From left: Janet Martini, David Swarens, Vykki Mende Gray
The Peña Adobe in Vacaville, CA.
based in San Diego, California, play and sing the secular music of
California from the days when our state was part of Spain and then Mexico.
These sweet, melodic pieces include waltzes and polkas used for dancing,
and songs about love and rancho life, often with comic lyrics. Although
the music includes elements of Spanish music, it also includes influences
from European and American folk music — as trading ships often visited the
coast of Alta California, from the indigenous peoples of California, and
from the diverse heritages of the early Mexican settlers.
Los californios® is a
self-supporting project of San Diego Friends of Old-Time Music, a
California non-profit educational corporation. This project works to
expose California audiences to their own historic musical heritage; to
research, document and transcribe social music and dances from eighteenth
and nineteenth century Spanish-speaking Californians; and to teach and
distribute this information to a wide audience of musicians, dancers and
enthusiasts through workshops, performances, articles and papers presented
at educational conferences, and music classes at Sherman Heights Community Center.
Los californios® received a People in Preservation Award from
Save Our Heritage Organization for these accomplishments.
Preserving Californio Social Music
In the era of Alta (Upper) California, the 5,000 or so
settlers lived far apart, spread between San Diego and Sonoma. So when
friends and relatives gathered at a rancho for a holiday or visit, it was
an occasion for many days of singing, dancing and celebrating.
The californio music all but died out after the
era of the ranchos ended, but songs performed by the last generations of
californios were recorded on wax cylinders by journalist and
folklorist Charles Fletcher Lummis, mostly between 1904 and 1907. Lummis
published a portfolio of 14 pieces from his recordings in 1923. (For more
information about these recordings, see
Historical photograph by Irene Welch Garner.
Padua Hills Theatre — The Mexican Players
Conchita Gallardo and Magrucio Jara Los californios® Collection
Over time a number of groups continued in efforts to preserve this California heritage:
the Padua Hills Theatre
(The Mexican Players) in Claremont,
the José Arias Troubadours,
Eugene Plummer with his dance group, the folk dance community with dance collectors and teachers like Lucille
Czarnowski and Albert Pill, Gabriel Ruíz and his group of musicians and dancers, the A la California
Club (later calling itself Los Californios),
the Southwest Museum
and its adjunct the Casa de Adobe,
Elisabeth Waldo with her creative
compositions based on historic California music, Elizabeth Erro Hvolboll,
Luis Goena and his dancers Los parientes,
Arnold Guerra and his dancers Tatalejos, the Alta California Dance Company,
the Calicanto Singers,
Los Bailadores of Old Town San Diego,
Los Califas in Petaluma,
El coro hispano de San Francisco,
The Alta California Orchestra
and descendants groups from all over the state.
In 1989 a group of San Diego folk musicians, organized by
Lee Birch and calling itself Los californios®, began
playing this music and learning these dances. David Swarens knew of
Lummis’ original recordings housed at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles
(a museum that Lummis had helped to found in 1914) and the group was able
to obtain funding through San Diego’s Old Town State Park in order to
obtain tape recordings from those original wax cylinder recordings.
Since those humble beginnings, these San Diego musicians
have been privileged to conduct original research in this field, and to
meet and interview a number of the people who have made contributions to
preserving this heritage. The group’s educational mission continues to be
extended in many different ways. Their original transcriptions from the
Lummis recordings and other recorded sources are a source of joy for many
a Californian rediscovering Mexican California, their delightful
performances at historic sites and museums on both sides of the border
with Mexico enchant people of all ages, their scholarly presentations at
universities and for historic academicians are widely applauded, and their
popular recording Flowers of Our Lost
Romance is available at a growing number of venues.
For more information about the preservation of
Spanish-Language Social Music of the 19th Century in Southern
California, go to loscalifornios.info.
Flowers of Our Lost Romance
Los californios® have recorded
their first album, which includes 60 minutes of beautiful early California
dances and songs sung in the original archaic Spanish.
to see the cover, and to read the album notes and words to songs.Two pieces from this CD are also part of the music used in
The Remuda, a
DVD film by J & S Productions about the evolution of the buckaroo
beginning in California over 200 years ago. Other musicians featured in
this movie include Pedro Marquez, Ian Tyson and Dave Stamey.
Music from this CD was used for a Latino USA program
reporting on the descendents of Spanish and Mexican-era Californians and
their efforts to preserve a genealogical identity.
For a video clip produced by the Lively Arts History
Association using this recording for the audio, click
Research by Los californios®
has resulted in a growing number of original transcriptions and
arrangements of songs and dance tunes, many from the Edison wax cylinders
recorded by Charles Fletcher Lummis. This is available as a comb-bound
book containing 402 pages of music transcribed over a period of ten years,
mostly from primary sources, and arranged with chord indications in common
folk music keys. Lead and harmony lines (segunda) are included for most
pieces in the traditional style, and an index to the pieces is included.
Most of these pieces have not been readily available to a general audience
for over a hundred years. These transcriptions finally make this music
once again accessible and available for performers and scholars. Click here for additional
description. To Order Copies of sheet music transcriptions Click here for
an order form.
Charles Fletcher Lummis
Original autographed photo by Charles Fletcher Lummis,
of Charles Fletcher Lummis
Always your friend
Chas. F. Lummis — Happy New Year 1910 Los californios® Collection
Charles Fletcher Lummis (1859-1928) was born in
Massachusetts, but came to be an avid promoter of the American Southwest.
He walked from Ohio to Los Angeles in 143 days, and published a journal of
his trip, A Tramp Across the Continent, in 1892. In addition to the
celebrated Edison wax cylinder recordings that he made to preserve
historic Spanish-language secular songs of California and Native American
music of the Southwest, Lummis helped found the Landmarks Club in 1897 to
restore the California missions, founded the Sequoia League in 1901 to
protect America’s native people, and helped create the Southwest Museum in
1914. Lummis was an editor for the Los Angeles Times and wrote many other
books including The Land of Poco Tiempo (1893). El Alisal, Lummis’ Los
Angeles home and gardens, is now the headquarters of the Historical
Society of Southern California and is open to the public.
Sherman, out of Sherman Heights Community Center in San Diego, is a
special project of Los californios®. These
enthusiastic young musicians are learning music and performing skills, and
are in turn providing community service through their enchanting
performances both in Sherman Heights and in the larger San Diego
Los californios® is a registered
service mark belonging to San Diego Friends of Old-Time Music, Inc.,
a California non-profit corporation.