WALLA WALLA - In 2009, Whitman College professor Jeremy Mims found himself in a historical adventure akin to a scene from the movie "National Treasure."
"It is really cool to be in new territory, and very exciting for the students to be the first to perform this in 300 years," Mims said of the treasure he uncovered from centuries past.
On March 5, people will have a chance to hear the work of a prolific Mexican Baroque composer from the Cathedral of Puebla, when the Whitman College Symphony and Chamber Singers perform the "Beatus Vir" by Miguel Mateo de Dallo y Lana and other works at Chism Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m.
This free concert is open to the public.
Unlike the characters of the treasure hunting movie, Mims didn't have to crawl through tombs, descend into subterranean caverns or solve century-old riddles laid by Masons. Nevertheless, he was still surrounded by relics of antiquity that even predated those seen in the movie.
"It felt like actually going into a ‘National Treasure' movie, under the church. And it was well guarded …," Mims said.
The foundation of Mims' treasure-seeking adventure dates back to the 16th century.
It was a time when life moved to a slower pace, or beat, when it came to music. Buildings, however, were much more ornately designed. And if skill, time and money were available, the material of choice was stone, especially for a cathedral.
Historians write that the Cathedral of Puebla, Mexico, took 300 years to build, but the majority of the structure was built from 1575 to 1648, with consecration taking place the following year.
Like Mexico City, Puebla was also a center of great importance to the colonists, and some historians consider Puebla the second most important city of what was then known as New Spain.
And among these colonists was a composer by the name of Miguel Mateo de Dallo y Lana.
"No one had ever written on him. I took a chance. I never had heard of him. I had nothing to go on except I needed an education topic. And I spoke Spanish," Mims said, recalling of when he was searching for a dissertation topic.
Only months before, Mims had learned of the music archives of the Cathedral of Puebla, which had only been rediscovered in the 1960s.
It was reported that in these archives were treasures of scores of music dating back more than 300 years. And they dated back even further in style because the new territories at that time were somewhat behind the progressive European music scene, where composers were moving out of the Baroque period and into the Classical period.
Equipped with his camera, laptop and an inquisitive nature - along with his luggage - Mims headed for the city, which had been founded in 1531 and became a center of textile and ceramic exports and the new home for Dallo y Lana.
Little is known about the subject of Mims' research, other than Dallo y Lana, who was most likely from Seville, Spain, applied for and won the composer position with the Cathedral of Puebla and moved to the region around the mid-1600s.
Though the period was known as the Mexican Baroque, native influences are incorporated into Dallo y Lana's music, Mims noted. As as he suspected, Dallo y Lana turned out to be a prolific composer. But he also turned out to be stubborn about his ownership rights.
Mims said he also discovered that the composer often battled with the diocese over who would retain ownership of his scores.
Unfortunately, the scores that Dallo y Lana refused to turn over were the ones lost. And it was the diocese's collection that has been kept and guarded for more 300 years.
"The cathedral has kept it up since then, and it is very guarded. The diocese has to give special permission and you have to wear white gloves," Mims said, noting he had to go and buy quinceaera gloves from the local market.
Mims went on to describe how he had to ask the head of the dioceses for permission. For the most part, he said the head of the Catholic church for the region was "welcoming." But it was also made clear to the student of music that he would not be allowed in the archives if he was after monetary riches.
Since the purpose of Mims' quest was a dissertation to further the history of music, as well as revive a forgotten composer, he was allowed inside for five days to review and photograph the scores. No flashes were allowed. Nothing could be removed. White gloves had to always be worn. And always there was someone about to make sure the college student from the United States wasn't alone.
Once he returned home with his photographs of scores and notes, his work began.
"All the manuscripts, they are in the old clefts and systems of notation. And it is difficult for us to read now …There was no such thing as a score. And so my job was to line it all up and make it sound like it would have back then," Mims said.
Sometimes Mims' work required an educated guess, when a smudge or torn sheet made it impossible to read the note. But in the end, Mims said the music should sound like it did 300 years ago.
Mims even lowered the music a half step, as many scholars believe music of the Baroque period may actually have been played at a slightly lower pitch than today.
"People weren't really aware of the rich history of music in Mexico. It paralleled Spain and Italy what was going on in Europe," Mims added.