Musical reflection: Creative Fusion series offers songs of reflection around the events of 2020

After a year with so much distress, division, and disappointment, one event hopes to unite the people of Cleveland through a universal art form: music. 

The 2021 Cleveland Classical Guitar Society’s (CCGS)  Creative Fusion Series debuted yesterday, Tuesday, June 8 and showcases compositions three virtual artists-in-residence who will collaborate with Cleveland musicians and CCGS students. 

This year, CCGS and El Comité Mexicano de Cleveland have partnered to put together a show that they hope will increase cultural understanding and awareness of important social issues, as well as improve the lives of those affected by the events of the past year while showcasing vibrant cultures from around the world. 

The artists-in-residence are Anastasia Sonaranda, who challenges notions of Mexican life with works that highlight the diversity of styles and cultures of her native country; Hermelindo Ruiz, who explores Puerto Rican musical styles as he reflects on being a part of, yet separate from, mainstream American culture; and Thomas Flippin, who examines the dual viruses of COVID-19 and racism—calling attention to the pervasive ways they have infected American society.

With the collaboration of more than twenty professional artists, one hundred amateur and student musicians from Cleveland and Mexico, and a partnership with The Cleveland Orchestra, this series captures the spirit of the times.

Unlike other years, though, this year’s event is entirely online. Two songs will be released every week for four weeks on both the CCGS website and YouTube channel. The first video, Sonaranda’s “Son de la Negra,” went live yesterday. Her arrangement for voices, guitar quartet, vihuela, and guitarron is representative of a “son jalisciense” work. In “Son de la Negra,” the narrator sings of a dark-skinned beauty he wants to marry.

CCGS director Jessica Peek Sherwood says going online is a positive move—as it allowed these artists to collaborate with musicians from outside of Cleveland. 

“It’s interesting, when things went virtual,” Sherwood says. “It really opened up the possibility to include so many people and people from around the world.”

For instance, Sherwood says one of Sonaranda’s pieces, “La Llorona,” which features poetry in the indigenous language of the Zapotec living in southwestern-central highlands of Mexico, brings together more than 100 amateur and student musicians from Cleveland and Mexico, with some students being as young as six years old.

Another piece, Flippin’s “Dark Winter in a Lost Year,” reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic, the death of George Floyd, and concludes with sounds from the January 6 Capitol riot. 

Flippin says he failed to find much uplift in putting this piece together—feeling much depression and grief in his research of people affected by COVID-19 and the events on January 6.

“It was very, very draining,” he says. “It was really sad, and it brought me to some pretty dark places.” 

Flippin also composed “The Covenant: Passacaglia for Minneapolis,” which reflects upon the death of George Floyd through the story of a World War I veteran named Arthur Lee who, as a Black man, was threatened by a mob of 4,000 people who would assemble outside his house in the summer of 1931.

In addition to “Son de la Negra” and “La Llorona,” Sonoranda composed two other works for this series, including “Cuyahoga Weeping” and “El Cascabel.”

Ruiz’s three pieces include “Ojos de Ensueño,” which translates to “Dreamy Eyes;” “To Soar Beyond,” reflecting the composer’s hope for music to bring solace in difficult times; and “Music for Interaction,” a nontraditional work about the composer’s experience as a Puerto Rican living separate from mainstream American culture.

Sherwood says she can’t wait for the public to see what these artists have to offer and has particularly enjoyed her time getting to know everyone behind this project.

“I would say that my favorite component has been forging new connections between artists from Cleveland and beyond,” she says.

The artists in this year’s Creative Fusion Series say they hope to unite their audiences through music and our common bonds as humans.

“Through listening to these pieces, I hope people can see the humanity in one another,” Flippin says.

Read more articles by Danny Fogarty.

Danny Fogarty is a journalism major at The Ohio State University. As a journalist, he loves the opportunities to meet a variety of different people. He especially likes that any story can captivate the audience, no matter the scale. He has worked with his college newspaper at Ohio State, "The Lantern," and also works for 270 Gridiron sports league in central Ohio. With Freshwater, Danny hopes to meet many new people and bring life to all the amazing stories throughout Cleveland.