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Spanish newspaper El País interviewed Nancy Roncesvalles, the director of the Gospel Choir of Madrid since its foundation.
This is a translation of an article appeared in the Spanish newspaper El País, on July 9, 2019.
FERNANDO NEIRA / EL PAÍS
Nancy Roncesvalles (Wisconsin, 66) is the director of the Gospel Choir of Madrid since its foundation (1997).
Her surname was Roncesvelle, but she decided to translate it, after finding that almost nobody was able to write it or pronounce it well.
The daughter of a diplomat of deep democratic convictions, Nancy first landed in Cadiz in 1959, at the age of seven, after an exhausting boat trip.
The experience was so intense that it marked her forever. “We went through dusty little villages in my father's black Chevrolet, and the neighbors went out to meet us. The children even came to peer through the windows. I was crouched in the back seats, full of shame”.
Queestion. Going overseas as a girl must have been an adventure...
Answer. You cannot imagine it. We were in the same boat as Charlton Heston, who was traveling to Spain to shoot El Cid. My mother, who today is 94 years old and lives in Washington, coincided with him in the elevator and almost fainted.
We played in the boat and swam in the pool. My childhood was a gift.
Q. How do you remember that Madrid of the late fifties?
A. It was the capital of a very poor country, of motorcycles with sidecar and Citroën 2CV crossing the streets.
We lived in a street where the services for the Americans of the base were concentrated, and the city ended just then. Then came a neighourhood where the children walked barefoot through the sand streets, and there were two-way roads.
Q. It would not be easy to make friends in that situation...
A. I went to school in the afternoon, but I did not speak a word of Spanish and the children laughed at my English because I did not have a British accent.
Going out with my parents to order fried eggs and chips only with gestures was a daily adventure, but I was integrated. A Spanish teacher taught me several regional dances, and even today I can dance quite well. I also keep the Spanish guitar that my father gave me at that time.
Q. And your faith? Where does it come from?
A. I had a personal encounter with God at the university, while studying Music and Media in New York. At the age of 18, you leave home to study and there are always many questions in your head.
Reading the Bible, knowing the life of Jesus, and understand who we are, changed the course of my life.
Q. Have you ever felt as if God had us a little abandoned?
A. Any intelligent being asks such questions, but in those moments I return to the Psalms and everything fits again. We blame God for many things, but the human being is to blame. And He knows our doubts, counts on them.
Q. Can one sing gospel being Agnostic?
A. I think it is difficult. I have met some good singers like that, but there is something that they lack, something they are not capable of transmitting. To sing gospel you need to be connected through the heart as well.
Q. Are there many believers, then, in the Gospel Choir of Madrid?
A. There are about 30 women and 15 men, from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs. But I explain the origins of the choir, because I do not conceive gospel music outside the context of the evangelical church.
The history of civil rights is based on much struggle and suffering, so I intend to connect with the roots of this music.
Q. How are your students?
A. Better than ever! The first years sometimes we felt like covering our ears, but we have received the visit of about 100 African-American musicians who teach us music, values and fellowship. Thanks to them, I am still looking for the 'Holy Grail' of the vocal technique. I even have asked some of them to let me record the movements of their larynx with the phone!
Q. By the way, what is your second favorite musical genre?
A. Many! I love musicals, jazz, singer-songwriters... I married in 1974 in New York, and we sang a beautiful Protestant hymn, Great is thy Faithfulness, but I also played Peter, Paul & Mary and other hits of the time ...