The Mexican Minstrels of Mount Angel Seminary
by Brian Perez
If I told you men in long black robes were going to perform a musical act at Mount Angel Seminary, you would probably think I meant men in black cassocks, and you would probably think they were going to sing hymns, maybe in Latin.
However, what I would be describing are the members of La Tuna, a musical group that has its origins in Spain around the 10th century and has found its way to Mount Angel Seminary a thousand years later. Moreover, the songs would not be in Latin but in Spanish.
“I was one of the founding members [at Mount Angel Seminary] in 2007,” said Guadalupe Vargas. “There were twelve of us; we are the first La Tuna in America.” According to T.J Pearson, the current head of La Tuna, La Tuna was originally formed to entertain the king and then spread to universities where the men of La Tuna would perform for food and money to pay for their studies. Today the original spirit still exists; the members do not necessarily have any political message. They just want to entertain. The original spirit of La Tuna moves each member to treat their audience as if they are royalty, and entertaining the audience is like entertaining a royal court.
There are currently eight members of La Tuna, seminarians philosophy and theology. The members are Edson Elizarraras (College III), Ricardo Ruesga (College III), T.J Pearson (College IV), Alan Valencia (College IV), Roberto Iraheta (Theology I), Ricardo Flores (Theology II), Arturo Romero (Theology III), and Eleazar Gaytan (Theology IV).
The members of La Tuna wear elaborate costumes with distinct hats that look like berets, baggy black pants and multicolored ribbons that decorate the outside of their long black robes. “The ribbons were originally given by women who gave them to members that they liked,” said T.J Pearson, leader of Mount Angel Seminary’s La Tuna. “Now you will find more often they are given to us by supporters of La Tuna.” Some of the supporters include Cindy May (Seminary Receptionist and Executive Secretary for Academics), Sister Virginia Schroeder (former Director of Admissions), and the owners of a local Mexican food restaurant who asked La Tuna to perform for them.
La Tuna has a number of performances throughout the year. The biggest is at the Mount Angel Seminary Benefit Dinner held in Portland every November. The members of La Tuna put a lot of hard work into their performances that include dancing and singing accompanied by traditional instruments. Their instruments include the bandurria (a mandolin type instrument), the guitar, the bass, and the accordion. Other performances throughout the year include Mexican Independence Day on September 16th and The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th.
La Tuna is asset to Mount Angel Seminary because it showcases one of the distinct cultures that make up the seminary. It also provides the seminarians with a project that helps them develop a proper and healthy sense of pride in their actions. “You know I just want to entertain people,” said T.J. Pearson while smiling. “And I just like singing!”