The natural sounds of their handmade instruments vibrated through the University of La Verne’s Jane Dibbell Cabaret Theatre as Michael Heralda and his wife Sandy Heralda, dressed in handmade cream and turquoise indigenous clothing, performed a musical and cultural narrative about the Day of the Dead.
The theater was filled with about 45 students and professors actively participating in the narrative.
“We are all energy,” Michael Heralda said. “All of you here shape time, energy and space.”
Heralda is a songwriter, story teller, artist and poet.
Heralda and his wife brought forward the Day of the Dead theme with instruments and song through a program he created called, “Aztec Stories.”
“Each instrument somebody made, it was not mass-produced,” Heralda said.
Day of the Dead, translated in Spanish to Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican holiday during which people honor their deceased loved ones. They also make peace with the prospect of death by treating it casually and not fearing it.
Heralda began his performance with a calm song, which was called, “A Coming Together of People.” As he sang the narrative, his wife played some of the instruments, including a rattle filled with seeds. He slowly picked up the beat of the music into a more lively and energetic song.
Heralda distributed all sorts of instruments, which included handmade rattles filled with seeds, and sticks made out of branches from tree shrubs.
He simultaneously played the handmade drums, blew into clay flutes and sang.
As the audience played along with the instruments, Heralda sang and stomped his feet, causing the room to vibrate.
When they finished, Heralda asked, “If you had to describe that song in one word, what would it be?”
People in the audience said, “Pulse, heartbeat, vibrant and celebration.”
In his performance, he explained the culture of ancient Mexico and the indigenous civilizations of the Aztecs.
He also explained how the name” Mexika” is the name Aztecs use when they refer to themselves.
“ When you dissect the word ‘Mexika,’ it means ‘naval of the moon,’” Michael Heralda said.
In his narrative, Heralda said that” the great Mexika people did not fear death.” He added,” Music is what we use to connect with the dead.”
Michael Heralda talked about his mother who died when he was a teenager. He shared his memories of his mother and the tortillas she would make. Afterwards, he sang a song dedicated to her, her tortillas and her laughter.
The lyrics of the song explain how to make tortillas.
“ I hope some of these ideas are planted in your head,” Michael Heralda said.” We are farmers planting indigenous seeds of knowledge into you.”
Michael Heralda began this program in 1995.
“ A year before that, I came across a book at a yard sale,” Michael Heralda said.” The book was a fictional account of the Aztecs. Something woke up inside of me.”
Although Michael Heralda was born in Arizona, he is of Mexican decent, and he feels a strong connection to the Aztecs.
He wanted to clear any misconceptions about the indigenous people. He researched the history and culture of Aztecs and ancient Mexico.
With the research, he was able to complete his first CD,” Aztec Stories.” He also wrote letters to people in the United States and Mexico to gain more insight into the culture.
More specifically, he invested a year and a half of research toward the Day of the Dead, according to Michael Heralda.
The audience had many positive things to say after the performance.
“ I loved it,” Daniel Loera, multicultural affairs director, said.” Four years ago, I saw a different show he performed.”
“ The level of interaction and cohesion was more magnified at this event than when I last saw him,” Loera said.” Maybe it is because of the environment and space we had for this one.”
“ Everyone in the audience played a particular role and brought harmony into the storytelling,” Loera said.” It was also enlightening and intriguing to hear a perspective on life and death.”
“ I loved the performance,” Crystal Martinez, senior political science major, said.” I liked how we could participate.”
“ It was a lot of fun,” Martinez added.
Sam Guzik, senior theater major, also participated in the experience.
“ It was something different,” Guzik said.” I liked how they show the different aspects of their culture through performance.”
“ I like how this culture tells stories through music and dance; they are not just sitting around,” Melody Rahbari, graduate student and education major, said.” They bring it to life.”
“ I loved this last performance of the season for all sorts of reasons,” Michael Heralda said.” The audience was attentive and not a single person left during the performance.
“ The theater was small, so we did not use a microphone, and the audience was able to hear the natural sound of the instruments,” Michael Heralda said.
Natalie Veissalov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.