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March 23, 2009

Ascencion Cantata Coming to the Gavilan College Theater

Who:  ASCENCIÓN, A Dramatic  Ethno-historical Cantata, honors the life and spirit of Ascención Solórsano de Cervantes (1854-1930), the last of the California Amah-Mutsun (San Juan) tribal band to retain complete linguistic and cultural fluency of her people.


What:  ASCENCIÓN  is divided into 14 scenes with one intermission.  This two-hour multi-media work incorporates pre-recorded sound effects/music (recordings of bells and choir), projected images, light effects, spatial sound effects, and live solo performances with Helene Joseph-Weil, mezzo-soprano and Hatem Nadim, piano.


Why:  The cantata seeks to translate artistically examples of Ascención Solórsano's singular knowledge of Amah-Mutsun cultural history, including the enslavement and genocide of her people under Spanish, Mexican, and American governments, as well as pre-contact tribal creation stories, daily life, basketry, and menus of indigenous foods.  The project intends to bring the revered California Indian woman, known as The Saint of Gilroy for her care of the sick and dying, to wider public attention through an original, artistic reinterpretation.


Background:  The cantata's libretto, written by Helene Joseph-Weil and set to music by Benjamin Boone, is adapted directly from the oral history Ascención Solórsano shared on her deathbed with Smithsonian ethnologist J. P. Harrington during the months of August 1929 until January 1930.  Harrington's work with Ascención is identified as "The San Juan Report" in The Papers of John Peabody Harrington in the Smithsonian Institution 1907-1950, procured through the UC Davis Native American Language Center NSF Harrington Data-base Project.  Additional sources for the libretto are the writer's personal interviews with Ascención's aged grandchildren, out-of-print linguistic manuals, historic newspaper reproductions, archival Mission San Juan Bautista documents, and interviews with California Indian experts on Mutsun basketry, pre-contact diet, and the language.


Where & When:  Saturday, April 4 at 7:00 PM in the Gavilan College Theater, 5055 Santa Teresa Blvd., Gilroy, 95020.


Cost:  General Admission $15; Students & Seniors $10; Students with Gavilan ASB $7

Tickets will be sold at the door & the Gavilan Bookstore.


For more information, please visit


Last modified: August 17, 2011
Gavilan College Red Diamond 5055 Santa Teresa Boulevard Red Diamond Gilroy, CA 95020 Red Diamond (408) 848-4800