San Miguel de Allende


May 25, 2019

Ria has been wanting me to write a post for a while now, but all the things she posts are what I want to say as well.  I finally came up with an idea of a post on my own.  I’m calling it “The Soundtrack of San Miguel.”  Meaning all the pleasing or not so pleasing sounds I hear in San Miguel on a daily basis along with its great live music scene.

I will start by describing the many sounds I hear living in the San Antonio Neighborhood where we live today.

First of all, I wake up to a soothing sound of water trickling from our garden fountain, hooting doves from the tree outside our large bedroom window/terrace, a dog bark here and there, maybe some light construction a couple of doors down. The garbage truck guy bangs the cowbell ahead of the garbage truck to let neighbors know that it is coming.  Thankfully, we don’t have to rush outside our house with our garbage to stand in a line behind the truck to throw the garbage into.  Our housekeeper does that.  We hear the high-pitched screeching whistleblowing of the knife sharpener guy as he meanders down our block and the fun music blasting from the propane gas truck that rolls by. Our corner tienda plays uplifting ranchero music. The portable water guy bangs on our gate shouting “agua, agua” with 40lb jugs on his shoulders.  He brings in a couple of these jugs into our house every other week; we pay him 36 pesos each along with a 5 peso per jug tip.  Once in a while, the corn-selling guy screams out a stretched-sounding word “eeeeelooooteeee” (elote, meaning corn on the cob for sale).  So many different bird sounds everywhere (loud and soft).

Almost every day there is some kind of celebration with sounds of fireworks, cannons, and rockets shooting into the air; whether it be some kind of Saint day, other religious holidays, wedding celebrations (San Miguel is the wedding capital of Mexico), festival or government holiday, these sounds go on sometimes into the late hours of the night and wee hours of the morning.  The church bells almost never strike on the hour or half-hour.  I can never figure this out. There are over 42 churches within San Miguel’s city limits so we hear church bells all the time.

I’m sure this sounds like an overwhelming cacophony of sounds to you all but we are growing used to it and it has become pleasant “white noise” to us.  Given all these noises, we actually sleep better here in San Miguel than we did living in Oakland.

On the flip side of the everyday sounds we hear in SMA are the amazing opportunities to hear live music.  With my small music background, I seek out information about any type of musical event.  San Miguel has the gamete of world-class music events from Folkloric to Opera to Jazz to Rock and Roll. Tickets are reasonably priced and we are able to afford all events; whereas, in Oakland, we could only afford to go to a world-class concert/music event maybe once a year.

Here, for example, we actually went to 5 events in one week.  It was the SMA International Jazz Festival with performers from all around the world and throughout Mexico.  Some of the events are held at various venues throughout San Miguel; whether it be at the Angela Peralta Theater, Bellas Artes auditorium, under trees in a tucked-away courtyard, at the Santa Ana auditorium, and at the many independent box theaters all around San Miguel. Some of the world-class vocal artists we’ve heard are Karen Allyson, Lady Zen, and Gil Gutierez

In order to bring more varied music to the public, there was an outstanding free performance of Mozart’s Requiem with full orchestra and world-class opera singers in the main church (Parroquia) which was standing room only.  What a treat that was! How fitting for Day of the Dead celebrations.   Throughout the year there are free musical performances scattered around the city.

We also love many of the restaurants we go to that have live music while eating.  We love the outside courtyard of Oso Azul where we listen to a woman who plays soft Mexican classic ballads almost every day for breakfast.  She’s very expressive and has an amazing voice.  We also love going to the courtyard at the Santa Ana Cafe with its adjacent library.  Music students generally perform soft music while we read our kindles and have a coffee or tea. Maria Xoconostle courtyard restaurant and Sacrestia cafe are also great places to hear morning music.  We generally tip them 10-30 pesos ($ .51 -1.50) depending on how good they are.

The San Miguel Chamber Music Festival (Festival de Musica de Camara de San Miguel de Allende) comes once a year and has been going strong for 40 years.  This past August we saw a guest from Israel give masterclasses to Mexican students who study and practice the cello.  These students were in several competitions held all over Mexico then the finalists come to San Miguel and perform some amazing music.  These masterclasses gave me a new appreciation of the complexities of playing the cello.  Such an expressive instrument and always wanted to learn how to play one.  Maybe I will someday much to the chagrin of Ria.

Mariachis can be heard daily throughout the plazas.  They vary in quality, but most are well worth listening to.  Mariachis are roving bands of musicians with roots that began in the state of Jalisco and are now popular all over the world. They are always sharply dressed in the typical Mariachi style with boots, braided pants, and coats along with large sombreros.  The typical instruments in a Mariachi band are the trumpet, guitar, violin, Viahuela which is a stringed guitar of the Spanish masters of the sixteenth century that became popular when the guitar became more and more known towards the end of that century, Guitarrón Mexicano which is a large rounded guitar that gives off a lower registered base sound and once in a while a harp.  We love seeing these groups at night around the Jardin when all the loving young couples come out to be serenaded.

Music with light shows and fireworks.  Typically, these shows are during the Alborada, Independence Day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and of course depending on what you can afford, wedding celebrations which we see frequently. (see separate posts)

Video mapping is beginning to become popular around the world, especially historic world heritage sites such as San Miguel where they map videos over a historic/famous building.  During these public holidays, fireworks aligned with music create a very moving experience along with Mexican pride which is so beautiful to see.

San Miguel continues to delight us with all of its culture and music offerings and as we enter our second year here we look forward to exploring more musical events and of which there will be plenty.  Stay tuned.

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  • Reply David Owens May 26, 2019 at 1:55 am

    Great job on the TSSM post Glen…I really enjoyed…when Kathy and I get there in September, maybe we can check out a musical venue with you and Ria…just finished reading your post in Lake Como, Italia.

    David O

    • Reply ourprimeoflife May 26, 2019 at 11:07 am

      Hi David, we are really looking forward to you and Kathy getting here!! You will be nice additions to our band of merry expats!!

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