New a cappella group CLEAR Tones aims to teach languages through music
Group is open to all who are willing to learn, organizers say
When Sabrina Ortiz Vázquez arrived at AU’s Center for Language Exploration, Acquisition and Research, or CLEAR, with an eight-page arrangement of Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” in hand on April 8, she didn’t know what to expect.
It was the first meeting for the new a cappella group, the CLEAR Tones, and Ortiz Vázquez was teaching a small group of students how to sing the popular track in Spanish. By the end of the meeting, the students had learned to sing half of the song successfully.
Ortiz Vázquez was blown away.
“Everyone was so pumped; they learned...those four pages so quickly,” Ortiz Vázquez said. “I was amazed.’”
CLEAR director Gorky Cruz said he has wanted to establish the CLEAR Tones for a long time.
Cruz teaches Spanish courses at AU and is currently establishing a Spanish for Heritage Speakers program. The program provides students who grew up speaking Spanish at home, but didn’t live in places where Spanish was widely spoken, with the opportunity to catch up on their writing and reading skills in Spanish and find a different path of expression and understanding. He continues and expands upon this mission through the CLEAR Tones.
According to Cruz, it is an open group with no audition requirement that focuses on music from other cultures and all the languages that CLEAR has to offer, including Spanish, Arabic, Korean and Russian. The group aims to create a safe space for students to learn other languages.
In the past, there were not enough people from the arts department who were involved in CLEAR to make this happen, Cruz said. However, Cruz reached out to sophomores Ortiz Vázquez and Fabiola Lizardi Clemente, who are Spanish coaches at CLEAR, to help create the group and to be the leaders of the project.
As someone who grew up in Puerto Rico and whose first language is Spanish, Lizardi Clemente wanted to be a Spanish coach and lead the CLEAR Tones so that she could speak her native language more often while helping others learn Spanish as well.
“It’s a different feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when you get to work with people and you teach them about your language from a first-person perspective because this is what you have been speaking your whole life,” Lizardi Clemente said. “It’s just really fulfilling knowing that there are a lot of people out there who have such passion for learning another language, especially one that is so close and dear to your heart.”
Ortiz Vázquez, who is also from Puerto Rico, agreed, saying that she loves being a Spanish coach and looks forward to seeing how a cappella will help students learn other languages.
“I grew up with music; it’s great that there’s this project that involves music but also involves languages, which is also another passion I have,” Ortiz Vázquez said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn two languages at the same time, or more, because music is also a language.”
Lizardi Clemente said that she loves how learning about music can lead people to learn more about the culture behind it.
“Music can get you…to reach out to people that come from different backgrounds and different cultures,” Lizardi Clemente said. “Being so obsessed with K-pop music for so long, led me to start self-teaching Korean and then getting into the culture itself…it helps you see the world from different perspectives.”
This semester, Cruz has been working with Ortiz Vázquez and Lizardi Clemente on choosing vocal arrangements and figuring out schedules for the group.
“We have to get started somewhere,” Cruz said. “We would really like to see some commitment from the people who join, but we also understand if you want to just drop in every now and then, and just do it for fun. This is another opportunity for people to come together as an activity as opposed to the language coaching, which is more academic.”
CLEAR Tones plans to have other CLEAR coaches assist the group with learning how other languages work and how to properly pronounce lyrics in the songs that CLEAR Tones performs, Lizardi Clemente said. They will also be open to anyone joining the group even if they can’t read music.
“Besides languages, you can learn how the rhythms work: there’s salsa [and] there’s reggaeton, which have different rhythms than Western cultures have,” Ortiz Vázquez said. “There’s no limit to learning music.”
CLEAR Tones will have meetings every Sunday until April 29 in the CLEAR office, which is located in the basement of the Asbury North Wing.
In the future, the group hopes to establish connections with the other acapella groups and choral ensembles on campus and eventually perform at events. Ortiz Vázquez is in AU’s Chamber Singers and said she would love to have members of the group come in and help music-wise. They plan to reconvene and continue outreach during the second week of classes this fall.
“On our campus, we talk about being a global campus,” Cruz said. “It seems like a very common idea but we need to set up more venues for it. In my view, music has a way of being open, of allowing you to learn and discover culture and how you see the world.”
Lizardi Clemente said the group can bring different people together in a respectful, safe space.
“At the end of the day, what’s underlying all this is that it’s a way to open yourself up and it’s a way of coming together,” Lizardi Clemente said. “You come to realize that you’re not the only ethnicity in the world, there’s so much to understand.”
Most importantly, according to Ortiz Vázquez, CLEAR Tones is meant to be a fun group.
“Above all, we want to have fun,” Ortiz Vázquez said. “I feel that this project will continue in the future and will definitely be something that will last and that everyone can be attracted to.”