For UNCG musicology lecturer Dr. Lorena Guillén, the beauty and power of speech goes beyond the semantic. Where one might hear simple conversation, Guillén hears music. Every inflection, pause, and emphasis is rich with melody, contour, and color.
Her recent album, “The Other Side of My Heart,” connects this passion for speech and music with another, more personal story. Through the album, Latina immigrants tell the story of their journeys from their countries of origin to North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad.
“As a person who immigrated to the United States from Argentina, I have a personal interest in this piece,” Guillén says. “I feel this was an artistic conversation that helped me to talk about myself as well.”
Lyrics were taken verbatim from approximately 12 hours of interviews Guillén conducted with six Latina immigrants in the Triad, and the piece even features direct audio samples of the women’s voices as they share their experiences.
“After hours of listening to the recordings over and over, a number of common themes became apparent,” Guillén says. “Looking for a better life, reunion with family, what could be brought and what was left behind, the struggle to learn a new language, feeling between two worlds, where is home?”
Each song sets the stories of these women against a vibrant musical backdrop, written and composed by Guillén and UNCG associate professor of music composition Alejandro Rutty, and performed by the Lorena Guillén Tango Ensemble. Guillén and Rutty masterfully blend Guillén’s celebrated soprano with interview excerpts and a variety of Latin American styles to create a haunting and heartfelt interpretation of her subjects’ experiences.
“I really wanted to give artistic voice to these women,” Guillén says. “Music can carry messages and really bring to people issues that otherwise they may only be reading about through newspapers. Music opens other channels of reception. The hope of the piece is that people will receive this, absorb it, and open new dialogues on this important issue.”
Using music to open dialogues is a recurring theme in Guillén’s career. In a project for the Triangle Jewish Chorale, Guillén and Rutty developed “Down Home: The Cantata Project,” which gave voice to Jewish immigrants and residents of North Carolina through the use of archival and new interviews woven together into a choral-orchestral-audio collage.
With grants from ArtsGreensboro, New Music USA, and UNCG’s own College of Visual and Performing Arts, Guillén and Rutty released “The Other Side of My Heart” last year. Since debuting the album with a performance at UNCG, Guillén has performed the music all over North Carolina and as far away as Los Angeles.
“I feel that these women come alive in front of the audience every time we play the music,” Guillén says. “I am tremendously grateful to these six women who found value in sharing their stories. This was part of my promise to them from the very beginning: to bring this piece everywhere possible.”