A Series on Piazzolla: Histore 1930


The first time I heard Piazzolla, I was a freshman in college. It had everything I require for catharsis: rich, lush harmonies driven by a purposeful, powerful bass and interesting, poly-rhythmic motif.  I don’t remember which piece of his I heard first, but his music immediately grabbed, held my attention and it would not it go

Tango, and other related or derivative styles such as flamenco, charanga, and milonga, are the result of the melting pot that was Spain dating back to the Moor invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, colonization of the Americas, and the mixing and mingling of these cultures. Astor Piazolla, an Argentinian of Italian immigrant parents, was born March 11, 1921 and died July 4, 1992. The more I learned about Piazzolla and his music, the more I appreciated. Nadia Boulanger, whose footprint can be counted at my alma mater, Longy, was very important to his development, and encouraged him to use what he learned as a student at the Paris Conservatoire in his exploration of Tango. Internationally recognized as a revolutionary of Nuevo Tango, this and the influence of jazz is very apparent in his music.

And Histore du Tango: Cafe 1930, as is his style, delivers. Though it is a slower movement, the second of the four movements in the whole work, the left hand of the piano gives it steady drive, providing a groove under which the flute gets to float. Moods change quickly and suddenly in this movement – another reason he is one of my favorite composers. Histore was written as an homage to the evolution of Tango. Piazzolla paints a picture of Tango at different points in history: a bordel in 1900, a cafe in 1930, a night club in 1960, and a fourth movement of his own interpretation of tango today.

Though I was captivated by Piazzolla as a college freshman, I did not have the opportunity to perform his music for a public audience until this year. (That’s over 10 years ago). I’m still studying and learning about Nuevo Tango and don’t know that I’ll ever feel like I can do it justice, as the best recordings on record are of Piazzolla himself on bandoneon playing his works. But, starting with Cafe 1930, I want to share my interpretation of Piazzolla’s music and what it means to me.

Also included are interpretations of Cafe 1930 on other instruments. It was intended for flute or violin, but Piazzolla’s music is loved by all instrumental disciplines and is transcribed frequently. Usually played with guitar, my arrangement on flute is with piano. Arrangements for trumpet, and the alternative with guitar on violin are below:



Audition Preparation during Snowmageddon


About a week or so before an audition, I begin to really feel antsy with performance anxiety. When I get like this, it helps me to remind myself what is and is not within my power to control.

This got me thinking about how difficult I found some of the auditions I took this winter. Travel and self care in the winter time can be time consuming at best, defeating and life draining at worst. For those of you who, like me, do not enjoy wintry weather, I wanted to share with you my tips and tricks that help me prepare for audition time. Let me know what you think. What is your audition time ritual?

Lip Protectant

It took me way too long to figure out I should keep some in my Altieri bag! For wind musicians, our lips are very important to what we do. I’ve woken up early, spent 2 hours warming up slowly with precision and intent. Everything is falling into place. My instrument is almost playing itself. Now I have to travel from my home (or hotel) to the audition. In below freezing temperatures, it seems like all it takes is 10 minutes to dry out my skin, particularly on the lips, mitigating all the work done to warm up the embouchure.

My favorite lip protectant is Aquaphor by Eurcerin. It adds needed moisture that’s not there and holds onto it. But it doesn’t leave the lips as a mushy, shedding mess.

Incidentally, it’s also great for adding shine on top of a lip stain, as well as spot treatment of eczema. If you like an extra bang for your buck in terms multi purpose use, its a pretty good product to have.

Small towel

A pet peeve a mine is chapped, shedding lips. Dead skin can get in the way of the air stream. It gives me the feeling of a lack of control over the sound, and under pressure this is the last thing I want to be worried about. A quick way I get rid of unwanted, chapped skin is to wet a small hand towel and rub in a back and forth motion on relaxed lips, lightly, until they are nice and smooth. If they’re extra dry, and I have the time, I’ll let lip moisturizer sit for about 10 minutes before exfoliating. Then, nothing gets in the way of that smooth, controlled breath and air stream.

Water Bottle with Filter

In the winter time I can’t drink enough water. When adrenaline starts to kick in during performing, technical passages requiring double tonging – or lots of air in general – can prove futile if dehydration is an obstacle. A bottle of water with a built in filter is one less thing to think about. When the clock is winding down to your audition time and you need water, any sink will do because you have your own filter in hand.

Decent Gloves and other hand warming ‘tricks’

Sometimes time is not on my side. If I don’t have too much time between arriving and performing, I try to decrease the time needed to warm up my hands and loosen joints for maximum dexterity by immediately warming my hands when I arrive. Hand warmers inserted in thick, lined gloves are also no stranger to me in really, really cold temperatures when I have not choice but to be I’m foot. Otherwise, heck, I’ll take a cab door to door. Shouldn’t I spare no expense to put my best foot forward?

High Protein Snacks

If the audition is one with multiple rounds throughout the day, I sometimes don’t have enough time to break for a meal to keep my strength and stamina up. I like to arrive to audition as early as possible, if my nerves can stand it. If I arrive in the morning, and find my audition time is not until sometime later, this can also be a drag, because I’m sitting around, warmed up with no place to go – especially if the audition is in the middle of nowhere. Sitting around, surprisingly, uses more energy than you’d think. I personally find I need to recharge every 3-4 hours.

Comfortable shoes for travel

My freshest heeled oxfords or most authoritative Mary Janes might keep it 100, but they are probably not appropriate for commuting. I like to wear comfortable shoes to the venue and my baller shoes for audition. I practice in my audition shoes in the weeks leading up to the audition, but I don’t warm up in them so that I don’t tire myself out before I walk into the audition room to be heard.

Something that motivates you to keep it moving

Last but not least, something that will take your mind off of the outcome of the audition, no matter what happens. Celebratory drinks with friends, or curling up with a good book. I like to read about people who continue to bang on the door of opportunity, no matter how many times it is shut on them. The audition process can be daunting; a large chunk of the game is spent hearing ‘no’ many times before getting to yes.

It’s important to have something to look forward to after an audition to remind us that, while we do not have control over the outcome of the audition, there are other things that we can empower ourselves with.

How I choose to prepare and condition myself for the audition is completely my choice and up to me. The time I spend conditioning my body and spirit, and what activities I choose to achieve this is my decision. How I interpret the music and express my intent is completely within my control. Whether or not I choose to be conventional, contemporary, safe or bold with my style and phrasing is up to me.

After an audition I’ll plan to clean the house, go shopping, go to the gym, read, anything. I make a plan so that after the audition, no matter how how high the stakes are, it will seem as close to any other day as possible.

That’s it! What do you think? What’s on your list of must haves/do’s before an audition?

Perfection or Artistry?

Most musicians can probably relate to Sébastian Jacot who, as posted by Slipped Disc yesterday, was eliminated from the Concours de Genève, one of the world’s leading international classical music competitions. Jacot, when asked how he played, said “The only problem was that in this competition they are looking for technical perfection with a bit a music and I played music with a bit of perfection”.

In all the competitions, auditions, and juried recitals I’ve ever taken, I don’t think as the adjudicated I was ever privy to how I was judged. Is technical skill worth 30%, 40% of my score? How important is musicality? Intonation? Are judges open to my interpretation if it is not what they have heard before, or do they want to hear it the way they have heard it in other performances/on other recordings? Or do they expect to only hear the rendition agreed by musicologists who have studied every measure, compares multiple scores and decided that in measure 50 that moment should absolutely be played sforzando at a tempo of quarter note equals 116?

Picking repertoire by historical period is also its own conundrum. Some of the most opinionated, frank advice I was ever given was to avoid playing baroque, particularly Bach, if it can be avoided in a competition – especially the Partita in a minor. The spectrum of opinions on how to the play this piece is wide and vast. Not knowing what the judges will expect to hear and playing one’s own interpretation is like gambling at the slots.

What I took away from this is that Sebastian is a baller musician. He played subjectively interpretative music, under pressure, on a wood flute whose functionality is subject to the whim of the environment, under pressure, from memory. Not only that, he played his heart out, and was unapologetic about it.