Enrique Alfonso of Asuncion, Paraguay, has a job ahead — though he's mostly done and the finsh line is in sight.
"Hopefully this will go pretty well," Alfonso said with a laugh.
He will direct a choir of between 20 and 25 people from the area — all who will be taking on a new type of music in a new language.
"We have this syncopation throughout the music," Alfonso said. "You have a beat, and you sing right after it or before it. ... And there is the language. This combination is hard, but not impossible."
The Choir sang publicly at Bethel College Mennonite Church, and Alfonso said they did a "good job" with the different music.
So well, he said, that the choir received an ovation in the middle of a church service.
"I did not what to do," he said. "We finished, and everyone started clapping. Should I turn and bow, what should I do in a service?"
The public concert is planned for 7:30 p.m. Feb 3 at Bethel College Mennonite Church.
The concert will feature the Paraguayan Folklorica Mass in Spanish, a piece Alfonso is very familiar with as he and Kathryn Kasper created amd directed a choir to perform the mass for the Pope in 2015. Also on the program for the concert is "Gloria" by Mark Hayes.
"I enjoy the work, the conducting," Alfonso said. "I really love conducting and teaching. Working here has been a joyful time for me. I have had fun. ... teaching the rythmns and the language, in another language, is hard."
There is, however, still a barrier — Alfonso sometimes struggled to find the right English word when talking to the choir. But practice, he said still goes on.
He is relishing in the opportunity to direct a choir in central Kansas, a unique opportunity for him — and for those singing in the choir.
"I knew it would be a good experience, not only for me but for the choir," Alfonso said.
Alfonso was a student of Kasper's at a Mennonite seminary in Paraguay — at the time the only college offering a vocal music degree in the country. He is also the conductor of a choir for the national cathedral in Paraguay. Kasper was a long-time Bethel College professor before heading to Paraguay more than a decade ago. She is teaching at the national university after teaching voice at the seminary.
This is the first concert during the 50th anniversary year of the Kansas Paraguay Partners — and the first choral concert in the history of the partnership.
States in the United States are partnered with regions or countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to facilitate cooperation and exchange. Kansas/Paraguay Partners is made up of more than 10 committees that work on community-based projects, such as agriculture, civil society, and health that benefit both sides of the partnership.
The partnership creates cultural exchanges between Kansas and Paraguay. In the past, firefighters from Paraguay have visited Newton, and communities across the state have collected firefighting equipment.
"Many times people came here to study," Alfonso said. "I thought I could apply to come and perform Paraguayan music here. The people I am working with are really having fun."
He arrived in Kansas Jan. 9, and since that time he has tried to experience as much of the culture here as possible. Included is working with several churches for musical performances, a trip to Emporia State Univeristy and putting together a choir for the Feb. 3 performance.
He said he has also experienced Kansas hospitality — and the food.
"I am never hungry," Alfonso said."I always feel a welcome, a warmth, from people. They try and make me feel at home. ... That is really nice and very important. People care about you here. ... People are always feeding me. I go to the next meal without feeling hungry. People are making sure I do not suffer at all."
There is still time to join the choir, and there is a need of tenors. There is one rehearsal left — 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 3 in Luyken Fine Arts Center at Bethel College. For more information about the choir or the concert, call 620-951-4838.