Cristina Pato on 'Latina,' Yo-Yo Ma & Saving Classical Music

Cristina Pato
Latin Post

When people think of bagpipers, Scotland enters the consciousness. But don't say that to Cristina Pato, a Galician bagpiper who also has careers as a pianist and composer.

For Pato, the bagpipes are her passion, and she is set to release a new album entitled "Latina," which she noted is an exploratory journey of what it means to be Latino across numerous cultures.

Pato became a star in her home country before moving to the U.S. to obtain her doctorate. She has had the pleasure of performing alongside a plethora of major artists, including Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

Her ensemble the Migration Band is slated to perform in New York on Sunday, and Pato recently spoke with Latin Post about her new album, her multiple careers and how she believes classical music can be saved.  

David Salazar: Let's start off by talking a bit about your album "Latina" and your inspirations?

Cristina Pato: For me it was a way to try and find a meaning for the word "Latina." I am from Galicia in Spain, and when I am there, they call me Galician. When I tour Europe, I am called a Spaniard. Ever since I moved to the U.S., the word Latina has been used to define me. So I wanted to explore the roots of the word through music. This comes from a mixture of working with my band for the last four years and the curiosity of finding the connections with the country of the origin of the word, Italy.

For me this is also a way to explore different ways of understanding music. My father was an accordion player. He was from Galicia but immigrated to Venezuela in the 60s. His way of playing Galician music with Venezuelan roots really showed me how beautiful it is when you try to find the positives of immigrations. In that sense, the album is a journey through all these countries using rhythm that connects all the kinds of music.

If you can define us with one word, then with music we can define all of us with one rhythm and how we use it in different countries.

DS: What would you like audiences to take away from the album?

CP: The first idea when you look at an album of bagpipes is probably not a Latin album, right? When you ask a person where they think the instrument is originally from they automatically go to Scotland. History is more complicated than that. Galicia had a little bit of everything, and for me my instrument is a metaphor for human migration and how much we can tell through one sound.

I am not trying to break any clichés through the bagpipes, but it is more about my story of immigration. My parents went to Venezuela and back to Galicia, and I moved from Galicia to the United States.

LP: You have collaborated with a plethora of major artists -- anyone whose impact has remained with you throughout your career?

CP: There are many artists that I have the honor to play with and have taught me so much. But I have to confess that Yo-Yo Ma is my mentor. He is the person with whom I have worked with for eight years in this country. He has changed my understanding of the power of music and how much culture really matters.

His endless curiosity and generosity continues to impact me. He is constantly looking for new projects like this one with an open mind, but he is also always teaching us lessons in humanity.

DS: How did you first start working with him?

CP: I moved to the U.S. 10 years ago to get my doctorate in Classical piano at Rutgers University. In my first semester a composer named Osvaldo Golijov came to do a workshop. And I was assigned to be his pianist for the day. So we talked about Galician music and about how it was a big deal in Argentina. We were talking about bagpipes, and then he discovered that I had another life back in Spain as a bagpiper.

And a few months after that he was watching a piece for Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. And he invited me to join them for that piece. It was like finding a home, the home I had been looking for all of my life.

DS: You received your doctoral in the U.S. How was studying in America different from studying in your native Spain? How do think America's relationship with music differs from Europe's?

CP: In Spain, cultural activities were usually related to government money. In this country it is usually related to philanthropy. So the relationship between the power of how much culture matters and the audience is very different.

I don't know which model is better because they both have their pros and cons. But one thing I like in the U.S. is that everyone here comes from a different plays. The curiosity that you find when you go to a music school in the U.S. is something I find fascinating. People want to know about your story because all the stories are different.

In Spain, music is not in a university but in a conservatory. So you are placed into a little bubble of music. In the U.S., I get to work constantly with other universities. For example, this week I am in Santa Barbara and I am working with a linguistics department and with some educational projects that they have here. We are looking for ways to connect different departments through the arts and I have done that in many other universities. I get to be a performer and work as an educator as well.

LP: You perform a wide range of musical genres including classical music and jazz. Attendance to classical music performances has declined in America over the last decades. What needs to happen from artists or arts organizations to reinvigorate and win back audiences?

CP: If I expect an audience to like bagpipes and come to my show because they like bagpipes, then I probably won't get a lot of people coming to my show. There is no audience right now for my instrument because they do not know about it.

Instead I had to do it the other way around, and I had to go to the community and introduce myself and win the community over. I have to speak the language of the community and understand it to get its attention.

I have worked in both jazz and classical music in this country, and I can see how often one goes to the community while in the other the community goes to it. I wish that I could have a solution, but the only way to keep that side of the market alive is to start the journey all over again and how do they relate to community. Instead of waiting for the community, go to the community and start the conversation all over again.  Read the rest of the review here