Earliest Musical Experiences

Hector Miguel Ramón Campos Parsi was born on October 1, 1922. His birth certificate indicates that he first saw the world at 11:15 a.m. He was born at the Asilo de Damas hospital in Ponce. His family observed the Spanish custom of quickly baptizing the child. A card for the occasion states that he received the first sacrament on Christmas of the year 1922. At that time, his father, José Miguel Campos worked as a clerk at Banco Credito y Ahorro Ponceño. Elisa Campos, the mother, had the traditional role of housewife and mother. On May 16, 1924, a girl, Mercedes Campos Parsi was born to the family. The second child born to the marriage, she would be Hector's only sibling.

In 1926 the family moved to Utuado, in the south central area of the island. José Miguel Campos was named manager of the first branch created by Banco de Ponce and transferred to this quaint mountain village. This would be the family home for the next seven years. Campos Parsi's earliest memories were from this period. He stated categorically that "My emotional character was formed there". Life in Utuado was comfortable for the Campos family. They settled in a large house, where they had many plants and animals. They could afford the services of maids and nannies that took care of the chores of housekeeping and assisted with the care of the children.

Utuado also provided his first important experiences and memories about music. Mercedes and Hector heard their father play the piano many times. Family gatherings were a natural occasion for dancing and music making. They sang and played together the traditional music of Puerto Rico and the latest songs from South America, Spain and the United States. Campos Parsi recalls that the family held parties every saturday night. Local folk musician Pinín Maldonado and his group would be hired to perform for the guests. A family story recounts Hector Campos' first manifestation of musical talent. A famous tango of the time, "Medias de Seda", was making the rounds on the family piano. Young Hector, four or five years old, learned the song by ear without any instruction, and surprised the family and guests with a performance. Everybody was duly impressed with the boy’s musical precocity. It was then decided that he should take music lessons.1

Around the 1920s, Cecilia Muñoz de Negrón, a local music teacher and neighbor provided piano, violin, mandolin, solfege and theory lessons to local children. Her residence and studio was across the street from the Campos family. She was the daughter of Jesús María Muñoz, a distinguished pianist, teacher, and band leader. Cecilia Muñoz had four children with Silvano Negrón: Cecilia, Luisa, Luz, and Jesús. They were all trained as musicians. Cecilia and Luz were two of Puerto Rico's most outstanding piano teachers and concert artists.2 They were also lifelong friends and colleagues of Campos Parsi. Cecilia Muñoz immediately noticed that Hector had a lovely singing voice. At her weekly solfege lessons she taught him how to sing Schubert's Ave Maria and other arias. Eventually he became known as "the celebrated child tenor" and sung at church, school and social occasions.

Luz Negrón Hutchinson remembered that the young boy "had a beautiful voice. He would bring tears to your eyes with his musicality". She recalled that in the large patio of her Utuado residence the children would get together and play. Cecilia, the eldest, organized musical skits that included costumes made by the children. She coached and directed their performances. Campos Parsi was a regular participant with their group. Mercedes Campos remembered a performance at the Teatro Utuado where the young child sang the popular song "El Manicero". She recalls that he began singing from the balcony and eventually sang all the way to the stage, all the while showering the audience with peanuts.3

1928 was a bad year for the people of the island. In September, San Felipe, another terrible hurricane visited the island and left death and destruction in its wake. The lands belonging to the Campos family were devastated and the family was unable to afford their rehabilitation. In October the stock market crashed leaving many people stuck with worthless stocks and investments. The economic condition of the Campos' and the Parsi's took a blow from which it would never recover. Economic depression hit the empoverished island hard.

A "Certificate of Promotion"4 showed that Hector Campos completed the first grade at Colegio San Miguel in June, 1928. A souvenir card indicates that the formal graduation took place at the Teatro Herrera on June 15, 1928.5 The program for that day listed an unidentified "Sinfonía" to be played at the celebration and also a piano performance by Jesús Negrón. Following Catholic tradition, young Hector made his First Communion the next year at San Miguel Church, on May 26, 1929. Around that time Campos Parsi was greatly impressed by a concert given in Utuado by soprano Amalia Paoli and pianist Narciso Figueroa. He was moved by pianist Figueroa's rendition of Manuel de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance. Never had he seen such technique or emotional expression.6

The young boy was presented to, and sung for, Miss Paoli. She declared that he had an extraordinary voice and should take care of it. She told him that he was a natural singer. However, Campos admits that he never took singing seriously and at the time did not consider becoming a professional musician. The first documented evidence of a public performance by Hector Campos Parsi is from 1931. It was in the First Grade graduation program of his sister Mercedes. The program listed him singing "a song" as a solo, a tango a duo, and participating in a comedy skit "El bebé está enfermo". This program demonstrates that music played an important role in the educational activities of the town. Besides the songs mentioned above the program also listed the participation of an "orchestra", Los Trovadores, and a song accompanied by pianist Jesús M. Muñoz.

Another program from this time announced a musical soiree to be held at the Teatro Utuado. This show was sponsored by Colegio San Miguel and it offered a host of skits, songs, and a Christmas play. It is important because it presented the first documented evidence of Hector Campos billed as the "celebrated child tenor". The first part of the program featured piano and violin music by Cecilia M. de Negrón, and her students J. Mestre and José Cabán. The finale of the first part featured many of the students including Hector and his sister Mercedes in a Christmas scene. The second part listed Hector Campos in a solo performance of "En la noche". The final part of the program was a Christmas play: "The spirit of Christmas", with Luz Negrón playing Christmas and Campos Parsi playing a clown. The admission prices were listed at 10, 20 and 25 cents.

In 1933 José Miguel and Elisa Campos moved to Aibonito. A town located in the beautiful central mountain range of the island. At the early part of the century Aibonito was a summer resort for wealthy islanders. The cool mountain air was the perfect relief for the summer heat of the coasts. The season ran from May to September and families, many from Ponce, spent the lazy summer days there. Juan Campos resigned his post at Banco de Ponce and decided to work there independently, as a freelance bookkeeper. On June 18, 1934 Campos Parsi completed elementary school by graduating from the eighth grade at the Federico Degetau School of Aibonito. He was listed as an honor student, receiving the distinction of being class Salutatory. 7

An article in El Día, a now defunct newspaper from Ponce commented on Campos' graduation from the eighth grade. Dated July 12, 1934 the article stated that "young Campos completed his seventh and eighth grade in the same year..." Mention is made of the silver medal he received for his high marks and good conduct. This is the first newspaper article ever written about Hector Campos Parsi.8 Hector first began high school at the Colegio de Varones, a private boarding school for boys in Ponce. After a semester he was transferred to Ponce High School, a public school. Going to school in Ponce meant a long and uncomfortable commute. The roads of the time were not in good condition and this grueling trip took many hours over long, winding and dangerous mountain roads.

Two years later the Campos family moved to Santurce, a town that at that time was considered to be on the outskirts of the capital. The new address was Hipódromo Urbanization, B street, number 14. José Miguel Campos hoped that life in the capital might provide a better opportunity to make a living. Through friends he found work as accountant to the Barnes Rubbing Alcohol Company and with the company Squibb and Sons. Both factories were located near the family home. At 13, young Campos Parsi was already a confident singer and improvisor at the piano, despite the fact that his musical training had stopped for several years.

On October 1, 1935 he won the amateur composition prize offered by WKAQ-Radio with the waltz "Rosa María". His prize consisted of $5 and a live performance. The program guide printed by the radio station for the week of October 28 featured a picture of Campos Parsi. The text stated that: "Hector M. Campo [sic], a twelve year old boy that gave a masterly rendition of the waltz ROSA MARIA, his own composition, obtained first prize...".9 The young composer was elated, his confidence as a creative musician grew. Writing music began to interest him, but only as a diversion, not as a serious pursuit. His family never doubted he would be a doctor or a lawyer. "Music was only considered an ornament for our lives". Art was not considered a proper profession for a gentleman.

Through a friend of the family from Ponce Hector met Margarita van Rhyn, the choirmaster at San Jorge church. She immediately recognized his talent as a singer and invited him to sing solos with her choir. She also offered free piano lessons as his family could not pay. She noticed that the young man could improvise at the piano, and was the first to recognize his potential as a composer. Unfortunately these lessons were not on a regular basis. Hector Campos continued to explore musical expression by mimicking the popular and classical music of his day.10

Around this time Hector encountered another old friend from Utuado, Father Gregorio, a Franciscan priest. Father Gregorio had heard the young man at the church in Utuado and invited him to sing at San Francisco Church in old San Juan. This was one of the largest and most important churches on the island. Fatefully, this would be his last public performance as a child soprano. His voice cracked during a performance of the Ave Maria and the embarrassment put an end to his singing days.

On June 12, 1938 Campos Parsi graduated from Santurce's Central High School.11 Later that year he began his freshman year at the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Puerto Rico. In 1939 he was awarded a tuition remission scholarship "to be renewed in the future if the final grades so justify".12 Unfortunately he did not perform well academically during these years, as he was involved with many extracurricular activities and interests. These included several associations and clubs. Records show that Campos Parsi was elected president of Círculo Musical Universitario13, secretary of the Peripatus Society14, committee member for the Premedic Circle15, public relations officer for the University Catholic Center16, Pro Hispanic Cinema Society vice president17 and president of the Psychology Club18. He also formed part of several other committees and panels from time to time.

In an article in La Torre, the official student newspaper of the University of Puerto Rico, under the title "Scientific Coordination", Adela Manseriche wrote: "everything seems to indicate that Hector Campos Parsi is the publicity agent for all the scientific and cultural organizations of the University".19 Two other important interests took up a lot of the time of the young student: theatre and journalism. Hector Campos loved the theatre since his childhood years. At the university he received the opportunity to get involved with student theatre productions. He played several roles including Luciento in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. He was also active backstage, involved with other aspects of the productions, including sound, costumes, and music. He formed part of the troupe directed by Leopoldo Santiago Lavandero that gave numerous presentations around the island. This group brought the magic of the theatre to many different communities around the island, including schools and prisons. That summer he completed basic military training with the Reserve Officers Training Corp of the Senior Infantry Division. The Second World War was a serious concern for most young men in Puerto Rico and many were enlisting as volunteers with the Armed Forces.

Journalism also took up a lot of Hector Campos' time. He wrote articles for several newspapers: El Mundo, El País, El Imparcial, La Torre, and El Día in the years following 1940. He also contributed short stories, articles and poems to two weekly magazines: Puerto Rico Ilustrado and Alma Latina. The articles included recital and movie reviews, social announcements, and publicity for the various student organizations.20

Music was an important part of the young student's life. From this period dates the oldest written composition by Campos Parsi that is preserved, a waltz in popular Latin American style. The title page was written by hand with very artistic calligraphy. It was dated June 13,1941 and bore the title "Elisa". It was dedicated "to my beloved mother", and the cover had an interesting photograph of the composer and his mother in front of their house in Santurce. The style of this waltz was very similar to the popular Latin waltzes of the time. Divided in short sections that were repeated, its melodic lines had a songlike quality. This work demonstrated that Campos Parsi's notational technique at this time was rather poor. However, despite problems with the use and cancellation of accidentals, and the rather stiff pianistic writing, the music contained some interesting harmonic ideas and some compelling melodies.21

From this period we found another composition for the piano with the title "Sonata for Pianoforte, in A minor". It is not dated. Although this work was much more ambitious than the waltz, the results were not as compelling. Problems with the notation indicate that this music was probably written before "Rosa María". The first page of the music followed the heading "First Movement", but no evidence was found of any other movements. The music was very reminiscent of popular Latin American melodies of that era. The prominent use of Phrygian mode lent a very Spanish flavor to the piece. The use of triple meter over a duple meter after "Allegro" showed the influence of the Puerto Rican Danza.22

In September of 1941 Campos Parsi, Luz Negrón, and some other friends created the Círculo Musical Universitario, a university group dedicated to the promotion and discussion of classical music. This club provided Hector Campos with the opportunity to participate in activities directly related to art music. Apart from hosting lectures about the great composers, the group sponsored several recitals presenting young student artists. Campos Parsi participated by playing some original compositions for the piano. Their first recital on April 3, 1941 included two works by the composer: "Danza de la Muñeca" and "Capricho Español, number six". Luz Hutchinson also appeared performing works by Debussy, Ravel, Falla, and Mendelssohn. This same program was repeated several times, including a presentation at the Casino de Puerto Rico.

An article in El Mundo newspaper dated April 1, 1941, mentioned the young composer and the other participants favorably. As a result of the publicity and attention received, the students petitioned the university authorities to recognize the Círculo as a legitimate campus organization. They were granted official recognition in September of 1941, and soon thereafter membership cards are issued. This association also presented the work of another young Puerto Rican composer, Amaury Veray23, who would also achieve artistic renown. Campos Parsi admitted that he felt challenged to compete musically and compositionally with this friendly rival. These early musical activities were the beginning of musical careers for both young artists. A second Círculo Musical Universitario program, dated May 4, 1942, included music by both Veray and Campos Parsi.24 Listed were two works by Campos: "Valse (Pierrot y Colombina); and four by Veray: Los Pinos en el Cementerio", "Sonata", "Petit Ballade", and "Exodo". Luz Hutchinson remembered the music by Hector Campos as being "very interesting, very brilliant and modern. It reminded me of the way his father played."25 These concerts were very successful and received much attention in the press.

The Círculo Musical Universitario was the object of an extensive article in Puerto Rico Ilustrado, an important weekly magazine of that time, now extinct. The article, dated June 21, 1941 had a picture of the young students, including Campos Parsi. The first paragraph was interesting because of the way it portrayed music in Puerto Rico at the time: “Music is no longer an element of cultural and spiritual enjoyment in our country. It is a painful truth; but the truth. Orchestras have disappeared; bands have been banished; nobody cares to learn how to play a [french] horn, a bassoon, a viola; much less study instrumentation and orchestration. What for?”26 This rendering of the times was contradicted by an article appearing on April 30 of the same year in the newspaper El Imparcial: “Puerto Rico has [several] organizations that have endowed it with prestige regarding it's music, as the Sociedad Pro Arte Musical, vocal groups of great worth such as the choral mass of the Polytechnical Institute, the University of Puerto Rico..., artistic luminaries like the brothers Figueroa, Sanromá, Tavárez, la Hija del Caribe, Pedreira, Escalona de Nin, and many other great figures...”27

Many artists came to play concerts on the island during this time. Luz Hutchinson remembered hearing Claudio Arrau, Giomar Novaes, Ruth Ford and many others.28 Concert music was not at the level of a large metropolitan area but musical concerts were available. Puerto Ricans could also listen to the great performing artists of the time on phonograph recordings. Campos Parsi recalled meeting every sunday with friends to listen to and discuss the latest classical recordings on the family's record player.

Perhaps because of the many distractions in Hector Campos' life, his many activities, hobbies and avocations, his academic achievement took a turn for the worse. A transcript from the University of Puerto Rico containing his grades for the academic years 1942-43 and 1943-44 showed that of twenty courses undertaken in that period he received twelve failing grades (F), no credit on three, one deficient (D), two average (C), one good (B), and one superior (A).29

1.Most of the information about the early years of the composer comes from an interview I recorded on October 31, 1987. See also Batista, G. "Hector Campos Parsi". El Nuevo Día newspaper, 11/18/82.

2.Interview recorded February 18, 1989. Luz Negrón de Hutchinson was been Professor of Piano at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico for more than 27 years. She played numerous solo and chamber music recitals in Puerto Rico throughout the decades. She appears on 22 records, many of which include music by Campos Parsi. She appeared as soloist with the PR Symphony Orchestra many times, and was it's official pianist. Her husband was Henry Hutchinson, first chair violinist with the PRSO until his passing. Her son Henry is also a concert violinist and the present first chair violin of the PRSO. Although I was not a formal piano student of Doña Luz, I considered her a guiding light and was fortunate to know her for many years. She passed away in 2004. Cecilia N. de Talaveras is Professor of Piano at the Conservatory and is a frequent performer on the island.

3. Interview with Mercedes Campos, May 16, 1989.

4.See Appendix A of original dissertation.

5.The card has a handwritten entry by Elisa Campos. The age is indicated as 5 years, 8 months and 14 days. See Appendix B of original dissertation. The card also bears an entry that must have been made at a later date indicating that he dedicated the waltz "Rosa María" to a Mrs. Roper. It indicates that Hector joined the Boy Scouts on March 17, 1934. The note also says that Hector "sang for the first time in the San Juan Municipal Theatre on May 23, 1934", and that he sang for a radio station for the first time the next day, May 24.

6.Interview October 31, 1987.

7.See Appendix B of original dissertation.

8.Author unknown. For the original Spanish text and an English translation see Appendix C of original dissertation.

9.Interview October 31, 1987. Batista incorrectly lists the year as 1938. See Batista, G. "Hector Campos Parsi" El Nuevo Día, newspaper, November 18, 1982. See Appendix B of original dissertation.

10. Batista mentions two popular composers of the era: Juan Garriga and José Antonio Monrouzeau.

11. See Appendix A of original dissertation.

12.See Appendix D of original dissertation.

13."El CMU en la UPR forma directiva" El Imparcial, 2 May, 1941. For a copy of Campo's membership card for this group see Appendix 19.

14."El club Peripatus de la UPR elige su directiva para 1941-42" El País, newspaper, 6 May 1941.

15.Alma Latina, 14 March 1942.

16."Baile del Centro Católico Universitario", El Imparcial, 21 February, 1942.

17."La Sociedad Pro Cinematografía Hispana" El Mundo, 12 August 1942.

18.El Mundo, October 3, 1942.

19.Among the most important of these was the organizational group for the "Fiesta por la Poesía y el niño de Puerto Rico". Interview October 31, 1987.

19.Todo parece indicar que Hector Campos Parsi es el agente publicitario para todas las organizaciones científicas y culturales de la universidad. From Campos Parsi's personal scrapbook, no date.

20.See Bibliography for a comprehensive listing of the articles written by Campos Parsi.

21.The second section of this waltz (Vivace ed con spirito) was in C major. By measure three the music modulated to d minor by way of an A major secondary dominant. The third section (Animato) featured the use of major sevenths and a charming modulation from F major to g minor by way of d minor, a diminished seventh, and D seventh second inversion. Measure three also has an interesting melodic retard, delaying the resolution to F. See Appendix E of original disssertation.

22.See Appendix E of original disssertation.

23. La Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico, Vol. 7, 310-317.

24. See Appendix B.

25. Interview, 28 February 1989.

26. La música ha dejado de ser un factor de cultura y de deleite espiritual en nuestro país. Es una verdad dolorosa; pero una tremenda verdad. Han desaparecido las orquestas; se han desterrado las bandas; ya nadie se le ocurre aprender a sonar una trompa, un fagot, una viola; mucho menos emprender el aprendizaje de instrumentación y arreglo orquestal. ¿Para qué? Ibid., no page.

27. Puerto Rico cuenta con organizaciones que lo prestigian en relación a la música, como lo son la Sociedad Pro Arte Musical, agrupaciones vocales de gran valor donde se destacan la masa coral del Instituto Politécnico, la masa coral de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, luminarias en el campo del arte como lo son los hermanos Figueroa, Sanromá, Tavarez, la Hija del Caribe, Pedreira, Escalona de Nin, y otras muchas grandes figuras... Author unknown.

28. Interview February 28, 1989.

29. For a copy of the academic transcript see Appendix A of original dissertation.

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