music teaches history, and helps make history.

In two concerts this month, the orchestra will perform the historical musical, which shares 300 years of stories from the southern Colorado city.

“The stories, they’re so incredible,” said Deborah Espinosa, who helped create the “Song of Pueblo” more than 15 years ago, alongside her husband, Juan, and acclaimed Chicano actor and musician, Daniel Valdez.

Since the show premiered in 2008, the original band, El Pueblo Ensemble, has continued performing the songs. Their band will accompany the CU Boulder orchestra in the new iteration of the show.

El Pueblo Ensemble has performed Song of Pueblo since its premiere in 2008.

“One of the dreams was that it'd be played with an orchestra someday. And that's come to fruition,” Espinosa said.

She believes the staying power of the “Song of Pueblo” is thanks to the quality of the music composed by Valdez.

Valdez said he was well-positioned to write those songs because of his love for history and previous experience writing an oratorio for Su Teatro about Denver's Auraria neighborhood.

"For me, it was somewhere between an opera and a theatrical musical,” Valdez said.

He wrote the songs to be accompanied by videos and photographs that illustrate the lyrics.

Now that the CU Boulder orchestra is developing the score for a full orchestra, Valdez said, “I'm totally amazed. I'm just blessed to see it happening.”

That excitement is shared by CU Boulder’s music students.

"Honestly, I've just been having a really good time. It's really interesting and fun music,” said Charlie Bistodeau, a violinist who is playing with the orchestra. "It just feels like you're transported back in time to that period."

Cu Boulder Chamber Orchestra rehearsal
CU Boulder music students play alongside El Pueblo Ensemble during a rehearsal of Song of Pueblo

With the upcoming concerts, CU Boulder, as a flagship university, hopes to share that experience with a broader audience of Coloradans. The concert is funded through the university’s Soundscapes of the People project, which seeks to study and preserve Pueblo’s music.

Austin Okigbo, who is leading the Soundscapes project as director of CU Boulder’s American Music Research Center, said the show is an opportunity to engage not only with the intellectual side of research, but to connect with community.

“You're not only learning Mozart and Beethoven, right? The old European men. But we also want to work on our children to learn the story of our communities, and to learn the music of our communities,” Okigbo said.

"The story of Pueblo is the story of Colorado. And the story of Colorado is the story of the United States,” Okigbo continued. “We hope that it will continue to be performed, whether by CU’s orchestra, or any other orchestra or any other group interested in the story that is being told.”

For Espinosa, this growth for “Song of Pueblo” is an opportunity to reach more Coloradans and dispel misconceptions about Pueblo.

"My personal vision was that "Song of Pueblo" would be seen and recognized for its educational value," she said. "That's my dream, that seems that's coming into reality."

Each year, "Song of Pueblo" is performed for every third grader in Pueblo City Schools District 60.

"Very quickly, we've been able to reach 5,000 kids," Espinosa said.

To hear the CU Boulder orchestra play the songs fills Espinosa with pride.

“It's a tremendous joy because the music is just uplifting and beautiful,” she said. “It means an awful lot to me.”

The orchestra will perform “Song of Pueblo” alongside El Pueblo Ensemble on Saturday, October 21, at the Pueblo Memorial Hall and Thursday, October 26, at the CU Boulder Grusin Music Hall.

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