Serenata a Martina: a Musical Tribute

FOR MANY YEARS, I’ve fantasized about commissioning a piece of classical music to honor my mother.

My mother was never exposed to classical music, except perhaps for the four times a year she would go listen to me play in concert with my high school band. For all I know, she may have hated it, but I doubt it.

She loved music and there was nothing she loved more than waking up before dawn on Mothers Day to the sound of a conjunto serenading either her or other mothers in the neighborhood. So I came up with the idea of a piece called “Serenata a Martina.”


The problem was finding a suitable composer who would listen to what I wanted. Up until a year ago, I knew only one composer, but he is a big-time New York City composer and I never was able to garner the courage to approach him about this project. About a year ago, though, I met a young Colombian composer who lives in Houston, Christian Restropo, who got his PhD. from the University of Houston. I met him through his wife, a classmate in my French class.

The more I got to know him and the more I listened to his music and listened to him talking about music, they more I became convinced that he would be the right person. So late last year I made my pitch and his response was an enthusiastic yes.

I’m glad I came up with the courage to approach him. Tonight I listened to several versions of what he’s composed to date, about two thirds of the agreed-upon five minutes of music. Our agreement was that if I did not like what I heard tonight, we would call the whole thing off. But if I liked it, I would pay him another portion of his commission and he would continue with the goal of having a finished piece by the end of September.

I gave him a check.

I WISH I knew how to write about music so I could describe to you what nearly brought tears to my eyes as I listened. It was not exactly what I envisioned – but it was better.

I had given him a bunch of Mexican and Tejano music to listen to for inspiration but I told him I didn’t necessarily want it to sound like that music, I just wanted it to evoke it. I think it does.

I also gave him photos of my mother and almost everything I have ever written about her. I think that had more influence on the piece than the music I had him listen to. So much so that he decided to incorporate vocal music (a few seconds of a solo hum, because my mother was a hummer, as I’ve written) and the spoken word, quoting lines from Mother’s Day blog post of two years ago, “This is What She Did, This is What My Mother Did.”

The humming and the quotes are in the last part of the piece, which he hasn’t written yet, so I don’t know how it will sound, but judging by what I’ve heard and by how he’s described it, it’s going to be breathtaking.

Needless to say, I am pleased as ponche. (He’s even subtly incorporated a couple of very short but very recognizable passages from my favorite symphony by my favorite composer! If you read my blog post, you’ll know which composer I’m talking about.)

The challenge now is where and how this piece will be performed for the first time. We haven’t decided yet whether it will be a composition for strings, for brass, or for a full orchestra. He is composing all three versions.

We are thinking of shooting for next Mothers Day, an event combining the music and some of my poetry, and perhaps other tributes to mothers (Maybe a conjunto singing Mothers Day songs). Whatever its final form and wherever it’s performed, I want all of it to be recorded so that my older siblings, who live far away and can’t travel anymore, can enjoy it also.

IT’S ALL GOING to cost money of course. Maybe I’ll take the go-fund-me route or maybe I’ll blow all my retirement funds and pay for it myself. One way or another, this beautiful piece will have an audience.




About juanzqui7

Former Texas reporter, columnist and editorial writer.
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3 Responses to Serenata a Martina: a Musical Tribute

  1. Ann Chapman says:

    So loving. So YOU. 🙂

  2. Great post! Great composer!

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