Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tango Percussionists Wanted

One example of using one's feet for percussion.

I invite you to stop dancing and join the tango orchestra as a musician?

A good place to start is to stop taking classes on musicality -- well, not quite.  How about at least thinking about these classes as musicianship classes?  Musicianship is not for advanced dancers.  It is for everyone, because in reality you and I are not dancers.  Most of us are just sloppy and or unimaginative musicians, until we join the orchestra as percussionists.  Maybe it is not a conscious thing, but I think the best social dancers are percussionists.

The word tango, like he word milonga, can mean several things.   Tango once meant a drum or a place where blacks would meet and dance to the drum beat.  Tango is still that.  But where are the percussionists now?  Every instrument in tango is used as a percussion instrument.  Name one that is not, but there are some percussionist who are unrecognized.

You are that percussionist in the tango orchestra!  A dancer is a percussionist, and the floor and partner is his or her instrument.  I do not mean this in a poetic way.  This is literally true.  Anyone striking any object to create or play along with music is a percussionist.  A pianist presses a key and a hammer strikes a string.  Thus a piano is a percussion instrument.  A vocalist clapping his hands is a percussionist.  A bassist using the back side of her bow against her stings is a percussionist. Of course the pianist is a percussionist/keyboardist.  Anyone who uses hammers, fingers, hands or feet in a musical way is a percussionist.

As a jazz drummer, I struck many different objects with both feet and hands.  As a tanguero, I use only my feet and legs.  I sweep (barridas), make grace notes (toe taps), and establish clear rhythms in synchronization to the music.  Besides the floor, there is my tanguera.  She bushes me, taps the side of my foot, scadas me, ganchos me.  We are the cello and violin playing each other.  As instruments of music, I am hers and she in mine as living, breathing instruments.

When I embrace another tango percussionist on the dance floor (a tanguera), I hope our goal will be to join the orchestra as musicians and not as dancers.  Anyone can get up and move, but can we embody the music as musicians?  I imagine that she and I have joined the orchestra as percussionists in the orquesta típica.  The floor is our percussion instrument.  We do not dance to the music, we play in the orchestra.  

Won't you join the orchestra?  When we all join the orchestra, we become the community band.  All the dead African slaves, tango musicians and composers who we highly esteem will be smiling.  We have come home.  Tango is a drum.  Play it.  Percussion is central to what we do at the milonga.

Photo credit:
http://www.drummagazine.com/lessons/post/foot-pedal-fanatic/

Next blog:  As a percussionist, we will explore why technique has nothing to do with how good you look or how awesome you play.

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