Music History Professor Writes and Travels with Renowned Romero Family, Resulting in Donation of Archive to UCR Libraries

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
March 19, 2014

At age twelve, Dr. Walter Clark, professor and founder of UCR’s Center for Iberian and Latin American music, wanted to play like George Harrison of the Beatles, just like many other kids his age at the time. Just two years later, he was exposed to the Spanish guitar, changing his passion and life forever.

Classical and flamenco guitar introduced him to music from Spain and Latin America, his current area of expertise. As a guitarist, he plays music from as early as the 1530s, so his repertoire encompasses not only an enormous geographical area but also considerable distance in time. In addition to his musical passion, he loved writing, reading, and history, and struggled to find a career that would incorporate all of these. When told he would make a good history teacher, he realized he could become a music historian and write, study, teach, and play music, resulting in his pursuit of a doctorate in musicology.

Dr. Clark has established his reputation as a scholar by writing about Spanish composers and editing books on Latin American music. “People think of me as a teacher, but I am a student because I’m constantly learning,” he says. “It’s for my students but it’s also for my research, and that’s why I do it. Not because I’m an expert but because I want to become one.” Dr. Clark feels that the only way he can justify the time and expense involved in becoming an expert is to do it for a living, and he feels very fortunate to be able to do so.

He has written several series on these composers, his last being about the notorious Romero family of guitarists. For over fifty years, the Romero family has had an international reputation as some of the leading guitarists in the world.  In addition to their contribution as performers, they have had an enormous impact as teachers, and many of their students now occupy guitar-teaching positions all over the world. The Romeros have also enlarged the repertoire of the classical guitar by asking composers to write music for them. Prior to the Romeros in 1960, no repertoire for guitar quartet existed. Thus, they inspired a new kind of ensemble of guitar quartet and also helped create the literature for it. 

The Romero family came to the US in 1957, and consisted of five members: the father Celedonio, the mother Angelita, and their three sons Celin, Pepe, and Angel. Being so young, talented, and handsome, the men formed a family quartet, while Angelita would often accompany them on castanet. They started concertizing in the United States in 1960, performing on the Tonight Show, Today Show, Ed Sullivan Show as well as at Carnegie Hall. In addition to their exotic Spanish appeal, they played everything from Bach to flamenco, while most people played either classical or flamenco, not both. Thus, people viewed them as a total novelty. By the 1970s, The Romero family eventually settled in Del Mar, California because it reminded them of Spain, but continued to drive all over the country to perform.

While Dr. Clark was working toward his undergraduate degree in Colorado, one of his fellow students suggested he travel to California and study with the Romeros; in January of 1976, he took his first lesson with Pepe. Eventually, he moved to California and completed his master’s degree with Pepe at UC San Diego, which involved a two year program in which he improved enough to travel to Europe on a fullbright scholarship. There, he studied music before 1800 and concertized in Germany for two years, then returned to California and received his doctorate in musicology from UCLA. In 2003, UCR indicated their interest in building an emphasis in Latin American music, and Dr. Clark accepted a job as a tenured professor of music history.

When the Romeros discovered that Dr. Clark had returned to California, they helped him with a project he was working on at the time, but later asked him to write a book about them. Dr. Clark has written over a hundred pages for his book on the Romeros and works on it every day. To prepare, he spent years just reading because the Romeros had kept their programs, reviews, memorabilia, newspaper clippings, manuscripts, letters and more for almost a century. The Romeros provided a space in their home in Del Mar for Dr. Clark to perform his research where he spent several years sifting through boxes of these documents. The last step in his research was to travel to Spain with the Romeros, made possible by a grant from the University of California. There, Dr. Clark spent a couple weeks researching in libraries and archives, but also spent two weeks solely in southern Spain, visiting the cities, homes ,and places associated with their family. As the Romeros would visit certain places, they would have recollections, and Dr. Clark would record them. Thanks to Dr. Clark’s prior research, they visited places that the Romeros had never even visited themselves. He had discovered that the family started out as poor agricultural farmers, and took them to the deserted village where the family originally came from, which was only accessible by a dirt road in the mountains. Dr. Clark eventually suggested that they donate their family archive to a library so that when they passed it would be preserved appropriately; in December of last year, they donated it to the UCR libraries.

The book, which he has been working on for the past four years, will be published by Oxford University Press in late 2015 or early 2016. Celedonio passed away in 1996 and Angelita in 2001, and the youngest son Angel maintained a separate career. However, the quartet lives on with two original members, Pepe and Celin, while the roles of Celedonio and Angel have since been taken over by two  grandchildren, Celino and Lito. The sixtieth anniversary of the Romeros’ arrival in the US takes place in 2017, and Dr. Clark hopes for a Spanish translation of his book in the near future.

Dr. Clark believes the Romeros represent the union of US and Spanish cultures, and that their cosmopolitanism illustrates the feeling of being at home in the world. He states, “The way to learn about yourself is through others and their cultures. Regardless of the myriad of differences that separate us, we really are members of the same species.” He plans to write and revise editions of a couple of his earlier books, and hopes to write one final book on Spanish songs and dances in western classical music.

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