El Triunfo, Baja California Sur
The streets of El Triunfo were bustling on Sundays. Home to more than 10,000 miners seeking silver, gold and other valuable minerals from the surrounding mountains, they came from the played out discoveries in California. The smoke rose continuously from the stacks of the Progresso Mining Company smelters and beautiful homes were the benefit of hard work and a bit of luck.
Silver was discovered in the Baja mountains in 1862, the draw for those seeking their fortunes from the earth. Some were 49'ers looking for another chance, while merchants and dancehall girls came to profit from life in a boom town. The faces came from England, France, Russia, Germany Italy and China. All had the hope of finding their fortune. Wagons made their way to and from the port of La Paz in a steady stream of supplies, profits and hopefuls. At one point El Triunfo was the largest city in Baja.
The silver that flowed from the surrounding mountains made the city a cultural center. Classical music was a favorite of the successful. Around the turn of the century El Triunfo was in it's hay day. Francisca Mendoza had studied
music in San Francisco and returned to the city to teach and perform. Her talents were eagerly sought by the well todo for themselves and their children. Pianos were brought to El Triunfo from around the world and at one time El Triunfo had more pianos per capita than any other city in Mexico.
When I first heard there was a piano museum in El Triunfo I didn't know what to expect. Today the town is comprised of a few hundred residents, a couple of mini-markets and a few topes, hardly more than a blink on the road thirty minutes south of La Paz on the road to the East Cape. Hardly the place you would expect to find an international piano museum.
But there it was, a quaint, well kempt white and orange brick building on the east side of the road. The only clue to finding it is the official state "MUSEO" sign and an arrow. Needless to say, parking was abundant.
Inside we were greeted by Maestro Nicolas Carrillo Castro who graciously accepted our $20 peso entrance fee and personally conducted our tour of the museum. As I understood in my burgeoning espanol, Sr. Castro is curator of the museum.
The first room housed some recent evolutions of the keyboard, including a 1960's electric organ that looked very similar to a Hammond B3 I dragged to many a gig as a long haired musician in the late 70's.
Large, well presented graphics in English and Spanish augmented Sr. Castro's espanol guidance though the museum. In the central room, a beautiful concert Steinway stood ready for the next special event. After being persuaded to scrape my way through a studied but rusty rendition of "Moonlight Sonata" Sr. Castro assumed the keys and filled the room with his rendition of the same and "Claire de Lune" to boot
The front rooms housed turn of the century (the previous century) Baldwins,
Steinways and even a very old Clavichord. Clavichords are the precursor to
pianos, they 'pluck' the strings with little barbed rods. Bach wrote on and
his music sounds so authentic on a Clavichord, although I'm not sure if the
one in the museum still plays.
The focal point of the front room is a French Provincial white grand piano. Sr. Castro "tickled" the ivories for us for several more minutes on this grand instrument with his flamboyant style bringing visions of a Mexican Liberace.
Other exhibits in the museum include a Stradivarius violin, (well not exactly, one made by a later famous apprentice) cellos, horns and other stringed instruments.
On you way out through the lobby you can purchase souvenirs of the museum, postcards and even a recording of Sr. Castro's piano performances. Sr. Castro also teaches and on occasion performs inLa Paz, along with regular student recitals. Please don't be codo, the museum guides appreciate a little propina and praise for their work. (particularly if you have been treated to a live performance) The museum is still growing, restoration work to the pianos continues. The Museum is open daily Monday thru Sunday 9AM to 6PM and admission is $20 pesos. The museum is affiliated with the Estatal de Promocion al Turismo de BCS.