And now for something completely different: a little ray of Mexican sunshine to warm your January – with apologies to my Australian, Brazilian and South African readership.
(N.B.: if you are an email subscriber, you will need to visit the main blog site to access the embedded video.)
If you’re a fan of the incomparably more famous Danzón No. 2, you might be surprised to know Arturo Márquez has written seven other works in the genre. Hopefully you won’t be surprised to learn there’s a No. 1 which, with its own distinct charms and rhythms, stands entirely on its own from its siblings. I described it to the orchestra as the “Mexican Bolero,” a reference to the fact that the work is held together more by a distinct rhythmic cell than any melodic element. Similarly, like the more famous Bolero by Maurice Ravel it may not be the most profound work (Ravel himself declined to describe his effort as “music”), but No. 1 offers some distinct advantages. It’s as energizing as No. 2 though so infrequently performed it has avoided the cliché status its sequel seems to have achieved. It requires far fewer performing forces, is somewhat shorter, but is also considerably more challenging to count and to integrate from the musicians’ perspective.
The biggest teaching challenge, however, was getting a quite skilled but rather staid string section to learn how to groove in 5/4 time. The idea of grooving, in any time signature, is unfamiliar territory for so many of the fine student musicians at this institution, although a few do possess the self-confidence it requires (watch that harp player go!). This video was taken at the final concert of my first semester at UNC Charlotte in my new role as Director of Orchestras for the institution, and although there are plenty of the warts one might expect in a student performance, I must say I’m very proud of how much this ensemble achieved over the term. Coaching this group, or rather, building and instilling a culture of performing and collaborative values inspired by my years of research into Sistema concepts, has been a fascinating experience. I’ll comment further on this when I’ve had more time to reflect. For now, enjoy the video.