Art is such an extensive world, so wide that the people who are part of it are equally varied. In that order of ideas, some people dedicate themselves to art but who, in addition to developing their artistic expressions, immerse themselves in their studies. That is how I arrived at my conversation with Pedro Nebreda.
The first part of our conversation was simple, I wanted to know who was this man with whom I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking.
Talking with Pedro Nebreda I discovered that he was born in Burgos, Spain. He spent his childhood and part of his youth there.
At one point, his family moved to Madrid, where I was able to study at the Conservatorio Superior which was then in Opera.
He combined his studies at the Conservatory with his university studies at the Faculty of Psychology in Somosaguas, which was not an easy task. It was a very enriching stage.
From a very young age he dreamed of being a concert organist, he loves the pipe organs of the great temples. All over Spain, there are beautiful instruments, sometimes abandoned, which show that there was a historical era in which good music was made close to the people.
He experienced the world of music in his family since he was a child. His paternal grandfather was a lover of choral singing and he and a group of friends founded the Orfeón Burgalés, which had ceased its activity because of the civil war.
His mother, like many mothers of that generation, always had singing in her daily life, folk songs and especially zarzuela, were part of her daily routine.
Then I moved on to education and simultaneously to orchestral and instrumental conducting, and when I saw in myself and my social circle the benefits of music, I do my best to spread them.-
On the other hand, Burgos was and is a city with a great choral tradition, with many groups and as I had a nice voice and a good ear I was part of a children’s choir. That provided a very rewarding experience, so I enjoyed singing both in liturgical celebrations and in the different concerts we gave.
Laura Viera A.: Do you remember your first experiences with the organ when you were a child?
Pedro Nebreda: Of course I do. I was eight years old when I sat at the keyboard of a pipe organ in the church of La Merced and enjoyed its sounds. The most positive thing about it was the musical education I received at an early age in the language of music and the knowledge of the wide choral vocal repertoire. Those were years where I lived the music live, in the experience itself. The importance of these experiences in children’s lives cannot be overemphasized.
I was struck by his humility. He made it clear to me that whenever there is a live performance there is a moment when you have to decide to keep going or throw in the towel, it’s something that happens to all performers and directors. The important thing is to channel that negative energy and transform it into a creative and positive impulse.
Laura Viera A.: So, after so many years, do you get nervous? How do you handle nerves?
Pedro Nebreda: When the first bar of the piece sounds, it sublimates and becomes energy and concentration, but the bad time is there. It doesn’t matter how much experience or how many concerts you have given. Sometimes it can even paralyze a singer or performer. I have had to deal with more than one with stage fright, who was about to ruin his career because of it. Some techniques help to overcome it, but it doesn’t go away.
In the end, a good concert is so gratifying that all the previous efforts of arranging scores, hours of rehearsals, negotiations, etc… are enormously compensating for what it has cost you to carry it out.
The interpretation of a work is a satisfaction for the music itself, usually chosen by me, and also for the effect you see in others.
Pedro assures me that almost nothing has been easy. I mean, everything is achieved with the effort of study and the dedication of hours and hours to the preparation of the work, rehearsals, travels, etc. However, the most gratifying thing is that I have found people who have always supported and understood me, both in my family and in the groups I have directed, with whom I have worked very comfortably.
Laura Viera A.: Have you experienced magical moments on stage?
Pedro Nebreda: Yes. A few days ago I conducted an oratorio by Hadyn in a theater in Madrid and I could see to what extent both the choristers, the orchestra, and the audience were in a kind of ecstasy that was breathed in the atmosphere during the performance. It is something that is perceived and that becomes noticeable in the final applause, then you forget all the time I have spent in its preparation and you consider it well spent. That emotion is what live music is all about as a unique experience.
Throughout his career, he has had great achievements in the musical and professional field as a teacher and he has always had the feeling of not having been able to have his own small or large orchestral group.
By bringing the youth world closer to cultured music, children and teenagers would see that it is not so difficult to play music at school, in the family, with friends.
Pedro told me that sadly in Spain there is no care for the instrumental practice and learning of musical instruments, especially string instruments. In the Levant, there is a great tradition of wind instruments that start from a very young age and that is very satisfactory. Now there are more possibilities for children to be part of vocal ensembles due to the number of music schools that are being formed and even some schools have raised the flag of choral practice in their classrooms.
Laura Viera A.: In that order of ideas, how have you worked to change that situation?
Pedro Nebreda: I was part of the second promotion of music teachers in Secondary School when this subject did not exist in the curriculum, and the rest of the teaching staff looked at it with ignorance and even disdain. But when my students gave a simple concert in the center, they changed their opinions and began to consider “How I had done it”, they realized what music brought to adolescents.
In his doctoral thesis “Musical Intelligence” he demonstrated the potential that music has in human evolutionary development. Getting this message to teachers is still a pending achievement that I try to keep in mind in my lectures and courses to teachers.
The world of choirs
For me, the first thing was to understand what choral singing was. Well then. In every era, different choral genres have appeared.
In the Renaissance, new forms of choral singing appeared, exchanging melodic themes with profane singing.
French-Flemish masters such as Guillaume Dufay, Antoine Brumel, Roland de Lassus, and Josquin des Près stand out, members of a school that goes from Chartres to the Netherlands, authors of choral works with a very dense counterpoint.
At the same time, the French Clément Janequin composed famous cappella choral works such as La Bataille and Le chant des Bordeaux, which are precursors of the descriptive music of late Romanticism.
The Italians also have many musicians in that period, of which Palestrina and the works of the first period (Mantuan) of Claudio Monteverdi, written with Renaissance techniques, stand out.
The Spanish also have brilliant composers, with Cristóbal de Morales, Juan del Encina, and above all Tomás Luis de Victoria, whose works are considered equal, if not superior, to those of Palestrina.
If we talk about music, the words: choir, choral and polyphonic often appear in everyday vocabulary. Let’s start by establishing that singing is the basic principle of music and the voice, is the natural element that people possess to make music.
In the historical study of music, especially in the West, we know that from the first Christians who intoned their prayers, later in the Middle Ages Gregorian chant (monodic chant) and the Renaissance the evolution of chant to polyphony, singing has been the social, human and cultural manifestation that people have had to express themselves.
Throughout the centuries, musically speaking, the weight that the human voice has had in the musical manifestation has been very important. Although the development of musical instruments has been remarkable, the basis of the development of Western music has been in singing.
We are in the 21st century and those of us in music defend singing as the fundamental basis of its development. Singing as a method of musical learning is being promoted more and more every day. Sometimes we hear people who sing, that they do it in a choir, others say they do it in a choir and others in a polyphonic choir and we do not know the difference between all of them.
AI’s own advances are enabling compositions even in a particular style. If there is training, these tools will be magnificent. Otherwise they will be no more than little games.
To talk about choir, choral or polyphonic is practically to talk about the same thing. In all these groups, we sing in several voices, that is, we sing polyphonically. But there are differences.
Choir: In singing, a group of people who perform a piece of vocal music in a coordinated manner is called choir, choral or vocal group. It is the collective interpretative medium of sung works or works that require the intervention of the voice.
Choral: The term choral was originally used to designate the monodic chants that took place in the liturgy of the Western Church, such as Gregorian chant.
Laura Viera A.: What is the best and the worst thing about choirs?
Pedro Nebreda: Singing in a choir is one of the most rewarding activities one can do as long as one has a minimum musical talent, which does not include specific musical knowledge. The coexistence, making music together, the aesthetic satisfaction that the musical work itself generates in its interpretation, the applause of the audience, the cultivation of the voice, the development of concentration, etc. are incentives that multiple studies have shown that people who perform them are happier and feel better affectively and intellectually. My long experience of conducting choirs has corroborated me that it creates an addition that cannot be dispensed with once it is experienced. That is why it is good to start these healthy habits from childhood. The inconveniences that sometimes arise from living together in a group, as in all human activity, are so small that they are not even worth considering. Choir, small group, instrumental group, are comparable activities.
Pedro assured me that many great musical artists began their motivation for musical art in this way.
All good music is a source of inspiration
As he made it clear to me, all good music is a source of inspiration. However, the “impromptu” that we carry in our experience makes us more sensitive to one or the other. Even on a technical level, Renaissance music has a lot to teach us in composition. In fact the harmony treatises currently studied in conservatories come from this period.
I was delighted to learn that his sources of inspiration were initially born in Spanish Renaissance and Baroque music. As a child he loved the works of Tomás L. de Victoria and P. Soler that we played in choir and keyboard classes, and later I evolved towards the classicism of Mozart, and some choral works by Beethoven.
There should be more means for our teenagers to get together in a place and spend hours playing music. Some municipalities are already doing this in their social policies, and it is a good thing.
The fact of studying piano gave him a wide range of knowledge of authors from all the historical stages of music, but the spirit of the renaissance, with the sobriety and beauty of its harmonies still reaches him deeply, as well as the Italian baroque music, with that expressiveness and rhythm so marked.
Laura Viera A.:What is the art world like in your native country?
Pedro Nebreda: In Spain the world of musical art has improved spectacularly in the last fifteen years. Auditoriums have been built, public orchestras have been created and music schools supported by local administrations have multiplied. However, there is still a lack of good performers and the level of choirs in general is quite low, except in regions such as the north, where there is more choral tradition. But we must continue with the implementation of a good musical education from childhood, that is the key, otherwise the orchestras will be formed by foreign musicians, which is partly what is happening now, and they will not be inserted into the social fabric, which is where they have to be born, to stop being just a show.
Laura Viera A.: You have been in music for decades, it is a very difficult, competitive, intense world… What do you love about it?
Pedro Nebreda: In music everything is passion when you dedicate yourself to it, but the most difficult thing for a musician is the management of his own activity. We tend to delegate it to entities that help us, not always and sometimes at a high cost, and that means that you can experience the works without any other worries than the music itself. He who is not passionate is not good for music, as Beethoven said “Without passion there is no music”.
Musical pedagogy and music therapy
Being a lover of music, instruments, choirs, melodies and baroque compositions was not enough. Pedro always had a need to know a little more. To investigate more.
Then, we must take into account that given the importance given to education at the beginning of the 20th century, several methods were developed that incorporated music into the school and originated a pedagogical current that provided teachers with training and educational ideas from the basis of primary and infant school. As a result, specialists have been trained in each of them, making musical learning more motivating and satisfactory, without the harshness it had years ago, which made many young people consider it boring and unattractive.
Laura Viera A.: Why did you decide that music pedagogy and music therapy were important?
Pedro Nebreda: Pedagogy is the art of teaching, which applied to music, is a whole specialty. As I have mentioned, there are numerous methods that have worked in this field and in my work as a teacher I was always motivated to reach adolescents, above all, making this subject attractive to them, seeing the possibilities of personal and social enrichment that there were in music. I discovered music therapy when I saw the benefits of music in all stages of development, especially in mental pathologies. My psychology studies helped me a lot to unite the two subjects, music and music therapy, because I discovered that there is no stage of life in which music is not present, in the broad sense, sound.
In the art of music, women bring a great sensitivity.
Laura Viera A.: How has music pedagogy influenced your career?
Pedro Nebreda: I have been fortunate to have had exceptional music teachers, both in Burgos and later at the conservatory in Madrid, who knew how to motivate learning, when music teaching methods such as Orff, Kodaly, Suzuki, etc., were not yet known in Spain, but they had an irreplaceable didactic intuition, which is not given by academic training.
Laura Viera A.: I am going to give you words, tell me what you think of them: education, woman, music, art.
Pedro Nebreda: Of course… Education is what makes us human, sociable and sensitive to our fellow men. Without it, understood as a process not only of learning, but also of internalization of values, society would be impossible. There is no human development without it, and therefore no musical development either.
Women: the human incarnation of femininity makes possible the positive evolution of our species, without them the survival of individuals and human societies would not be possible. The woman is not the complement of the man, as it has sometimes been suggested, but in her physical and psychological way of being she possesses her own distinct characteristics that she should not renounce, but on the contrary, develop them to achieve her fullness.
Music is one of the Arts, but as such it involves a multitude of cultural processes: expression of feelings, thoughts, stories, tales; it enhances language acquisition, enables individual and collective communication, dynamizes the catharsis of tensions through dance and voice, favors imagination, etc. Its importance means that its learning should be promoted from childhood, as I mentioned before. So much so that, as Gadner states in his theory of Multiple Intelligences, Musical Intelligence is comparable to mathematical or verbal intelligence, to name a few.
Art: everything that is related to beauty is part of art. We speak thus of the art of weaving, of making handicrafts, etc. Whoever is an artist, and we all have an artist inside us, expresses it in his activity. Then there are Arts with a capital letter, because they have developed to a higher level due to the dedication of many artists throughout history. Music occupies a preferential place in that position. In Western education much importance has been given to logic and by derivation to technology, and now it is being discovered that the artistic facet is indispensable to develop integral and, above all, happy people.
Now, it is our turn to enter another space within music itself. That of music therapy. I think it is necessary to establish that it refers to the use of music and/or its elements (sound, rhythm, melody, harmony) by a qualified music therapist with a patient or group.
The fundamental idea is to create a process to facilitate, promote communication, relationships, learning, movement, expression, organization and other relevant therapeutic goals, in order to meet physical, emotional, mental, social and cognitive needs.
Its purpose is to develop potentialities and/or restore the individual’s functions in such a way that he/she can achieve a better intra and/or interpersonal integration and consequently a better quality of life through prevention, rehabilitation and treatment.
Laura Viera A.: What don’t people know about music therapy?
Pedro Nebreda: Almost everything, although in practice, in one way or another we all use music as therapy in our daily lives. It is enough to observe the feelings that emerge in any concert, whatever type of music it is, to see what people release in them. In general it is a very unknown area in spite of having an enormous palliative and healing potential.
There is a whole field that needed to be explored and put into practice.
Laura Viera A.: How could we benefit from music therapy?
Pedro Nebreda: It is still underused. For example, in the field of mental health, especially in cases of depression and anxiety. On several occasions I had the opportunity to give talks to medical teams from different areas about the role that music can play in hospitals and in the treatment of mental pathologies. Many of them told me that the experiences that I proposed to them gave them very good results with the patients.
Laura Viera A.: But, have changes been seen?
Pedro Nebreda: The universities do not provide serious academic training in this respect, because the profile to be demanded would be that of musician and psychologist, which is not very common, but centers are appearing in our country where it is possible to obtain the degree of music therapist, a possibility that did not exist a few years ago. We are making some progress. The interesting thing is that these professionals could work in hospitals, health centers, children’s centers, centers for the physically and mentally handicapped, retirement centers, etc. The possibilities are many.
Having encountered many affective and mental deficiencies of many children and adults in therapy groups, Pedro decided to learn about the use of music in therapies and encounters.
He was fortunate to see firsthand the many applications music has to offer. Rhythm helps to stabilize imbalances, provide energy in depressions, enable affective triggers through dance and melody.
He realized the benefits of sound therapy through singing, the voice itself, which I have been able to prove in adults and in the problems of dyslalia and even affective deafness in children and adolescents. There would be much to write about all these therapeutic possibilities of music.
Finished for the moment
Shortly after concluding our conversation it became clear to me the power that exists in music, I was not indifferent to it but I had not realized its reach.
Now I know that although music by itself can heal. It is obvious that there are no general musical recipes to feel better. Nor can the same treatment be used and each approach is different.
Pedro is a man faithful to art, to music. His need has never been to be recognized. His drive has always been music and his dedication to teaching. His professional experience is divided between his dedication to teaching music to both teenagers and teachers, and his experience in choral conducting.