Carmen Helena Téllez (1955–2021)It is with great sadness that the Latin American Music Center mourns the death of its former director, colleague and friend, the noted Venezuelan-American conductor, composer, and scholar Carmen Helena Téllez. She passed away at her home in South Bend, Indiana, on Friday, December 10, 2021 at 4:45pm.
Born in Caracas in 1955, Carmen studied piano and composition in Venezuela before moving to the United States, where she completed degrees at Indiana University in conducting and piano, including a Doctor of Music with Letter of Distinction in 1989. From 1987–1989 she served as Music Director for the National Chorus of Spain but returned to the US to serve as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music and Visiting Music Director of the Handel Society at Dartmouth College. In 1992 she joined the faculty of Indiana University as Professor of Music and Director of the LAMC and the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, serving in these roles for two decades. She also taught as an Adjunct Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies and was a Faculty Fellow with the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities. In 2010 she received the Tracy Sonneborn Distinguished Professor Award for Creativity in Research and Teaching. Under her direction, the LAMC established a recording competition in conjunction with the Office of Education and the Embassy of Spain to champion works by Latin American and Ibero-American composers.
In addition to premiering, recording, and commissioning pieces, Carmen also organized various workshops and conferences, including the LAMC’s 50th-anniversary conference, Cultural Counterpoints: Examining the Musical Interactions between the United States and Latin America, which brought together scholars from around the world in celebration of Latin American music. The center’s Latin American Ensemble and a number of courses currently offered by the center owe their creation to her. Carmen served as research director for nearly twenty doctoral projects during her twenty-year tenure at IU. She received numerous awards and grants to develop her own works and champion other Latin American artists. In 2012, she joined the University of Notre Dame faculty as a Professor of Conducting and Interdisciplinary artist, serving in these roles until her death.
Throughout her life, Carmen dedicated herself to art and music as a scholar, performer, educator, and patron. She commissioned and premiered works by some of the most distinguished choral composers of her time—among them are Juan Orrego-Salas’s La ciudad celeste, Mario Lavista’s Missa ad consolation dominam nostram, Cary Boyce’s Ave Maria, and Ingram Marshall’s Savage Altars. In addition to her work as an advocate for Latin American composers and their works, Carmen worked as a creative producer for a variety of new and modern pieces, seeking to promote living composers and also highlight the co-creative roles of performers and audiences. In addition to work championing other artists, she was a celebrated composer and interdisciplinary artist. She developed an ongoing artistic project known as Kosmologia, which sought to create and produce works that highlighted the relationship between music and scholarship or other arts with a particular focus on the human voice and technology. In 2021, the Princeton Festival premiered her commissioned piece, The Muses Speak, an art-music video. One of her last works, a contribution to a set of symphonic poems inspired by George Seurat, is slated for premiere in January 2022 by the South Bend Symphony Orchestra.
Carmen was an incomparable force whose untimely death leaves an unfillable void in the musical arts community. As we reflect upon her life and numerous accomplishments, we find comfort in the important legacy that she leaves through her works of art, scholarship, and students, and through the many memories and friendships she forged.