December 2012

The retreat: Weekly serenade

The origins of the tradition most likely date back to colonial times with Spanish military bands playing music on certain days for the public. Walter Sánchez depicts this customs development throughout Bolivia.

By: Walter Sánchez Canedo
Instituto de Investigaciones

Rigoberto Sainz and his music school in 1914

According to the Diccionario de la Lengua Española, edited by the Real Academia Española, the word retreat comes from French, retraite and has four definitions: ”(1). f. Military signal made when retreating, and to advise the troops to pack up and go to bed in the barracks (2). f. Nightly festival in which the troops march through the streets with their different weapons, lamps, axes, music, and sometimes floats with different attributes and (3). f. Costa Rica and Cuba; nocturnal, open-air, musical function, generally in parks and promenades (4). f. Venezuela; a concert that offers military bands or other institutions in public plazas”. In Bolivia, the retreat references a generally nocturnal musical function (on Thursdays and/or Sundays), in the Plaza de Armas or Plaza Principal although, before, they were also held in the entrance of the military quarters.

When was the practice of retreats instituted in the cities of Bolivia? It is not known, although it is possible that it came from an activity established in the colonies by the Spanish military bands and that involved into nocturnal parties held by these military groups, later by the exercises called ”military clearances”. What is known is that their custom was official by the military bands during the first half of the 19th century and consolidated by General Achá’s government in January of 1862, as a type of musical entertainment upon being held in the main cities and villas. In the last third of this century, the retreat was already an open-air musical function that was held by a military or civilian band – the municipalities are also beginning to organize their own bands with civilian musicians (banda de Celadores) – whose goal was, one or two times per week, to make the processions of public relations in the neighborhoods more enjoyable with trendy music.

The Spaniard, Ciro Bayo, wrote the book Chuquisaca o La Plata Perulera (Imprenta Universitaria, 1974) about his experiences in Sucre in the second half of the 19th century. It, the book, identifies the two types of bands that performed the retreat in the 19th century: (1) in la Plaza de Armas where people from the elite went and (2) by the gate to the barracks where it participated in “cholada”: ”Thursdays, Sundays and festive days, the upper class gathered at the spacious plaza de la Catedral (de Sucre) to hear the retreat; military serenade that now is no longer used in Spain have been conserved in all of the South American cities.

The band director Rigoberto Sanz

While the young people walk around the plaza the old ones and the ones who do not want to be seen sit on the benches in the arcades instead. To be sure to get space in the church, because there is not much, you must remember to bring a rug since there is a chance of not getting a seat. But if you bring a rug you are still able to sit or kneel. When the retreat has finished, the musicians and the squad turns the gate of the barracks and play some guaiños y cuecas; the last one is a kind of national fandango. It is very happy and harmonic and the Choladas like this more than the rest of the songs from the retreat.” In Cochabamba it is the band Celadores de Policía who quickly feels a strong presence as one of the weekly celebrators at the public gatherings but they are also satisfied with their official and popular metallic sounds that are their retreats. In 1875, la “Banda del pueblo”, as it was commonly called was popular music for the local elite; opera, operetta and zarzuela was heard during the young courtships “of society” walks.

In the last third of this century, the retreat was already an open-air musical function that was held by a military or civilian band

In Cochabamba, at the end of the 19th century, they had not just institutionalized weekly retreats but even the municipality arranged another band: Columna del Orden the announcement of the soil. The repertoire of these functions was to presentations on the Plaza de Armas or September 14; it was published weekly in local newspapers, records permitting consideration of changing musical fashion. In these years el shotis, el pasacalle and other foreign rhythms were important.

A letter from the Prefect of Cochabamba, Colonel A. Santalla E. the Director of Army Bands in February 15th, 1937 states the two types of retreats: one performed in the streets of the cities, towns and villages leading to attending the gentry and another held at the gate of the barrack.

From the museum of Walter Sánchez

”I’m a supporter of the national folklore but I must also remind you that while the true concerts finished, others were made of native music at the barrack gates and these were always well received and as consequence extremely popular demonstrations rose to taste the exquisite Creole. So both aspects are harmonized and thus expansions due to popular soul and at the same time the educated were in another larger musical demonstration.” (Archive Rigoberto Sainz)

Cochabamba Weapons School (…), the best of the Bolivian military bands despite having few instruments

On the other hand, if we follow the information provided by the teacher Rigoberto Sainz (1904-1989) of his story of the military bands of Bolivia (1941), there was a military band in Cochabamba stable until after the Chaco war. It is this teacher, in his capacity as an assimilated colonel who takes over the band Cochabamba Weapons School, and it soon turns out to be, according to the press at that time, ”the best of the Bolivian military bands despite having few instruments.”Sainz who was one of the first graduate of military National Conservatory of Music, and who was a musician with solid academic training, developed a tedious task, not only renewed its splendor, but rose the level of the city retreats true ”recitals” and ”concert”. In 1938 he therefore offered a recital debut with 17 works, which was to present themselves; ”foxtrot Inca”, rumba, maxixas, ”Inca” fantasies, marches and hymns. On February 16th, 1939, he offered a symphony concert at the Teatro Achá and then in the Plaza de Armas.

After the nationalist revolution of 1952 life in the major towns and cities changed dramatically. The events and sound space of the elite and class-mestizo cholos lost much of their meaning systems.


Instituto de

Translated by
Mikkel Behnke

Calendario DICIEMBRE 2012

> Exposición fo tográfica “Latidos silvestres”

29 de noviembre - 5 de diciembre

Horario de visitas: 9:00 a 12:00 / 15:00 a 19:00

> Ciclo de cine de animación “En el
mundo de la imaginación”

3 de diciembre - 19:00
Brendan et le secret de Kells (El secreto del Kell)

4 de diciembre - 19:00
Le chat du Rabbin (El gato del rabino)

5 de diciembre - 19:00
L’apprenti Père Nöel (El aprendiz de Papá Noél)

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