Memories of a Shepherd Boy

February 2010

In the early years of La Tienda, a young man named Tomás Lozano contacted me. At the time we were experimenting with many new products from Spain to discover what our customers would like. We featured ceramics, foods and a handful of hand-carved reproductions of medieval art, including wooden panels and crosses. He wanted to buy a polychrome cross as a gift for his wife Rima. 

I was intrigued by who this young person with such an unusual request might be, since he was presumably raised in our progressively more secular age. As we talked over the phone at great length, I sensed that Tomás and I shared a close affinity with the spirituality of medieval art and sculpture. Over the years our friendship has grown, although we have never met each other face to face -- only through emails and, even more, through my listening to a CD he gave me entitled "Crisol Luz: Songs of the Middle Ages". 

Tom’s family is from a tiny town high in the mountains northeast of Granada. His grandfather was a miller, who also owned a bakery, but it was confiscated during the Spanish Civil War, and to be safe he withdrew with his family to operate a very remote mill in the country. He died when his son was only 15, leaving Tomas’s dad to take over the mill. His mother’s family were farmers. When the Civil War started, her father was sent to the front and was only one of six survivors of a battalion of 200 men.

During the sixties both families moved to the north seeking employment, eventually settling far from Andalucía in an industrial section of Barcelona, where manufacturing opened new possibilities for them. It is there that Tomás was born in 1967, and grew up speaking Spanish at home and Catalan outside of the house. In addition, he learned French at an early age.

When Tomás reached his fifth birthday, it was time for him to begin learning what it was to be a man, so during the summer months his parents entrusted him to his mother’s uncle who had spent his life in the fields as a shepherd. There in Cataluña he lived as a shepherd boy, tending sheep side by side with his great-uncle, and "grew strong in the fields", as Tomás describes it. He cherished those summers with his uncle strolling through the meadows among the sheep and the dogs, accompanied by birds that would perch in the groves of trees around them. He and his uncle Francisco would take naps and eat ripe figs and plums off the trees. 

If you will take a moment, I invite you to get to know Tomás, in the piece he wrote for liner notes from his forthcoming CD entitled, "The Morn of Saint John’s Day".

"I remember what Uncle Francisco taught me. He, like all good shepherds of his time, would sing during the long walks and waits in the fields, watching the sheep graze in green pastures and along riverbeds. He played no instrument, but made good use of his strong, rasping voice and whistles which, to a boy hardly three feet above the ground, would frighten the wits out of me, so shrill and loud they were.

He knew a great deal of stories, songs, sayings and old ballads. He was a repository of popular culture. Too bad that I, too young to know better, did not record his wealth of knowledge, gather it somehow, besides what rubbed off on me almost by osmosis. I cannot remember the songs, but my mother tells me that (they were) among a long list of ballads. By the time I had my wits about me, the shepherd and his sheep had long gone. Ballads form part of my life and also that of my elders, farmers, millers and shepherds. My grandmother recited portions of the Conde Olinos to me as a boy and I especially remember an occasion when I fell asleep to the words, 'That is not the little mermaid, mother/ nor the merman,/ but the son of the Kingly Count/ who for me is a wanting'." 

As Tomás progressed to the higher grades of school he played Catalan folk music (including some from medieval days) with his fellow students. Soon they were playing in small clubs in Barcelona. His singing was particularly appealing in that it was enriched by his traditional Andalucian roots.

In 1993 Tomás and his fellow performers were sponsored by a Spanish ministry and invited to perform medieval and traditional music throughout North America. Their last performance was in New Mexico, where they became enchanted with its old Santa Fe families who spoke in a beautiful old form of Spanish. They had been carrying on the traditions of Spain for generations. 

Tomás was astonished to be able to see traditions from the old Spain still alive in the United States. So he decided to stay a bit longer to experience this amazing place and then a bit longer until 14 years passed before he moved on! 

During those years Tomás and his friends created a series of theatrical and musical shows that they took especially to the schools of underserved communities. In some cases they were very small villages, rural and isolated areas of the Hispanic towns and Native American communities. Many times they found that no one had ever before performed in their schools or community centers. 

During those years while Tomás was immersed in the New Mexican traditions, he met a soul mate and now wife, Rima Montoya, who was a grad student at UNM. Together they wrote a book, published in 2007 by UNM Press entitled "Cantemos al Alba - Origins of Songs Sounds and Liturgical Dramas of Hispanic New Mexico". 

The most interesting thing that I found out from their research among many different Franciscan manuscripts from the colonial times is that by 1629 (nine years after Plymouth Rock), there were full orchestras and choirs in the New Mexican missions, where the musicians and singers were Native Americans from the different Pueblos. And by 1654, most of the missions also had an organ. It is an important part of the US musical history that is completely missed. 

Over the years I have grown to appreciate what a remarkable and humble man this shepherd boy has become as a singer, musician, scholar and writer. Making sure that my memory was accurate before writing this reflection, I asked Tom for his recollection of our first contact: 

"During the time that Rima and I were doing the investigation for Cantemos al Alba, I discovered an interesting web site that had lots of things from Spain, La Tienda. Back in 2002, they had beautiful reproductions of medieval carvings from Spain. I was very interested in one particularly called 'The Majestad', carved originally by Batlló, so its common name now is 'Majestad Batlló'. I wanted to get this carving for my wife who was away visiting her family, and I wanted to surprise her in her return.

I have always been in love with everything that has to do with the Romanesque. I don’t know exactly why, maybe because of its harmony, or because I grew up surrounded by Romanesque towns that it is such a part of me. I don’t know. So I called La Tienda and a gentle man answered the phone and almost instantaneously we had a great connection between the two of us; and that first conversation lasted an hour and a half. That man, to whom I hold a great friendship, even though we have never met in person yet, was Don Harris. This is a proof that human soul is beyond time and space."

As you can imagine, I am deeply touched by his warm remarks, and extend my warmest wishes to all of you and those whom you love.


P.S. Let me know if you are interested in Tom’s latest recording "The Morn of St John’s Day". I have a few copies on hand.