KUAF Arts Beat: Soundtracking the Camino de Santiago

Oct 18, 2018

For nearly 1,200 years the stream of pilgrims trekking the 750 miles from Paris to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela has yet to cease. Today, modern 'pilgrims' come from all over to take up the "Camino de Santiago" and pay their respects at the shrine of Saint James. Like any good raod trip, the original travelers punctuated the journey with music.

Earlier this month, the University of Arkansas Honors College hosted Schola Cantorum and the World Music Ensemble for a performance of “Songs from the Camino.” The  concert highlights a study abroad session that the college sponsored this summer- where students and faculty also played and sang like many pilgrims before them. Nikola Radan, director of the World Music Ensemble, accompanyed other faculty and students on the trip. He says it is important for listeners today to hear this music, with ancient instruments like the santoor and hurdy-gurdy, because it sheds light the origins of standard Western music and its global connections. 

Two hurdy-gurdy players from the "Cantigas de Santa Maria" manuscripts.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

"The music that travelled to camino also came from the south... from the Arab world too," he says. "You can find a lot of these images [on the route]... playing these non-western instruments."

The songs exemplify the spiritual and secular aspects of medieval music, which pilgrims would have encountered during their journey along the ancient Roman roads.  Honors College Dean Lynda Coon says this duality is important for audiences to contextualize the society at that time.  "You have the sacred music and then you have this more baudy pilgrim's music," she says. "It's the kind of things they would have been singing as they walked across the Pyrenees."  Schola Cantorum performs songs from the camino at the Faulkner Performing Arts Center Tuesday Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m.  Listen to the full KUAF Arts Beat Segment in the streaming link above. Share this story online with #ArtsBeatKUAF.