Carlos Cordero: Composing music as a means of communication

    His choral piece “¡Ayúdame!” explores the recent plight of his native Venezuela

    Carlos Cordero
    Carlos Cordero

    Carlos Cordero and I met on a hot summer day outside an Austin coffee shop.Dressed casually, exuding a friendly demeanor, Cordero is extremely — and immediately—  amicable, and his ability to connect with people is evident in his artistic style too. 

    “I want to be able to communicate with the audience not only musically, but through an experience,” Cordero says. “It’s not just me pulling chords and melodies together.”

    Born in Venezuela, Cordero received his education from La Universidad del Zulia (LUZ) in Maracaibo and La Universidad Católica Cecilio Acosta (UNICA), also in Maracaibo. He grew up singing and playing both piano and cuatro (a relative of the Spanish guitar). By the time he attended college, Cordero’s passion for music would be joined by another: medicine. He studied both at first, an ambitious undertaking, and juggling both disciplines would prove time-consuming.

    [su_pullquote]Carlos Cordero is the featured composer at the New Music Mixer on Aug. 20. See more about the free event here[/su_pullquote]

    “I would walk to rehearsal and spend the entire afternoon with [the choir] and go back and study medicine, and between going back and forth, I decided that I wanted to use my full time to develop as a musician,” Cordero explains. 

    Once fully committed to music, Cordero completed his undergraduate studies. Now, he faced a choice: he could pursue composition, conducting or performance. Cordero elected to pursue all three, and it wasn’t long before he’d started his first major project: an operetta titled “Un Cuento de Luces y Sombras (A Tale of Lights and Shadows).” 

    “Germán Barbosa, my best friend wrote the libretto called ‘A Tale of Light and Shadows’ for the operetta.” Cordero recalls. “And without knowing exactly what composition was or how you do it, I sat down and wrote one hour of music. It was somehow magic. I loved it.”

    In Cordero’s eyes, the performance was a resounding success.

    “It’s one of the works that I’m really proud of. The message of the opera is really wonderful, but maybe I’m biased,” Cordero says with a grin. “It talks about how the world is divided into shadows in light. In the end, shadow and light get together, and color is born.” 

    As Cordero’s style developed further, he found himself influenced by real-world events. A recent piece titled “¡Ayúdame! (Help Me!)” explores the recent plight of the Venezuelan people.  

    “Before ‘¡Ayúdame!’ I wrote a piece called ‘I am Light,’ dedicated to Ryan, my fiancé” Cordero explains. “As I wrote this piece, Venezuela was going through one of the most terrible power cuts that they’ve had, and it was so ironic and painful for me to be enjoying ‘I am Light’ while my country was experiencing this.” 

    Cordero channeled his pain into “¡Ayúdame!” in 2019, scoring the piece for choir and percussion. The piece opens with a strident demand from the choir. “¡Mirame!” (look at me!), they exclaim, accompanied by the thundering of a drum. “¡Escúchame!” (listen to me!), the sopranos and altos plea as the lower voices solemnly declare “Estoy sufriendo.” (I am suffering). Tension continues to build with the choir singing “¡Mirame!”, “¡Escúchame!”, and “No puedo ver” (I can’t see) in counterpoint, swelling until the volume reaches a peak, abruptly ceasing, leaving a moment of chilling silence. “Tengo hambre” (I’m hungry), “Tengo sed” (I’m thirsty) the voices rasp, until four soloists begin speaking the text of the song, softly at first but gradually louder and louder. “¡Mirame! ¡Escúchame!” ,they shout, their spoken voice carrying over the singers, louder and louder until the cacophony gives way to a lone soprano, the spoken voices slowly dying out. 

    “¡Ayúdame!” is a haunting reminder of the hardships that burden the Venezuelan people. 

    “In my music, I want to make people aware. A lot of people don’t know what’s happening [in Venezuela], so I feel like it’s the thing I can do the most: to communicate, share, and make people aware,” Cordero explains. To this end, “¡Ayúdame!” serves its purpose as a reminder of the horrors that the Venezuelan people endure, bringing much-needed attention to the foreign crisis. 

    Cordero’s music also touches on lighter, more humorous aspects of music. He is currently setting tongue twisters such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” to music, and has also composed a work titled “Peanut Butter” in which the members of the choir spend the entire piece fighting over jars of peanut butter. Cordero’s mastery of both the serious and the lighthearted demonstrates his command of the full emotional spectrum and is a testament to just how much the young composer has accomplished. 

    With every new project he starts, Cordero’s list of achievements only grows. His pieces have premiered internationally, winning several competitions including the International Choral Composition Competition in Japan, The Uncommon Music Festival Choral Composition Competition in Alaska, Chorus Austin Young Composer’s Competition and many more.

    This summer, he has spent time with another one of his projects, Happy Composer. This collaboration involves the commissioning of 12 new pieces from composers all over the globe. These pieces are set to be performed by four Texas choirs: Chorus Austin, The Inversion Ensemble, Austin Cantorum, and The Palmer Episcopal Church. The project’s pieces are set to premiere on various dates, ranging from the fall of 2019 to 2020.

    Amidst these accomplishments, Cordero’s practice remains rooted in the fundamental principles of having fun with his music while exploring his personal style. 

    “I like to play around with my voice and see what happens, what goes where.” Cordero says. “In the beginning, I used to record myself [singing] at home with this microphone. I had fun recording other people’s songs but also trying to do my own and not having any idea of what I was doing. I remember having a good time and I wanted to say more.” Since then, Cordero’s style has “evolved into a deeper, more thoughtful exploration” as he ventures outside of his realm of comfort. Even now, Cordero’s intrepid spirit pushes him to make discoveries about himself and his music. 

    “Going out of my safe zone has helped me to discover where I’m headed musically,” Cordero says, stressing how venturing outside his natural style of composition has helped him to develop in ways even he couldn’t foresee.

    “I can do so much more than I used to think.”