History of Hymns: Argentine song reflects chamarrita dance form

“¡Miren Qué Bueno!” (“Look, How Good It Is!”)
Pablo Sosa
The Faith We Sing
, No. 2231

 ¡Miren Qué Bueno,
qué bueno es!
O look and wonder,
how good it is!

Look at how good it is for us
to be here all together,
it is like precious oil that runs
from Aaron’s head and beard. *

Pablo David Sosa (b. 1933) has been the leading figure in the development of hymnody from South America—both as editor of Cancionero Abierto (“Open Songbook”) and as an animateur (worship and song leader) for World Council of Churches assemblies, base community gatherings and numerous international conferences.

One of the foremost authorities on Latin American sacred music, Mr. Sosa holds degrees from an ecumenical seminary in Buenos Aires and Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., as well as Union Theological Seminary, New York City. He also studied in Germany. His varied career includes being a Methodist pastor, professor, composer, conductor and worship leader for international conferences where his songs are often sung.

The six-volume Cancionero Abierto, begun in 1974, was unlike any previous Protestant or evangelical hymnal. Mr. Sosa’s philosophy was simple: “If you have a song of praise, we will include it and see if people want to use it.”

Pablo Sosa

Songs for Cancionero Abierto came through individual submissions, adaptations from choral works, and even creative group compositions conducted by Mr. Sosa with young people and congregations. He prepared early volumes at his kitchen table using a manual music typewriter.

Cancionero Abierto has been a primary source for dispensing Latin American hymnody around the world. Several of the recent Spanish-language hymnals published in the United States have drawn from its resources, including the official United Methodist Spanish-language hymnal, Mil Voces para Celebrar (1996), edited by Raquel Mora Martínez.

Composed in 1970, “¡Miren, qué bueno!” is one of Mr. Sosa’s earliest songs. The music reflects popular dance rhythms from Argentina, including the chamarrita, a dance-song form from the Entre Rios, the province of the composer’s early childhood. The dance uses simple, graceful steps. Those who know the style are inclined to move to it as they sing.

Incorporating dance forms into hymns not only adds a festive musical sense but also links the songs with the culture of the people. Before Mr. Sosa’s work it was almost unheard of to compose music in a popular folk style of Argentina, because of close ties to European and North American Methodism. Early on, “¡Miren Qué Bueno!” was not considered acceptable in formal worship, but could only be used in informal church social gatherings.

In 1970 Mr. Sosa was asked by the pastor of the Flores Methodist Church in Buenos Aires to write a song for a fellowship occasion following a worship service. The pastor wanted to encourage a sense of communion among the members of the congregation and a celebration of the joy of being together.

The text was based on Psalm 133, exploring the image of extravagance and joy symbolized by the oil running down Aaron’s beard. At the event, Mr. Sosa asked the people to think of other delightful images of extravagance, and these were inserted into the song on the spot.

The fiesta spirit pervades much of Mr. Sosa’s music. However, given the many economic and political difficulties in his country over the years, he suggests that the fiesta is much more than a party or celebration:

“Out of oppression, men and women rise up to celebrate, not forgetting their struggle, to be nurtured by the sweet foretaste of the great fiesta of victory and liberation. It is not ordinary fiesta, intended to have people forget about their worries, to alienate them. It is the fiesta which liberates. For this reason it is said: ‘People who have no strength to celebrate, have no strength to liberate themselves.’”

* © 1979 Cancionero Abierto and © 1996 Abingdon Press (administered by The Copyright Company, Nashville, Tenn.) All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

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