Huapango de los Muertos, Op. 12b

for Orchestra (,, T+3, Cel., Hp, Strings)

Opus 12b, 2019

Duration: 7m

Composed as part of my residency with the Irving Symphony Orchestra. Premiered Feb. 22, 2020.

Imagine the traditional Mexican huapango danced by los muertos on the famous Día de los Muertos. That is the premise and inspiration behind Huapango de los Muertos.

I will confess upfront that I'm 100% gringo. But I lived in Mexico for five years, where I met my beautiful Mexican wife, Rose. As a trumpet player, I played many different Latin styles popular in Mexico, including cumbia, sonora, salsa, and banda Sinaloense. I also heard a lot of traditional Mexican music during my time there, as well as some of Mexico's classical concert works, like Huapango by Jose Moncayo, which is known by everyone all over the country. It is a source of national pride and a celebration of traditional Mexico. 


Huapango de los Muertos is my personal response to Huapango by Moncayo, and is very much informed not only by my classical music training, but my experience as a jazz musician, and as an expat in Mexico hearing Mexican music all the time. 


The piece was originally born out of a commission from Dr. William Haugeberg, assistant professor of low brass at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, for a piece for trombone and string quartet. Because of the heavy Mexican culture and influence in south Texas, I wanted to compose a piece that celebrated that heritage. This chamber version of the piece premiered at the International Trombone Festival on July 10, 2019. 


As I was working on the chamber piece, I couldn't help but feel that it would work extremely well for symphony orchestra. So I was very thrilled to be presented with an opportunity to compose a piece—on the theme of “dance”—for the Irving Symphony Orchestra (a professional orchestra in the DFW area), which premiered February 22, 2020. It was the perfect opportunity to realize my vision of what Huapango de los Muertos could be. 


Musically, the piece is a combination of the traditional and modern: traditional Mexican rhythms with some bold “jazzy” harmonies... a traditional late romantic quasi-Hollywood orchestral sound with some contemporary extended techniques. Harmonically and melodically, the music “dances” between major and minor, adding to the macabre tone. All the melodies are original, except for two short quotes of the traditional Mexican song, La Llorona, which was featured in the recent Disney movie, Coco, about the Día de los Muertos. Most Mexicans will immediately recognize the reference. 


My goal was to write a fun, festive, and colorful piece that celebrates Mexican culture and pays homage in gratitude for my time spent there and the influence it had on me. My hope is that listeners are transported to the fantastical world of los muertos and are thrilled by the journey... and they also come to appreciate the uniquely Mexican and “United Statesian” nature of the piece.