My Love Affair With The Tango

Tango_dancersDo you have an “odd” musical obsession?  By odd, I mean something that could be considered out of character for you – even a tad?  In case you missed the obvious by this post’s title, let me be more literal.

I have had a long time love affair with the tango.  No, I don’t mean the dance.  Trust me; you want me to stay off the dance floor.   My connection with the tango is tied to my classical guitar.  When I was a freshman at Southern Methodist University, I remember listening to Verano Porteño by Astor Piazzolla performed by a graduate student during our performance class during my first semester.   I had never heard anything quite like it before.   The music was rhythmic, exotic, sensual and beautiful.

A few weeks later, I bought the arrangement I heard which came with 3 other works by Piazzolla. I soon learned that Verano Porteño was part of a “Seasons” suite.  I tried playing some of the music, but I didn’t have the technical proficiency to play anything quite yet.  Nevertheless, I held on to the desire to one day play a tango composed by Piazzolla.  During my junior year, I made a commitment to work on Primavera Porteño by Piazzolla, another movement in the “Seasons” suite.   To this day, it is one of the most technically challenging works I have ever played.  The summer between my fourth and fifth years in college (I was a five year senior) the music was steadily in progress, so I took it with me to some guitar festivals I attended.  I performed the work for a master class, and a prominent guitar player told me I should be working on something else.  I knew this, but didn’t care.  I loved the work, and had to play it.

After being told that Piazzolla was a little out of my league, I just doubled my practicing efforts.  On top of that, I negotiated with a music history professor to do a directed study course during my final semester at SMU and have it count towards my Latin American Studies degree.  So, logically, I began buying more tango music (scores and CDs), searching for anything about the tango, and literally became a sponge absorbing everything there was to know about the tango that I could – minus me doing the dance.

Jumping ahead just for a moment, I attended another classical guitar seminar the summer before going to graduate school and performed the Primavera Porteña for a well-known classical guitarist.  During his critique, he described his own affair with the tango as suffering from “Tang-itis.”  Jumping backwards, this pretty much sums up my obsession while studying the history of the tango.  I became captivated with the likes of Carlos Gardel, Angel Villoldo and Anibal Troilo.  I really became more enthralled by the life and music of Astor Piazzolla.

The more I heard, the more I had to play a tango. The more I studied the history of the tango, the deeper connection I had with the Piazzolla composition I was practicing day in and out.  What fascinated me then, and still does today, was how the tango went from being considered a naughty and erotic dance and music, forbidden early in its history by the upper class, to a music accepted for performance in concert halls.  During my tango obsession period was around the same time Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma produced albums featuring music by Piazzolla.  How grand it is that the tango, a genre that emerged from the bordellos (ghettos) of Buenos Aires, matured enough to enter the concert stage; social progress through music.

I did perform the Primavera Porteño for my senior recital.  In fact, I also played it for graduate school auditions.  I had to work my ass off, and dramatically improve my technical ability.  But, it was the obsession with this piece and the tango that improved my playing abilities.  For my course, I ended up writing a 25 page paper about the history of the tango through the lens of another Piazzolla work – Histoire du Tango (written for flute and guitar).  Crazy, right?  I told you – obsessed!  I eventually performed this work with a violinist for my first graduate recital.

As a result of my obsession, it pushed me to greater musical heights.  I demanded more of myself when others thought it was out of my reach.  I can’t be the only one who has experienced similar moments.  I simply brushed that constructive criticism aside and used it as an internal flame to guide my progress.  I never allowed myself to settle.

There are certain things going on in my life that forced me to reflect upon this time.  Plus, I promised to share more of my Latin Music obsessions.   The tango inspired me and took me to new musical heights.   The key thing I learned is to never settle.  This is the crux of what I am thinking about these days.  I wonder if I am settling at the moment.  If I am, then where do I go?

I still love listening to the tango.  Although I don’t have the time to devote to the tango as I once did, when I do pickup my guitar the tango is one of those musical styles I dabble with.

If you have never heard of Astor Piazzolla, well you must check out this musical genius…

Image Credit: Osvaldo

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