By Domenic De Santes (C’23)
It is no secret that Cuba and the United States are very different countries. Our political and economic systems are notoriously divergent, and our cultural legacies are distinct. These differences translate to challenges for American travelers in Cuba related to visas, food, and, of course, language. But when we, students from Catholic Music Ministry, partnered with Vox Cordis, a Cuban choral group, on a Georgetown Magis Immersion Trip to Havana, we discovered music to be our universal language.
Over the course of our week in Cuba visiting churches, learning about Catholic social and cultural programming, and establishing friendships with the Cuban people, music was always with us. I was immediately struck by the power of music as a universal language on our first morning in Cuba when, after singing at mass in the Cathedral, we found ourselves gathered around guitars singing in the courtyard. The two choirs had just met, but we were already building bonds by finding songs we all knew, including “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran, “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, and “Let It Be” by the Beatles.
Music was the common language with the other Cuban groups we met along our travels as well. At Centro Loyola Reina, a Jesuit programming center where a youth band performed for us, two members of our group, Eamon Walsh (C’24) and Noah Vinogradov (SFS’25), jumped on stage at the end of the concert to play jazz with the Cuban group. Each time Dr. Russell Weismann, director of music for Campus Ministry found a church organ, Cubans and other tourists praying in the beautiful churches would gather around the organ with us as we sang out “These Alone Are Enough,” a hymn set to the Ignatian Suscipe prayer.
Back with the members of Vox Cordis, our fellowship did not stop after our joint rehearsals. On our afternoon at the beach, we brought the guitars back out for an impromptu jam session by the tropical ocean waters. The members of Vox Cordis also introduced us to salsa dancing and gave us lessons in between choral rehearsals. In Cuba, body movement is an essential element of music, and we learned that we couldn’t speak their language without dance. JoJo Farina (C’23) and I were put on the spot at one point to show off the progress we had made with our Cuban dance partners.
At the end of our trip, we brought the community together for a special concert to showcase our shared love of music. Vox Cordis sang three songs, our Music Ministry choir sang three songs, and then both groups came together to perform the three songs we had learned over the course of the week. Our binational concert featured songs written in three different languages and by composers from around the world. But on that Thursday evening under the stars in the former seminary of Havana, we sang with one voice. Soloists were selected from both choirs, including Connor Brennan (G’24), Adrian Kalaw (C’23), and Connor Hartigan (C’24) from Georgetown.
Our fellowship with the Cubans culminated in a private dinner with both choirs, local church leaders, and other friends of our group sponsors. We enjoyed a delicious meal overlooking Havana Harbor, and of course, music took over the night. The pathways between tables on our rooftop became a dance floor as we sang along with the live music and embraced the last moments we had together before our departure.
Our friendships with the Cubans have since continued over social media where we continue to send clips of us making music in our home countries. As a choir, we will cherish the memories of Cuba and continue sharing our love of music in Dahlgren Chapel and wherever our ministry calls us next.