Musical Interpretation – Parts 3 & 4
One aspect of Musical Interpretation that almost never gets talked about is the how you actually Interpret the Music. How do you develop the skills necessary to allow you to interpret the music in such a way as to make it structured, clear, clean and most of all appear ‘fluid’ ? How do you do that ? That’s what workshops and classes are for, right ? Yes and no. The ‘Yes’ part should be self-explanatory by isn’t. And the ‘no’ part requires a bit of history (see Parts 1 & 2 for that). The long story shortened is that as you’ll see below, most Tango ‘Musicality’ classes or workshops are all on ‘Aspects’ of tango music not what you do wiht the rest of the song. This series is on the what you do with the rest of the song!
Today’s Tango Topic takes shows you the meat and potatoes (as it were) of one way on how to Interpret the Music, with the end goal to create a structured process that allows us to make free choices instead of haphazard choices that don’t necessarily fit what’s going on in the music. In one respect this is about training you, and in another, this is about conditioning you or in this case re-conditioning you to respond in a very structured manner. For most people when they begin this process of Musical Interpretation they are rightfully overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the problem. How do you interpret the music when the topic of Tango Music is so vast ? How do you even begin to tackle the problem because not only is Tango Music vast (over 90,000 pieces and counting, and only a fraction of that we actually dance to on a regular basis) but it’s also insanely multi-layered, and multifaceted? If you thought the vocabulary and the execution of technique was the unending onion, the music itself will drive you right over the wall of madness! How do you solve a problem this vast ?
There is no one way to interpret the music. There is no all-encompassing methodology to interpreting the music, no ‘one-size-fits-all’. There is no ‘right’ and there is no ‘wrong’. There is only desirable and less-than-desirable, so get that thought right out of your head! There are many ways to interpret the music. Some of them are desirable, and a good portion of the processes that you’ve likely come into contact with are less-than-desirable. And there’s a really good reason why they’re less-than-desirable. It’s because they only address a piece of a particular aspect of the music. For example: What do you do when you hear a Sincopa in the music ? (Hint, there are several things you can do)
Answer: One thing you can do and should do is once you hear it, once you are able to recognize the Sincopa (there are 4 types by the way), you can’t walk through it, and yet…that’s exactly what most people do. They walk right through it. Most are confused by the idea of Sincopa. However, Sincopa, is an aspect of the music. It’s not the entire song! What do you do with the rest of that piece of music ? Wander around for 2 minutes waiting for the Sincopa to happen ? No. That’s where Today’s Tango Topic comes in. It, or in this case, they deal with how to handle the rest of the song! Today’s Tango Topic is about two co-interdependent topics that create the necessary stepping stones towards Interpreting the music fluidly, Alternation & Symmetry.
Before We Go Down The Rabbit Hole. Let’s be clear about the end goal here, the thing that we’re really after: To be able to freely, and fluidly, interpret the music so that our dancing matches what we hear in the music, and then (here’s the hard part) are able to execute that idea musically. HA! Easier written/said than actually done. The methodology on how to do that was covered in Musical Interpretation Part 1 and Part 2. If you’re not familiar with it, please go read it thoroughly before you proceed here. It is a pre-requisite.
However, before we can get to the ‘freely and fluidly’ parts, we have to jump through some hoops for the ‘interpretation’ stuff to actually work on a social dance floor, otherwise, you’re quite literally going to waste your time. First and foremost you absolutely must be able to properly identify the 5 Pause Types, religiously, without fail! You can not and will not be able to interpret the music without them. Everything, everything that Tango Topics talks about musically is built off of this construct. Failure to be able to identify without fail every single Musical Pause in a particular piece of music (Tango, Vals, Milonga, Tango-Milonga, Tango-Vals, Milonga Criolla, Milonga Porteña, etc) and you’re just pissing into the wind, and what Follows will be a complete waste of your time in reading this stuff. Put another way, so that you get the gravity of the situation. Can you correctly identify the 7 pauses in the following piece ?
If so, then you can move on to the next stage of your tango development, interpreting the music. If you can’t, then you’re going to have a problem with today’s tango topics. Why ? Because the topics are based on the idea that the pause must be respected, it’s what breaks up the music into logical, bite-sized chunks that make it accessible to us. Instead of arbitrary 8 count that may or may not actually be present in the music which may or may not have an actual relationship to what you’re hearing in the music. The 5 Pause Types are really markers, and while the piece above only shows you 2 of the 5 (the 1st and the 4th), they’re common enough markers that you should be able to distinguish them. However, doing so religiously ? That’s an entirely different prospect.
Secondly, you must be well versed in the 6 Ways of Walking (from a Leading and Following perspective). This is about walking, not Turning, not Sacadas, not Volcadas, not Ganchos, not Paradas, none of that stuff, but Walking with your partner. Elegantly. Cleanly. Clearly. Tango is by its very nature a ‘walking’ dance at its core. While modern Tango has become a dance all about the turn due to the fact that the ronda doesn’t actually move anymore, and due to the fact that Gustavo Naviera made the Follower’s Molinete ‘sexy’, but instead it does not move so we have to find other things to do while we’re not actually going anywhere, the foundation of that movement is still ‘walking’. So it serves our ultimate purpose to understand, and more importantly, be able to execute the 6 Ways of Walking from either perspective of Leading or Following. Religiously! Failure to do so and you’re not only pissing into the wind but having said piss splatter back at you! Not a pleasant thought. You must, must, must be able to execute a clean, clean, stable walk without hanging, without pulling, without pushing, without compression in any way, shape, or form. Failure to do so, and again, more piss in places you don’t want anything to do with!
These two points cannot be stressed enough. 1.) The 5 Musical Pause Types. and 2.) The 6 Ways of Walking are PREREQUISITES to further going down the rabbit hole here. That said, proceed at your own risk of further confusion. Hence the reason why this part of the topic today is called BEFORE We Go Down The Rabbit Hole. You have been warned.
The Topics of Alternation & Symmetry: In their simplest forms, these ideas by themselves aren’t all that exciting, and if we’re being really honest, once you see them you’re going to say to yourself, “I don’t get it. Why is this stuff important ?”. Remember that Alternation & Symmetry are only a stepping stone to our ultimate goal of dancing ‘fluidly’, and seemingly freely, but with STRUCTURE! This stuff (Alternation & Symmetry) is that Structure that you’re looking for! It’s the very heart of Structuring Tango Music. Well, truth be told, far more Symmetry than Alternation. These concepts and practices are the answer to the question, “What do I do with the rest of the dance ?”! That said, let’s define these ideas:
Alternation: At its core, Alternation, is exactly what it sounds like – Alternating between two ideas or in this case, pieces of vocabulary. You pick two pieces of vocabulary and then ‘Alternate’ between them. That’s it. It couldn’t be any simpler than that.
Symmetry: Symmetry, on the other hand, is where we start to invoke a little bit of actual structure, and some rules! 5 of them in actuality. But before we get to that part, Symmetry is best defined as ‘executing’ Alternation in mated pairs.
That’s it, that’s all there is to it. You can stop reading now. Back to dancing. What a complete waste of your time, right ? Yup. Sure was. All that build up so that you could basically get to Alternating between two ideas, and then making it Symmetrical. Ok. Duh. So why on earth do you need a video on this stuff ?
Stop and think about it for a moment, do you actually know what it is that you’re Alternating ? or making Symmetrical ? or for that matter why you want to do it in the first place ? Well, of course, the 6 Ways of Walking right ? Not so fast. Yes, and no. Yes, because this is all about walking. And ‘no’ because there are some rules at work here. So you go right ahead and alternate this stuff until you’re blue in the face and see how far that gets you! You may come up with some interesting ideas but until you have mastered the 6 Ways of Walking (told you that you were going to get beat over the head with this stuff), and until you have mastered the 5 Musical Pause Types, Alternation and Symmetry are a complete waste of your time. Remember this is not about dancing to an ASPECT (remember ‘sincopa’ ?) in the music, but what you do with the REST of the DANCE! To be fair, Alternation and Symmetry does not deal with the end of the Musical Paragraph (see section 5), nor does it deal with the very important structural components of the song (see section 7), nor does it deal with how one goes about mapping a song (see section 8), nor does it deal with Accent notes (Section 7), nor Sincopa (Section 7), nor the specifics of a Turn (section 6), nor where (not how) you place an Argentine Cross! (see section 6). So you can alternate until you’re blue in the face, but knowing where this stuff exists and why creates the structure that we’re looking for.
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Why You Need This! Music is the foundation of the dance. Without it, duh, there is no dance. However, when it comes to Tango, things get complicated very quickly because unlike other social dances where you can fool around with the beat, you can do that in Tango too by the way, what you can’t do, and so many people do, is fool around with 5 Musical Pause Types! This is the holy grail of tango music. And unless you hear them, you’re going to have an awful nasty time social dancing. Most people just throw in any piece of vocabulary to a piece of music, moment after moment and after moment. But the 5 Pauses Types dictate very clearly what you want to do. Unfortunately, almost no one listens to that and we end up with ‘haphazard’ dancing that looks shall we say questionable and haphazard at best. So yeah, you need this, a lot. And because this particular musical topic deals with Walking, Milonguero Ochos, Milonguero Turns, The Follower’s Molinete, Traveling Ochos, or The Argentine Cross, then it’s applied very differently, and you need to start applying that stuff to your musical interpretation to thereby clarify what it is that you are interpreting in the music. This is very different than just following a beat, this is using the pause with a piece of vocabulary that makes that music stand out! So yeah, you need this.
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About The Video. This video package comes in at 54m:22s in length in 5 Sections.
Section 3a – Alternation – The Basic Idea – 00:14:35
Section 3b – Alternation – Walking Ideas – 00:06:10
Section 3c – Alternation – With the Music – 00:08:21
Section 4a – Symmetry – The Whole Ball of Wax – 00:17:17
Section 4b – Symmetry – With the Music – 00:07:59
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