Tango stories, musical secrets – and emulating an untalented three-year-old

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I’d set myself some musical homework, and Bridgitta had set me some more.

Bridgitta’s was to listen to some tango songs and dance only one instrument at a time. Express only what that one instrument is doing, and when the instrument is silent, be still …

This was building on something we’d done in a guided practice session. It struck me as an excellent idea, but I found it almost impossible in practice. I find it really hard to ignore the beat, and different instruments grab me at different points in the song.

But incompetent as my attempts may have been, I have found that it’s creating more freedom in my dance – to listen to different elements in the music, and to choose which of them to express at any given point. Given the vocabulary I have, anyway.

My own homework was to rather belatedly start working through Michael Lavocah’s book, Tango Stories, Musical Secrets. This has been one of five tango and music theory books sat next to the sofa for approximately forever. Although I read quickly, these are books that require concentration and to listen to specific tracks as you read, so not really bedside reading.

For anyone not familiar, the book is an introduction to 21 key tango orchestras, with suggested listening for each, helping you to understand both the characteristics of the orchestra and a little of their history. You listen to each song as you read about it.

I decided to combine this with another exercise: visualising the songs. Drawing lines and squiggles as I listen, trying to express what I hear visually. I roped Steph into joining me.

I can’t draw At All, and my squiggles were unsophisticated to say the least, but while the output may have looked like an untalented three-year-old’s attempt at an impressionist painting of a coastal landscape, it’s definitely an interesting exercise, and helps to hear new things in the music.

We managed only D’Arienzo and Troilo before Steph declared it was too hot to tackle Pugliese (our flat has a lot of glass, so even in winter it gets warm when the sun is out). So not a dramatic amount of progress, but hey, 9% of the way through it is better than nothing.

And while it does feel perhaps more like work than play, the stories about the orchestras are actually really interesting. I’m going to set aside more time slots to continue with this.

In other Sunday news, I got talked into attending a workshop tomorrow that feels way above my tango pay grade – but that’s a topic for tomorrow’s blog!

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