Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fundamentals of Musicality for Everybody: Concepts of Rhythm, Melody and Phrasing (All Levels)

Song: Poema by Francisco Canaro
Instructors: Homer & Cristina Ladas
April 5, 2013, Yale Tango Fest

In this class, we would work on these concepts in just one song: Francisco Canaro’s Poema, which can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyyw6FN4dtk

We began with doing one dance to Poema.

We did an exercise to help understand phrasing through the Tango Chacarera. In Chacarera formation with the Leaders all in one line and the Followers facing them all in one line, we made eye contact with each other, and raised our arms in the air, as if we were doing the Chacarera. We then took four steps forward, where we met in the middle, and then took four steps back, signifying one phrase in the music.  Our goal was to always be back where we started at the end of a phrase.   The song Poema was used because it is a very regular song, phrasewise.

We started the Tango Chacarera just walking to the beat to get our ears used to finding the beginning of the phrase, which would help us to achieve our goal of getting back to our starting place at the end of the phrase.  Building on this, we then danced more freely, still doing four steps forward and four steps back so we could end up at the same place where we started at the end of the phrase.

Next, in a partnered exercise, we worked on pausing at the end of a sentence. Here, we were to just only walk for 8 counts, or one sentence/phrase and then hold it for the next 8 counts (sentence/phrase), where there would be no forward movement, but we could do things like weight changes, rock steps, or other types of movements that stay in place. Our goal was to show that we were able to control our pauses at the end of the sentence.  We could move for a while and then stop.

Both Leader and Follower need to actively hear the music, and the Follower is equally responsible for the musical interpretation of the dance.  We help each other with the phrasing. 

In Poema, the end is the only sentence/phrase in the song that is incomplete (it is missing the last beat or two).

This is an academic class, so we did several rhythm exercises to help us understand the concepts, but which we might not want to actually do at the milonga.  For the rhythm exercise, we were to dance staying on a defined rhythm that Maestro would call out while we danced.

We were given a choice of two different rhythms:
-           S-S-Q-Q-S  (this is the option we chose)
-           Q-Q-S-S-S
For this exercise, we could do things other than walking, but we needed to on the prescribed rhythm at all times.

Afterwards, we discussed what was challenging about this exercises, and the Leaders commented that the most difficult part was going to Q-Q from S.  In addition, the Leaders’ intention was off because they were focused on the steps.  Navigation and distractions proved problematical as well.

We concluded that sticking to a prescribed rhythm is not a good idea for dancing at a milonga, but it is a good exercise since the rhythm in tango is always changing, and dancers have to be aware of that and know how to deal with it.

Maestro asked if anyone felt moments where the S-S-Q-Q-S fit?  Some folks said yes.

The purpose of our focus on melody is to move to the lyrical melody.  To help us focus on the melody of Poema, we did not listen to the recorded Canaro version at all, but danced to the lyrics alone, as sung by Cristina. 

Focusing on the lyrics is another layer of musicality we can explore, and the lyrics are directly connected to the musical phrasing of the song.

In Argentina, what draws people into tango are the lyrics of the songs.  When Cristina hears the vocals, it is what really connects her to the music.  In class, our goal in dancing was to follow the poetry of the song with Cristina singing.  In doing our homework, we would focus on Roberto Maida. :o)

We were only to move when we hear Cristina’s voice.  We would also be sensitive to the intonation of the lyrics. 

Every song has a secret that advanced dancers know about and share with the people they are dancing with.  These are called “Golden Eggs”.  Golden Eggs are the fills between the sentences, and they are things we can listen for to play with different rhythms.

In Poema, there is a fill/transition that is done twice in a row and comes and goes in a song.  It is the “bling bling bling” chime at 00:07-00:08; 00:16-00:17; 2:58-2:59; and 3:06-3:07. 

TangoStudent comments:  While the “bling bling bling” also occurs during the lyrics at 0:58-0:59; 1:07-1:08; 1:33-1:34; and 1:41-1:42, we did not listen to or dance to those as we only danced to Cristina’s singing during our focus on dancing to the lyrics.

Our challenge was to always hit the “bling bling bling” while we danced, doing the simple footwork of Leader’s left foot forward, right foot side, left foot together (Follower’s right foot back, left foot side, right foot together), which really puts a Period at the end of the Sentence (musical phrase).  To help set this up, it helped the Leader to pause beforehand.  In doing the same pattern at each Golden Egg, we make an interesting statement about the music.

The Follower should encourage the Leader in a positive way. The Follower should never back lead, but she can subtly suggest ideas to the Leader of where the pause should be, or add more pressure against him to slow him down if he barrels through the song with no pausing.

She can do these subtle things:
·         Take a deep breath before the phrase starts to mark the beginning of a sentence
·         Add a little more to the embrace, squeezing into him a little more
·         Slightly squeeze her right hand in his left hand

The Follower is not back leading, but using her upper body to indicate the beginning of the phrase. She can also use her fingers and gently squeeze. 

At some point the Leader will become more aware and get in sync.

In our exercise, we tried this with the Leader pretending he can’t hear the sentence and the Follower giving him clues about where the sentence begins and ends.

Maestro shared that he learned a lot by dancing with really tall Followers as then he could really feel the way her spine and rib cage moved and how she was interpreting the music, including the subtleties. 

The Follower’s playfulness is in between the rhythm that the Leader puts down.  The better she knows the music, the more opportunities she has to play.

What if the Follower is off beat?  Then it means she has bad habits. For the Leader, he should do less, and not try to contradict her movements with more movements.

Almost every song has a little bit of Kiss Me Goodnight (syncopas, syncopations). KMG syncopation is prevalent in many orchestras and you'd be surprised at what you can do with it. Our goal is to capture the interesting parts in the music that are off the square of the music.

Poema has a section of it, where you feel like you really want to rock it out.  It is at 0:35-0:50 and 2:00-2:15. The syncopa is in between the lyrics. 

In partnership, we were to do rock steps during the Kiss Me Goodnight (syncopa) portions of the song.

Maestros concluded with a class review and demo to Francisco Canaro’s Poema.

Notes courtesy of Anne at http://scoutingtour.blogspot.com

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