By Elyse Pitkin
Hiram College welcomed the largest turnout for a music concert in the last five years through a celebration of Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in the Frohring Recital Hall during the fall semester.
Three groups of musicians performed including Mariachi Azul de Hiram, Mariachi Santa Cecilia, and first-year urgent challenges students who learned to play instruments as part of their class, Why Do Humans Make Music?
Día de los Muertos is an annual celebration of life and death observed throughout Mexico and among its diasporic communities. Celebrants welcome home the spirits of their deceased loved ones with offerings of food, drink, and other cherished personal items, and then commune with them at their grave sites. This ritual marks the one time during the year when the dead may return, if only for a few hours, to visit loved ones and enjoy pleasures known in life.
As both participant, and conductor, José Torres-Ramos, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of arts, humanities, and culture, collaborated with Isaac Winland, DMA, visiting assistant professor of instrumental music, and Michelle Nario-Redmond, Ph.D., professor of psychology and biomedical humanities, to host the event. “This event showcased the musical talents of faculty and students, many of whom are not majoring in music or teaching music. I think this highlights the importance for having opportunities to make music on campus,” said Dr. Torres.
Throughout Mexico, Día de los Muertos is primarily a private, family-based ritual culminating in public, community celebrations. The practice of observing Día de los Muertos has also found a home in the U.S. where festivities are largely public, representing an opportunity for community building and cultural affirmation for urban Latino populations.
“This event was memorable because it combined student and faculty collaboration across disciplines at Hiram. We also have a growing population of Latino students from throughout the United States, and this was an event that celebrated their cultural heritage. Many of the Latino students were very excited after the event, as they expressed how much it made them feel connected to their home cultures and geographic areas. Many of them also expressed the strong desire to continue this event annually and include more like it,” said Dr. Torres.
Dr. Nario-Redmond participated as a guest vocalist to sing two traditional songs. The first, Sabor a Mi, which is a love song that translates into “savor me” or “savor the flavor of me.” The second is directly associated with Día de Los Muertos and is called, La Llorona, which translates into the weeping woman.
“La Llorona comes from a Latin American legend about the tragic life of a woman, now dead, who continues to roam the world and is full of sorrow at the loss of her children,” said Dr. Nario-Redmond. “I learned that those who sing La Llorona share in her pain and serve as a confidant. There is one lyric that really speaks to me that says, The one who does not know about love Llorona, doesn’t know about suffering. I felt I was channeling my own Mexican ancestors and wept much while practicing. Luckily, I did not weep during the performance.”
Another special guest that participated in the event was Josué García ’26 , who volunteered their time to perform as the Hiram Mariachi ensemble.
“I did not expect that many people to show up to be honest with you, it felt good that people came to watch us, and see what we do on the stage and honor Día de Los Muertos,” said García.
“Josué is actually the impetus for this entire event,” said Dr. Torres. “He is a first-generation student, and his parents are immigrants from Michoacán, México. Because he and I are both from San Antonio and are both products of the SAISD mariachi program, I invited him and Mason Cebulla to collaborate musically, which led to the decision to promote this event.” Cebulla, who is a current biomedical humanities major and performing arts minor, has been playing trumpet since the fourth grade.
“He is a brilliant student who plans to go to medical school, and who has taken two classes from me. His grandfather, Dr. Ralph Cebulla taught in the Psychology Department before my arrival, and I am honored to be occupying his old office in Bates Hall,” said Dr. Nario-Redmond. “He was a mentor to me when I first arrived, and he would have been tickled to see his grandson not only playing mariachi music on the trumpet but fully decked out in the traditional charro suit, even if it was a little tight.”