Cleofes Ortiz with Augustine Chavez and Jeanie McLerie on guitar. The dance music of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado dates back to Spanish Colonial times of the 17th century. The music and dances have survived in the isolated mountain towns of northern New Mexico.
This is dedicated to the musicians of New Mexico who played these tunes for many years and weren’t recognized or recorded, and to the dancers that danced the old dances for so many years, often dying without anyone learning from them. Also to all musicians of all cultures who have traded, shared or stolen tunes throughout history.
THE TUNES: For the sake of identification, we have given names to some of these tunes to more fully describe them. Sr. Ortiz frequently used generic names such as: polka, valse, cuna, etc. The ones we have named will be marked with an asterisk.
1. Mi Suegra Aprietan Mis Botas (My Mother In-Law Has Tightened My Boots)
2. Valse(1) Ruiz* – Popularized by the late Don Gregorio Ruiz of Pecos, NM.
3. D-Minor Cuadrilla* – One of five tunes, most in 6/8, used in the Spanish Cuadrilla.
4. La Virgencita – A Polka
5. Redondo en Do*
6. La Cuna en Fa* – A dance in which two couples join hands by way of a complicated figure to form a cuna (cradle) with their hands.
7. El Tecolote – The tune to an old song about an owl that has to create a wardrobe for a dance by eating and skinning various animals. (See words below)
8. La Vaquera (The Cowgirl) – Also known as El Vaquero, it is a chotis (schottische) popular in northern New Mexico.
9. El Talean (The Italian) – A three part dance with two couples.
10. Cuadrilla de Porfirio Padilla* – A tune that Sr. Ortiz learned from a neighbor of this name many years ago.
11. Cleo’s High E Cuadrilla* – Another 6/8 cuadrilla that goes up the violin neck to an E note.
12. Valse de La Escoba – A line dance in which the men and women line up opposite each other while an extra man dances between them with a broom. When the tune changes to the “B” part, he drops the broom and grabs a partner and everyone else rushes to get a partner. The new extra man picks up the broom and dances with it until the end of the “A” part, when he will drop the broom. The dancers line up again at the beginning of the “A” part.
13. La Indita (The Indian Woman) – A very solemn and beautiful dance with a ceremonial feel to it.
14. Tampico Hermosa – A very popular Mexican Polka.
15. La Marcha De Los Novios – An old dance tune that ends a wedding cermony and begins the festivities.
16. Cuatro Por Cuatro – A polka named this by Sr. Ortiz at the recording session.
17. Valse Emiliano* – A waltz Sr. Ortiz learned from his older cousin, Emiliano Ortiz.
18. Rosita – A favorite cuadrilla. On Oct. 25, 1985, Sr. Ortiz suffered a stroke just before playing a baile in Dixon with Ken and Jeanie. This was the tune that Jeanie whistled to help bring him back and keep him here with us during the critical moments when his pulse had ceased and before help arrived.
19. Redondo de Leyba* – Librado Leyba was a great violinista from near Anton Chico and the source of many fine tunes.
20. Paloma Blanca – An old style chotis derived from a very old Mexican tune.
21. Polfa* – A nice polka in F.
22. F Cuadrilla*
23. Valse de Los Paños – The tune to a lovely dance using handkerchiefs.
24. La Cuna en Sol* – Another cuna but in G.
25. Home Sweet Home – Traditionally the last tune of the evening. Played as a waltz and then in 6/8 time. At dances, Sr. Ortiz would often switch back and forth between 3/4 and 6/8, keeping the dancers on their toes. They danced a polquita(1) or little polka to the 6/8 part.
(1) Note on spellings of waltz and polka in Spanish.
While a waltz should be spelled ‘vals’ in Spanish, most people in northern NM pronounce it ‘valse’
pronouncing the “e”. They also spell ‘polca’, the Spanish spelling, as ‘polka’ turning ‘polquita’ into
‘polkita’. This is also true for ‘Quadrilla’ & ‘Cuadrilla’ and ‘Chotis’ or ‘Chote’ & ‘Schottische’ Use whatever you like, it’s all the same.
The dances that go with these tunes are basically old community group dances, some of which had been adapted by the courts of Europe. As time went by, the dances evolved and changed to incorporate more modern styles, such as the waltz, polka and other couple dances. These dances are
still danced in small towns at wedding and feast
days and tend to vary from town to town. An occasional dropped beat by the musicians never seems to cause a problem for the older dancers.
The above was written 20 years ago and many of these dances are now mostly forgotten except in a few places. The people we saw dance these when we played with Sr. Ortiz, have now mostly passed on. When Cleofes died, there were not any musicians left in his area to play for the dances. There are some dancers and muscians from the Trujillo family, originally from Taos and now in Denver, that play similar tunes and do similar dances.
For more on the dances:
Orquesta Cleofonica UBIK14 This recording has directions for La Escoba, Valse de Los Paños, Valse Cadena, La Cuna, La Indita, & La Vaquera
Words to El Tecolote from Cleofes Ortiz
1. Ya el tecolote no baile (2x)
Porque no tienes zapatos (2x)
Por la mañana le haremos (2x)
Del cuerito de los gatos (2X)
2. Ya el tecolote no baile (2x)
Porque no tienes calzones (2x)
Por la mañana le haremos (2x)
Del cuerito de los ratones (2X)
3. Ya el tecolote no baile (2x)
Porque no tienes camisa(2x)
Por la mañana le haremos (2x)
Del cuerito de la Luisa (2X)
4. Ya el tecolote no baile (2x)
Porque no tienes sombrero (2x)
Por la mañana le haremos (2x)
Del cuerito de los becerros (2X)
5. Tecolotito, tecolotón (2x)
Tome tu leyba (leva), traeme coton. (2x)
Verses 1-4: The owl can’t dance because he has no shoes, pants, shirt, or hat. So in the morning he will make these items from cats, mice, Luisa, calves.
Verse 5: Little owl, Little owl. Give me your slicker (heavy coat) and take my cotton jacket. (Calzones is an old word for trousers in northern NM)
Augostine Chavez plays guitar on #1,2,4,6,8,12,14, 17,18,19, and 21. Jeanie McLerie plays guitar on all others and harmony fiddle on 14.
Cleofes Ortiz was born in 1910 on Pajarito Plateau near Rowe, New Mexico. When he was eight years old, he made his first fiddle from a lard bucket, with screen wire strings. He learned most of his tunes from his cousin, Emiliano Ortiz, a well known fiddler who taught him both the local dance traditions and tunes he had picked up in lumber camps throughout New Mexico and Colorado.
When he was 14, Cleofes began to play for local bailes and continued until his marriage, and a growing family of nine demanded all of his time. Around 1975, He resumed his violin playing, performing at weddings, funciones (feast days), festivals and senior centers in his area.
Augostine Chavez lived on Gonzales Ranch near San Miguel, New Mexico. He had played guitar most of his life and learned many of these tunes in his youth from Librado Leyba and from other local musicians, including Emiliano Ortiz. He also played country and swing music.
Jeanie McLerie and Ken Keppeler, besides being professional musicians, have been collecting and learning the dances and music of northern New Mexico since 1980, their primary concern being to make this fine music more available to the public. They have spents countless hours driving all over the state, befriending musicians and learning their tunes. This recording would have been impossible without their knowledge and assistance and empathy for the culture.
Obituary for Cleofes Ortiz -1996
Cleofes Ortiz, great New Mexican fiddler of Bernal, New Mexico, died March 17th, a few weeks short of his 86th birthday, in Las Vegas, New Mexico. He played the Spanish Colonial music that he learned from his cousin Emiliano and other older fiddlers. The tunes reflected many parts of Europe including Spain, Italy, France, Ireland, Poland as well as some Native American influence. The music originally came up the Chihuahua trail from Mexico, starting in the early 1600’s, and later was influenced by the opening of the Santa Fe trail in 1821, which brought in Italians, Germans and Irish settlers, who came to New Mexico, bringing more music with them. The music Cleofes played had become a synthesis of all of these musics but kept its own identity in small villages in the isolated northern mountains.
Cleofes was a farmer, builder of stone houses, and a good all around hand. He played the fiddle with a beautiful lilt, a rhythmic bounce, and a lovely twinkle in his eye.
Cleofes was the last of the old people who grew up playing this music at the dances and his passing is the end of that era. Although he taught his music to those of us who had the patience to learn, we will never be able to play it with the authority and love of living in that other time and place, forever gone.
Cleofes’ loving and kind wife Ramona was supportive of his music and of all of the friends that came along with it. He played at the Smithsonian Folklife festival in 1991 and 1992 and at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington in 1987 and 1989.
In 1986, he received the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts from Gov. Tony Anaya.
Ramona Ortiz passed away in Las Vegas, NM in 2004.
“I feel good when I play, you know, I like to play, now, I like to play.” Quote from Cleofes Ortiz during the recording session.
Ken and Jeanie are in the process of developing a booklet that will contain a discussion of the dances and dance music of northern New Mexico, including transcriptions of the tunes and descriptions of the dances. They can be contacted at:
Bayou Seco – Ken Keppeler and Jeanie McLerie
PO box 1393
Silver City, NM 88062
Recorded by Manuelito Rettinger and Peggy Hessing on Oct. 11 & 14, 1986 in Bernal, New Mexico, with the assistance of Ken Keppeler and Jeanie McLerie.
The recording was done in a stone house built by Cleofes Ortiz.
© 1986 UBIK Sound
Notes & cover by Ken Keppeler and Jeanie McLerie
Photograph of Cleofes Ortiz and his grandson, Roberto Ortiz is by Sharon Wirtz.
This CD is a copy from an original cassette and is only available until UBIK releases an official CD release of this valuable cultural recording. This is only made to keep the music available.