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TANGO VIOLIN: Tango Violin: style, history and performance practice Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Report 2014 CAROLINE PEARSALL MA A picture of Winston Churchill in an old bookshop there were pictures
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TANGO VIOLIN: Tango Violin: style, history and performance practice Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Report 2014 CAROLINE PEARSALL MA A picture of Winston Churchill in an old bookshop there were pictures of him throughout Buenos Aires! Key Words: tango, violin, workshops, Argentina, teaching, style, performance, research, Buenos Aires, history Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow CONTENTS Page 1 Itinerary 3 2 Introduction of Aims, Objectives & Background 3 3 Details on Who I Saw and Met 4 4 Music Courses and Institutions 5 5 Tango Community in Buenos Aires & New York 10 6 Promoting Tango in the UK Plans 11 7 Conclusions & Recommendations 12 8 Bibliography & Discography 15 9 Appendix 1: Recommendations for Travellers Appendix 2: Case Study of a Tango Violinist: Elvino Vardaro 17 ITINERARY Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow 2014 June 27 Flight to Columbus, Ohio, USA to take part in Creative Strings Workshop 2014 July 5 Flight to Buenos Aires. Participation in Tango Para Musicos and interviews/research August 31 Flight to New York for interviews September 13 Flight to London INTRODUCTION OF AIMS, OBJECTIVES & BACKGROUND My project with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is to write a book on Tango Violin: style, history and performance practise, and to develop Tango Violin Music Workshops. The purpose of my travel was to interview tango violinists and other musicians of interest, collect books and magazine articles, recordings and any other information I could find. I have been working in the tango music milieu for 11 years, but there is very little information available in English. I have such enjoyment from playing this music, and discovering it has always been such an enriching journey that I wish now to teach others to play it and to educate people in general about this wonderful musical genre. I intend to do this through workshops, lectures, written articles, my book, videos, concerts and any other method I can think of that reaches a larger audience. There is also no book even in Spanish that collects together the biographies and lives of all the most important tango violinists, hence my desire to create a kind of compendium for those interested in this music. I also wish to include anecdotes and other stories to give more of a feel for the personalities involved that created this fascinating music. My choice of destinations were based on the fact that tango music was born in Buenos Aires and even today is the main cultural base of this music. In the rest of Argentina the musical style preferred is rock and folklore. I also chose New York too because of Piazzolla s time there, I wanted to see if he had left any legacy there among the musicians. I chose to do a Creative Strings Workshop in Ohio to see how Christian Howes, a jazz violinst, has developed his teaching program to get ideas for my own. I also participated in a course in Buenos Aires called Tango Para Musicos with Ramiro Gallo to see how he taught tango violin to classical musicians. Aims of the trip - to learn about the history of tango violin in its context - to interview as many violinists as possible - to buy or copy as many books and articles as possible about tango violinists - to gather enough information on the most famous tango violinists in order to write accurate biographies about them for my book - to gain a broader understanding of the role of the violin in tango and how it is viewed by Buenos Aires musicians - to ask what the future of tango violin is and what classical violinists could gain from studying this music Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow - to get ideas for developing my own tango violin workshops in the UK - to gain a better cultural understanding of tango music in general Who I saw and met I met violinists, musicologists, radio producers, pianists, bassists and singers. Here is a list of some of the people I met: Luis Tarantino Radio Producer Guillermo Rubino Violinist Gustavo Beytelmann Composer & pianist Mauricio Marcelli Violinist & Composer Fabian Bertero Violinist Ramiro Gallo Violinist & Composer Alejandro Schaikis Violinist Perla Flores Violinist from Mexico living in Buenos Aires now Javier Weintraub Violinist & Arranger Leonardo Ferreyra Violinist Lucas Furno Violinist & Director of Elvino Vardaro Orquesta de Cuerdas Pablo Aslan Bassist & Composer Pablo Moistero Singer Sebastain Prusak Violinist Christine Brebes Violinist from the USA living in Buenos Aires now Leonardo Suarez Paz- Violinist & Arranger Carlos Franetti Composer Susana Azzi Writer Miguel Angel Bertero Violinist Juan Jose Mosalini - Bandoneonist Fernando Suarez Paz Violinist (with Piazzolla s quintet) Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow 2014 There were others I wanted to interview so I hope to return next year or to do some more interviews by Skype: Ramiro Gallo Violinist & Composer Mario Abramovich (however, I just discovered he died on Dec 1 st this year) Damian Bolotin - Violinist Horacio Ferrer Librettist and Author (he has since died too) Juan Pablo Navarro Bassist and Composer Ignacio Varchausky - Bassist, radio producer, Director of the Orquesta Escuela and El Arranque Music Courses and Institutions I shall write a brief description of some of the institutions and courses I went to during my trip. CREATIVE STRINGS WORKSHOP This took place in the Ohio Wesleyan University Campus. For one week I was surrounded by very high level inspiring violinists who played jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass and soul. This course has been developed by Christian Howes and has been running for 14 years. Students were divided according to their improvising and general proficiency level and given groups to work with on selected repertoire as well as having open classes in different styles or elements of improvisation in which they wanted to participate. At the end of the week there was a series of concerts in cafes, libraries, old people s homes and so on in order that every student could use their new knowledge in real-life settings. Howes also advises people throughout the week on what they can do to improve their music careers. I was, as usual, the only tango violinist there, but people were very open to learning some tangos with me and performing them at the end of the week. I want to take tango out of its usual rather closed environment and show people everywhere how great it is! He also runs an online course which accompanies his course in the summer camp and I would like to use this model for my own tango workshop and online classes, which I am now developing. I can see Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow that there is a model of entrepreneurship for musicians, sometimes called musipreneurship, which is very inspiring for me in my desire to take tango music to new audiences in new ways. As my project is the first of its kind on tango violin there is no one obvious place to go or route to follow. I will therefore be taking inspiration from violinists in other fields. BIBLIOTECA NACIONAL Buenos Aires is one of the few places where you can buy books about tango music, but some older books and magazines are out of print so I went to the Biblioteca Nacional hoping to find a lot more but was sadly disappointed. I found three old books in their book lists but these were out of print and sadly I wasn t allowed to look at them: I needed special permission from an institution there and also two old magazine series. I was allowed access to the magazines and although the library does not allow photocopies they do allow photos so I photographed anything I could find about tango violinists! There was some information but not as much as I had hoped. Argentina has a very bad record of trying to keep documentation about its history and culture. Often due to lack of money they reuse materials and wipe over old tango film/ concert recordings and so on, and sometimes new governments come in and throw out all the material stored in archives, or new record companies take over old ones and dispose of all the unreleased material in the vaults. The new generation are actively trying to collect information together to keep it but it s a difficult and long-winded process, with some families of artists being very generous, but others unwilling to share information that they have. As a result I discovered during my two months there, that the best information is only available through such things as stories, anecdotes, or conversations during rehearsals and is generally not printed! Tango is an aural music culture, documentation forms only a small percentage of the way in which information is transmitted. INSTITUTO DE MUSCOLOGIA This was another institution that I had hoped would be full of interesting information, but once again I was sadly disappointed. There were no visible archives, books or articles, or at least I was not offered access if there are any. I interviewed Omar Garcia Brunelli, who works there and has published a book on tango recordings. He helpfully sent me copies of two books on Elvino Vardaro that are out of print now, but that was all he could offer me. He did not consider tango violin as a style to be of any particular interest and did not have much to say about tango violin or violinists that couldn t be found in the books. TANGO PARA MUSICOS (music course) This course was the first of its kind in Argentina. It was five days long and held in a building with a dark past. ESMA (Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos) is the place where the military junta of the 1970s took its hostages and tortured them. In an effort to improve the image of this building and give it a positive lease of life the current government have turned it into a cultural centre with lots of activities. It is a pretty place and the facilities are very good. This course was interesting to me for several reasons. It was the first time musicians Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow 2014 in Buenos Aires had gathered together to create a course like this and I was very curious to see how they had constructed it and what they wanted to transmit. They chose to focus on contemporary tango, not wanting to go over the old styles again (something that it is not so popular to play in Buenos Aires these days) so they commissioned new works from composers to be played by the student ensembles. The levels of students was very mixed, some having had a lot of tango experience already, and others none at all. There were mostly students from Argentina, only a few from abroad like myself. I was particularly interested in how the violinist Ramiro Gallo was going to teach a class of 70 students with such varied levels. He is one of the first violinists to write a tango violin technique method, which he published a few years ago but which is unfortunately difficult to get hold of by people in Europe(I got my copy from Buenos Aires). It was fascinating to see what he considered most important for the students to learn and how he took them to the next level I got quite a few ideas concerning how I will develop my own method. There were many concerts and I made contacts with other non-argentine tango musicians from countries such as Australia and the USA, which was great. RAMIRO GALLO VIOLIN WORKSHOP I will describe in detail the first day workshop to demonstrate how he took 70 classical violinists through the most important first steps of tango playing. He began by talking about how there is an argument that tango music is undefinable. Many people seem to like the idea that it is too mysterious to define: he totally disagrees and claims that if it exists it must be definable. Some musicians apparently feel that if you define it you start taking away its creative freedom. He discussed what a musical genre was and said that it is the sum of a variety of styles. He then demonstrated that there are two ways of playing a famous tango El Choclo: one that is tango and the other that is unspecific popular music. He wanted to make it clear that tango music is all about how it is performed and not about the melodies. This makes the goal of playing tango a very clear one. He spoke of the stylistic tools of tango as being essential to tango performance. Then he defined the two main areas of study a tango musician must work on the rhythmic aspects and the expressive aspects: how you play these two aspects define the style of the genre. He had sent us a PDF booklet filled with tango studies, just as in Classical violin, and we had all brought this to the class. We then started on Study 1 which was all about the special bowing technique marcato, which is the essence of rhythmic playing in tango. He reminded us constantly that tango music was created for dancing and that we must never forget that, no matter how complicated we make our arrangements or compositions. So we played the percussive marcato and he explained from a technical point of view how to obtain it not obvious for classical violinists and we spent a great deal of time on this, trying to get the right sound and playing it together without rushing. After that he wanted us to play some notes louder and some softer to start to get the swing of tango feeling. This too was very hard for the classical violinists. He talked about needing a different mental attitude, playing the violin now was about pretending to be a percussion instrument and not a solo or Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow melodic one, he even suggested we should forget we were violinists and instead imagine a big drum in front of us to be hit with the bow. There was also the tendency to feel the beat too much ahead, whereas he wanted a more laid back feeling, deep into the beat. He then showed us there are two main rhythmic ways of playing one which works as a harmonic accompaniment and the other which works as a rhythmic melody. He spoke briefly about the history of the orquestas tipicas and said that there are not generally percussion instruments in tango music one of the few dance musics in the world without it which is why all tango musicians must learn to play percussively in order to make up for it. So inside the percussive playing is a whole world of expression too, in the articulations. He wanted the group to feel the rhythm more physically and said we were thinking about it too much, so he had us stamping our feet in time and then playing along with that. We then moved on to the more expressive side where we worked on two kinds of phrasing, within what is called fraseo basico. There is fraseo cerrado (closed) and fraseo abierto (open). Again we spent a long time on getting the feeling of the different ways of playing a phrase. The music is written as four straight quavers but with fraseo abierto is played more like three crotchets and in fraseo cerrado more like quaver, crotchet, two semiquavers. He then gave us an exercise where we had to alternate between playing straight quavers and a fraseo and also to do this with different dynamics. After working on a few more of his specially written studies he asked us all to play El Choclo from memory. He then asked us to do it in three different keys which was not easy! He wanted to show us that you can only say that you really know a melody when you can do it in several different keys without a problem! We then played El Choclo with expressive phrasing and as a rhythmic melody and he asked us to alternate. This alternation between expression and rhythm is the most basic element of tango and all tango orchestras and groups use it, even today. He said this is the first thing to know about good tango performance. His workshop gave me quite a few ideas on what approach I could have, but also on some things I would do differently. I think having a group of such a large size with such different levels was a bad idea and people should be split up into groups of similar level. I agree that it is very important to give people an idea of musical context, so talking about the percussive and rhythmic role is essential in learning this style. I can t use the studies he wrote for copyright reasons but it gave me a structure for showing people what to learn first, and how to add new techniques bit by bit. It was interesting to see his insiders approach and I think mixing that with my outsiders approach will be interesting. The way he explained the physical gestures is something I would like to include in my workshops, as the technique is different from classical playing and sometimes pointing out a small detail can really help players understand what to do. He also split the group up into smaller groups playing different parts, which was a great idea and something I would like to repeat, as well as offering some players solos later on in the week. Tango involves both, tutti and solo playing so it would be important to offer the latter to any interested musicians, as it is in the solos that one develops one s personal style. I got a lot of ideas that I can adapt to my classes in the UK, and I think his explanation at the beginning was a very important one, as Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow 2014 learning what tango music actually is, instead of the clichés we all know, makes a world of difference in our perception of how it is being played. Learning tango is also about opening up one s ears and noticing subtle differences. ORQUESTA ESCUELA Me playing with the Orquesta Escuela in the Buenos Aires Tango Festival Ignacio Varchausky invited me to participate in the Orquesta Escuela which was an interesting and valuable experience. This student training orchestra has existed for 14 years and was Ignacio s idea as a way of connecting the old tango generation with the new one. He invites famous tango musicians to come and work on a concert program with the students and to teach them everything they know about tango and their experiences. They play many regular concerts and are now in residency in the beautiful new concert building called La Usina del Arte in the famous tourist area, La Boca. I had the wonderful experience of playing in the Buenos Aires Tango festival with the orchestra. The invited musician was Miguel Angel Bertero, a violinist, so the timing was very lucky for me! It was an enriching experience and the concert was wonderful: such a lovely feeling on stage between all the musicians. In the orchestra there are people from Japan, Israel, Australia and Argentina. Many of the tango musicians working today in Buenos Aires learnt tango through this orchestra. However in Buenos Aires tango musicians have mixed feelings about this, mainly because tango was always taught aurally, through recordings and through playing in professional bands. This orchestra has a team of transcribers who transcribe old recordings so that the students can learn how to play the old famous styles and some consider this environment not to be conducive to the traditional way of learning tango, which was much more like being part of a popular music world than a more institutional one. However, tango music experienced a deep decline from the 1970s onwards, and when this orchestra started it was a way of reinvigorating and bringing new life into the tango scene. It has achieved this very well and has become an important point of contact between the young and old generations of tango musicians. Caroline Pearsall Winston Churchill Fellow TANGO COMMUNITY IN BUENOS AIRES After having spoken to so many tango violinists, I realised for the first time how varied the different tango communities are in Buenos Aires. People say you have various tango mafias, and in general the musicians do not change from one mafia to another! Some people are more involved in institutional tango, supported by the Academia del Tango, or the government or the Piazzolla Foundation, whilst others are into creating grassroots tango communities with a totally different approach. Some musicians believe in a more open and inclusive network where people of all levels and ages joi
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