Music in-between: the ‘orfeónico’ movement and the choral singing in Portugal (1880-2012)

Maria do Rosário Pestana


Ref: PTDC/EAT-MMU/117788/2010


0rfeonismo’, a particular type of social movement focused on private societies – ‘orfeões’ - and on choral singing, has played an important role in Portugal since the establishment of the Republic in 1910. The first ‘orfeão’ – the Orfeão Académico de Coimbra– was created during the secular celebrations of the national hero – the poet Luís de Camões -, in 1880. It was only after the advent of the Republic, however, that ‘orfeonismo’ shaped a social field, in Bourdieu’s use of term, with its own mechanisms of production and regulation, empowering emergent social classes through musical practice (Pestana 2008). After a period of imposed restrictions during the autocratic regime of the military dictatorship and the Estado Novo (1926-74), ‘orfeonismo’ resurged with the restoring of a democratic regime after the ‘April Revolution’, in 1974. During more than a century marked by important political and social transformations, the musical performance model endorsed by these private societies persisted, conveying a specific way of expressing ideals, transmitting values, ritualizing behaviours, and experiencing social roles (including gender roles) within the context of republican and secular ideals (Ibid.). ‘Orfeonismo’ involved thousands of individuals as members of institutionalized ‘orfeões’, private institutions that, in a number of cases, built their own headquarters. ‘Orfeões’ presented the binominal ideals of “Art” and “Progress” as their mottos, and promoted socially-responsible leisure, choral singing, poetry, reading, education, through the organization of courses, conferences, cultural and social events and performances. The study of the impact of choral practice in domains such as composition, ethnographic research, edition of scores and teaching manuals, and professionalization of choir conductors, is at the centre of this research. In spite of the musical and social significance of these societies in Portugal, only a few approaches have been made in recent years by members of this team (Artiaga 1999; Marinho 2009; Pestana 2008, 2011), reflecting the persistence of an essentialist paradigm that rejects cultural practices that lay between the cultural and artistic elite and ‘folk’ culture. In fact, choral singing in the ‘orfeonismo’ movement is ‘in between’ Western-art and popular music, written and oral, amateur and professional, traditional and progressive, urban and rural practices, and is dynamic and hybrid. This research will question the ways in which musical performance, in the ‘orfeonismo’ movement, constructed that ‘in-between’ space, underlying reasons and beneficiaries.

This research project, launched by an interdisciplinary team including research centres and researchers from the field of ethnomusicology, performance studies, musicology, sociology and cultural studies, as well as from the field of information technologies, aims to develop a systematic and critical approach to the role of musical practice and ideas such as ‘art’ and ‘culture’ in the context of ‘orfeonismo’. A number of selected ‘orfeões’ (during a preliminary research) have accepted to collaborate, granting access to their archives and supporting the lodging of BI. The complexity, in Edgar Morin’s use of this concept (2008), represented by that multidimensional, dynamic and contingent reality demands different approaches and methodologies, based not only on text production but also on experience and dialogic relations (Certeau 1988; Clifford 1988; Conquergood 2002; Cooley and Barz 2008; Turino 2008).

The main objectives of this project are:
1. To gather, in a data base, relevant data: (1.1) documentation collected in public and private archives and libraries (published and unpublished materials, such as correspondence, scores, sound and video recordings); (1.2) questionnaire addressed to extant Portuguese ‘orfeões’; (1.3) data gathered through fieldwork (notes, sound and video recordings, interviews);
2. To study systematically and critically the social field constructed by the ‘orfeonismo’ movement, with particular emphasis on individuals (conductors, composers, mentors), events (concerts, contests, meetings) and ‘orfeões’.
3. To develop cultural-analysis approaches to musical performance as text and context.
4. To study the ways in which music and art promote social construction, act on the redefinition of thought and on the experimentation and reformulation of values and social conventions;
5. To make accessible to the general public and researchers, through the Sinbad platform, the data base with the gathered documentation;
6. To prepare and edit two monographs including the compilation of ethnographies, story lives and critical studies and a DVD;
7. To publish papers in national and international scientific journals;
8. To discuss and divulgate the research outputs in international conferences, such as the 42st World Conference of the ICTM and Performa 2013;
9. To organize an international conference in 2013.

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