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Copihue-Chile@Pitt- “Folk Medicine - Local performers have the cure for homesick Chileans, and for those who long to hear their music - Main Feature - Pittsburgh City Paper”

Copihue-Chile@Pitt- “Folk Medicine - Local performers have the cure for homesick Chileans, and for those who long to hear their music - Main Feature - Pittsburgh City Paper”

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Published by: Fernando on Mar 20, 2009
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Printed from the Pittsburgh City Paper website:http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws
Folk Medicine
Local performers have the cure for homesick Chileans, and for those who long tohear their music 
By Aaron Jentzen
One cold Friday night in February, a dozen men and women have gathered at the Greenfield home of Pablo Espinoza andBetsy Davis to sing some old Chilean folk songs and perform some national dances. They're also here for fellowship, and toshare a cultural connection: The conversation is primarily in Spanish, and the night will conclude with tiny pumpkin-derivedpancakes, called
for dessert, and a glass of wine or the Chilean liqueur 
.In the dining room, Emily Pinkerton is gluing sequins to a bell-shaped piece of red felt -- a representation of Chile's nationalflower, the
(pronounced "co-pee-way"). The flower also inspired the name of this performance troupe, Copihue Chile.The felt flowers, along with some work-in-progress headdresses, are part of the costumes they've planned for this year'sPittsburgh Folk Festival.
Traditional folk tunes help Copihue Chile strike a respectful balance: L-R Dorolyn Smith, Agustín Cruz, MargaretUrzúa, Marcela Marín, Emily Pinkerton and Pablo Espinoza
Heather MullOut in the living room, Espinoza, Copihue Chile's director, tunes up the nylon strings of his acoustic guitar, and pensivelystrums a few chords. Pinkerton retrieves her guitar as well, and others pick up a variety of Latin American instruments:
(pan pipes); a
(a slatted wooden box with metal vibrating parts in it); and the
, a Chilean hexagonaltambourine. There's also the slightly sinister 
, a large shaker made of dozens of dried sheep or llama hooves.The rest of the group gathers around to sing a couple of folk songs, which cycle back and forth between basic major chordswith a loping pulse.After rolling back the furniture and rugs, dance director Loreto Egaña and Pedro Burckhardt demonstrate the
, Chile'sofficial national dance -- a dance they both learned as schoolchildren. Burckhardt explains that it's intended to mimic the mating
dance of the rooster and the hen. Everyone claps out the time, as Pinkerton and Espinoza strum the guitars, and the dancerstwirl white handkerchiefs around their heads as they circle each other.Early on, Copihue performances merely involved dancing to prerecorded music, but "listening and watching people performinglive gives much more to the audience," says Espinoza. And because "it is possible to talk to your audience and to interact withit easily; therefore, you can give a richer experience to the audience and for the members of Copihue, too."So far, the group mostly plays songs from Chile's temperate central zone, its most populous area. After some consultation, thegroup agrees to try an Andean song they're learning, to demonstrate how the music varies from one region to another. Slower,more melodic and melancholy, the song sounds both more accessible and more haunting.It's an example of how Chile's musical traditions reflect its diverse geography -- a narrow 2,700-mile strip that ranges from aridnorthern deserts to lush farmland and forests to the frigid Cape Horn. But it's also an indication of the wide range of backgrounds and beliefs within this small cluster of people, differences that have their roots in Chile's history of colonialism,class struggle, military coups and dictatorships. Against such a backdrop, Chilean folk culture requires compromise andnegotiation merely to survive in Pittsburgh.
Margaret Urzúa
Heather MullCopihue is currently comprised of six Chileans (four men, two women) and five Americans (all women). The group is a sidelinefor the members: Espinoza, for example, is an engineer with a manufacturing company; Burckhardt is a supply-chainmanagement consultant for large corporations; Egaña is a neurobiology researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. While aninterest in Chilean culture is a prerequisite, membership is open.If 13 seems a small roster, it's hardly much smaller than the Chilean population living in Pittsburgh."The official number that I got last time from the Chilean consulate in Philadelphia, was about 44 persons here in WesternPennsylvania," says Burckhardt. But that number doesn't account for everyone -- students at the universities, for example.Burckhardt estimates a more realistic number to be around 140."We are a very tight group of friends now, considering that we didn't know each other before we started," says Burckhardt. "Thegroup is also a social group: We meet each Friday; we also rehearse; we also talk about our issues and so on, things we wantto share with other members of the group." Burckhardt has lived in the U.S. since 2004 and moved to Pittsburgh in 2006;Copihue seems to help keep him connected to folk traditions he's been "very attached to" since childhood. Egaña agrees:"Personally, Copihue has been a support group, for friendship, conversation and exercise, too."Copihue, says Espinoza, has also helped other Chileans feel more connected to their homeland -- and to each other. "Thereactions we got from the Chilean community after our performance in the last Folk Festival was very surprising andwonderful," he says. "Chileans told us that they felt closer to the country, proud of Chile and of being Chilean." Theperformances also seem to "allow people of other countries and from the States to understand a bit more why we are as weare."
Roosters and hens: Chile's national dance, the
Heather MullCopihue grew out of the efforts of René Urzúa, a retired bilingual Spanish and French teacher 
and Chilean immigrant whosewife, Margaret, is a Pittsburgh native. Urzúa's interest in folk music began at the University of Santiago, where he was amember of the school's folk ensemble. Long before that, though, his family had imparted an appreciation for music. "Myworking family provided me with a great support system that included religious principles, value for education and appreciationof music and social concern," Urzúa says via e-mail from Chile, his refuge from Pittsburgh's harsh winter. "From those valueswas born my interest in traveling, music and dancing."René and Margaret met in 1968 while she was volunteering at the Chilean Health Department through the Diocese of Pittsburgh; he moved to the U.S. in 1970 be with her and to pursue professional opportunities. They lived first in Connecticut,then eastern Pennsylvania. Going to international festivals in those areas made him realize that his culture wasn't well knownor understood in the Northeast."I felt that I should keep my traditions at the same time that [I] learn and absorb those from my new country," Urzúa says. "So Istarted giving slides, dances and general presentations at churches, libraries, universities, schools and social centers, plus Iused my positions as a teacher and social worker to get involved in cultural programs."Moving to Pittsburgh in 1999
to be near his wife's parents, Urzúa joined the Latin American Cultural Union, and performed atevents like Pitt's Latin American Festival and the Pittsburgh Folk Festival. "During that time a group of Chileans got together tostart a Chilean organization called Chilenos de Pittsburgh to promote cultural and social events related to the Chilean andAmerican community." That effort eventually led to Copihue.

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