Timothy G. Ruff Welch, Musical Director of Los Cantantes del Lago
Brings Singing Back to Lakeside
Linda Goldman et al.
Timothy G. Ruff Welch
After a COVID induced hiatus Los Cantantes del Lago will return to performing “It’s Christmas” this December at their new home The BRAVO! Theatre. Many residents are familiar with the chorale group, while others that are new to the area are in for a treat. We sat down with the group’s Musical Director, Tim Welch, to talk about his upcoming 20th anniversary.
How did a youngish man from Wisconsin wind up in Mexico? “I was living in Chicago and at 40 years old felt like I needed to take a year-long sabbatical. Wanting to attend a Spanish language school, I wound up in Guadalajara for 3 months and stayed for 17 years. That was 23 years ago, moving permanently to the Lakeside area more recently. I spent many years driving back and forth from Guadalajara to Lakeside then, often, back again in a day. By then I was working with a choir in Zapopan and with Los Cantantes. As well as giving private voice lessons.”
Music wasn’t always his calling, “I owned a company in Chicago working with the CDC on infectious diseases, but had been a musician with choirs, as an accompanist and singer for most of my life. I sang professionally with several chorale groups, including St. Peter’s in the Loop, a Roman Catholic Church based in Chicago. I sang with James Chorale, a huge choir that performed in Chicago and traveled all over the world touring.”
Welsh explains that he was drawn to the Lakeside area when Los Cantantes was already formed,” but it was a Cantantes concert to benefit young singers from Guadalajara performing at Lakeside that brought me here. Before that I hadn’t heard of Lake Chapala. This was twenty years ago, and that holiday season Los Cantantes decided to perform The Messiah. My training and background is in coaching and musical accompaniment and they asked if I would accompany the 40 singers on harpsichord, as well as create practice tapes for each singer to help rehearse their parts. This was in the days of cassette tapes no less, so it was an enormous amount of work. Darryl Walser was the director then and he recruited me to accompany the choir on piano at their upcoming performances after that.
Not long after I started working with the choir, Darryl’s partner put their house up for sale and within a week they were packing their bags to leave the area. That’s when he asked me to take over as Director.
When I stepped in musical aptitude was not a requirement. As a community choir, singers could join without any skill requirement whatsoever. Many singers didn’t read music, so a lot of my time was spent teaching basic note reading along with helping folks to memorize words and their specific parts. At one point the choir reached 65 people. I was conducting rehearsals in English and Spanish, managing varying musical skills and personalities. It became a bit exhausting.
Over the years Los Cantantes, in addition to performing a winter concert and another in spring, has also given performances in Greece and Turkey; Central Mexico—where residents, unused to hearing classical music, treated us like rock stars; Ecuador; British Columbia and Vancouver Island Canada and lastly, Cuba. We’ve also introduced and incorporated various styles of music like pop, bluegrass, klezmer and jazz. We’ve made a huge effort to include more local singers and not just expats.
Los Cantantes involves people other than singers for the concerts. We’re always interested in finding people who would like to volunteer in other areas besides singing. We love people who like to decorate the set, do administrative work, keep our Facebook page up to date, assist with front of the house duties, ushers, ticket sales. We also continue to raise money beyond ticket sales for venue rental, musicians, even copying scores for the singers.
We performed our last concert of 2020 a week before COVID, everything down, including the Auditorio where we had been performing over the years. Needless to say, we haven’t been able to return to the risers until now. During that time, I and the Board of Directors, felt strongly that this was an opportunity to evolve the choir by establishing some new ground rules. Obviously we were not going to have 65 people singing together and that opened the door to asking singers to prepare to audition (not just hum a few bars so to speak), looking at having a maximum of 24 singers. Roughly 50 people have auditioned, and we have 22 as we enter into this season. About half of the choir are new to Los Cantantes, some had been in the group for just one season and others have been around a bit longer. Another stipulation I requested was to conduct rehearsals only in English. Fortunately, all our Mexican singers speak English quite well, while others look forward to practicing and perfecting their language skills.
This season ‘It’s Christmas’ will be performed at four concerts at our new venue The Bravo Theater. We’ll be doing some Christmas favorites that most people are familiar with, but some songs have a jazz arrangement, others a little klezmer influence. It’s a lot of fun and sure to be an enjoyable show for all. “
“It’s Christmas” will be performed at The BRAVO! Theatre December 7, 8, 14 and 15. Tuesday shows at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday shows at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are available at Mia’s Boutique, It’s Kinda Bazaar and from all the Los Cantantes singers.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com