Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An Open Letter to Tango Musicians

The Pan American Symphony Orchestra (PASO)

Some musicians may be open to hear what their most attentive audience wants.  What would you say to them if they would only listen?  Below is a letter to tango musicians and more specifically to the director of the Pan American Symphony.  I did get a response, which was basically, "thanks for writing."  So the letter goes unanswered.

If you have been following my blog, the series on musicians "killing" tango came from my first draft to the director of PASO (below).  In my very first post in which I mentioned PASO, I included a video of clip of the Pan American Symphony Orchestra, but I realized something in talking with my dance partner after posting the video clip and article.  I was lamenting to her that I would have liked to dance to such great live music. My partner countered that not everyone wants to dance but just "intensely listen" to the Orchestra. The words "intensely listen" hit me. I realized that if I am dancing, only then am I really listening intensely with my whole brain.  She agreed that this too was her experience in tango.  Sitting and intensely listening to tango is only valid for musicians actively playing tango.  I know this feeling of intensely listening in two ways only -- playing music to any kind of music or dancing to tango.

I can only speak for myself, but when I am dancing to tango more than any other dance music, my mind, body and soul are engaged, not just my ears and brain.  Perhaps this phenomenon could be called, "intense listening-via-participation."  I make pauses as a dancer because the music does when I dance tango; I may have been stepping only once per measure at the start of the song, but during the variación at the end of the piece, my steps may become only a blur, mirroring the virtuoso bandoneón's climax.  Sitting could be intense, I suppose, but it is not participatory and way too cerebral for a music born out of the African canyengue clave (tresillo).*

Musicians often want people to stop and listen to them and "fully enjoy" or "to fully take notice" to their art.  However, I believe that this is a mistake with tango and most Latin American music, which is both a psychological and a somatic experience.  Latin American musicians distinguishes themselves by wanting people to be moved to dance to their music.

So it is not just one person or orchestra tipica, but to all modern tango composers and musicians for whom I write this appeal:

Sergio Alessandro Buslje,
    Artistic Director and Conductor
Pan American Symphony Orchestra
125 Michigan Ave., NE
Washington , DC 20017

Estimado Director Buslje:

I fully enjoyed the quality and passion of the Pan American Symphony Orchestra's performance I recently attended.  Your mission statement on your website and the breadth of what you are doing to promote Latin American music is impressive.  More than having a mission statement, your fulfillment of this mission is highly esteemed by critics.  You are with out a doubt influencing modern tango composers and musicians.  For this reason, I hope to appeal to you as a life-long musician and a dancer that you change your presentation slightly.  I suggest that at some point in your concert you allow common people to dance to your music.

I think this is really the spirit of tango -- the people's dance.  Tango has survived especially because of dancers, as has been the case with other Latin American music.  Jazz is no longer a dance "in the street," but tango, cumbia, salsa and samba are.  A dancing public demonstrates something essential about Latin America.

My experience from living in Latin America, being a dancer, and from being a Latin percussionist is that Latin Americans hold their music close to their hearts but "listen" through their bodies as dancers.  I hope that whenever you perform in the future that at least at some point you invite the public to dance.  Doing so would teach the unknowing public a great deal about what Latin American culture and music has to offer the world:  A music that moves the soul and body.

What are you thoughts about this?


Mark Word
Washington, D.C.

PS to my readers:   Since I received no response to this, perhaps some other musicians you know would benefit from reading this and the series, Musicians Killing Tango:  Click on the links -- Part One; Part Two; Part Three (part 3 included DJs as proxy musicians).  I believe that if musicians read these articles, they will get insight into a great business plan for themselves.  Musicians who value the dancer are doing themselves a business-wise favor and at the same time keeping the music they love truly alive.  My experience has been that modern tango ensembles and composers too often are influenced by Piazzolla or other composers who were not thinking from the dancer's perspective.  Then these present musicians get a gig to play live tango and wonder why people don't like live musicians.  It isn't the live music so much as the musicians not knowing what is danceable and loved by dancers.  Those who love to dance need to help out the sometimes unwitting musicians who want to please dancers but do not know why they are not invited back.  Dancers must find a way to tell them how to please the audience-that-moves!  I hope these blog discussions help create a better musician-dancer alliance.

*The tango clave is denied by many musicians and ignored by most authors.  The Wikipedia article is an example of forgetting tango's clave, while mentioning even the tresillo in Middle Eastern music and southern Asia!  However, if you love tango and know tango, the tango clave is clearly there and omnipresent even in silence.  More on this subject will follow with videos of each of the claves.

Photo credit:


  1. Hi Mark,

    I'm also a clinical social worker and tango dancer. I live and work in Germany and have been dancing in the Bavaria (Regensburg and Nurnberg) area for four years. I work in the Army Substance Abuse Program and I'm on the email "global."

    Corey Fitzgerald

  2. Corey: It is indeed a small world! I will look you up. Germany has a wonderful connection to traditional tango, and has been a huge influence on the way I dance. -- Mark

  3. Thanks for this post Mark !
    But the Wikipaedia link is for musicians by musicians.....

  4. Bill, remember that this is a letter to musicians. Also, it is a teaser for tangueros/-as of a blog that I have in rough draft post on this "clave" rhythm. Here in not the best explanation, but in a video clip you can see and hear what this "clave" is.


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