Friday, May 10, 2013

Tango's Musical Terms: "Dynamics"

Today's musical term for dancers is "dynamics," and how they may be applied to musical dancing.
A visual expression of decrescendo and crescendo in nature.

The musical terms glossary for tangueros/tangueras slowly is growing.  So far we have
  • Chicharra:  A cricket-like percussive sound, made by violinists in tango.
  • Pizzicato:  The use of plucking strings, often used in tango orchestras... and now...
Dynamics in music are generally considered the decrease or increase in volume, but they can be changes in tempo or switches between lyrical portions and rhythmical portions of the music.  The the singular of the word -- "dynamic" -- gives a good sense of what dancers can do with each other because of the music.   Dynamic, as an adjective, means "that which is characterized by constant change, activity, or progress."  As long as it is good dancing, the dynamics of the music is helping the dynamic of the couple.   "Dynamic" is often referred to as "chemistry" between two dancers.  Although dancers think of dynamics as being just volume, one would never think of the dynamics between two people as merely the volume at which they speak to one another.  So it is with music.

The Dynamics of Dance
Can we dance the dynamics?  ¡Claro, que sí!  Tango's Golden Era (Epoca de Oro) featured tango orchestras as dance bands (as it was with jazz's golden era), but these bands both in tango and jazz used dynamics far more than is often recognized.  Perhaps this is because of poor quality of sound systems and/or DJs using MP3 recordings rather than well-restored, "uncompromised" recordings.  Dynamics require operating and optimizing a sound system, but this is truly a rare talent.  Without good recordings and presentation, the changes in volume, texture, tempos, and instrumentation can be very hard to hear.

Listen for sudden (subito) or gradual volume changes, and this will add to your appreciation and application to how dynamics can be danced.  The gradual way of making changes in volume are called decrescendo or diminuendo, the sound trailing down, and the crescendo, the sound growing louder (fortissimo).  Dancers should consider how they are joining the orchestra with the "dynamics of movement" that reflect auditory dynamics in the music.  Progressively smaller steps, for example, might represent a diminuendo and progressively larger steps might represent a crescendo.  Dance bands often play at an even volume, so paying attention to the dynamics in a piece allows the dancers to be honorary members of the orchestra.  (And for this reason, may I ask those not dancing to speak quietly?  Teaching on the dance floor or talking-while-dancing is the greatest enemy of Señorita Dinámica.)

The earlier post on "pizzicato" is another kind of dynamics.  Pizzicato is usually done in a section of the music that is low volume, such as behind the soloist, and give balance to the long, lyrical lines of a violin or bandoneón soloist.  It is hard to see, but just as the first violin begins a solo at the 1:38 mark, the back-row violinists are in pizzicato in the below video clip.  This video will raise the hair on the back of your neck because of the amazing dynamics just begging to be danced.

Here are some example of of how composers indicate changes in the dynamics:

Notice between the connect lines the dynamics: "p" is for very soft and
"cres - cen -do" is the cresendo slowly growing to "ff" (very loud).

Photo:  Mark Word, Blechammersee (Tin Hammer Pond), Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Other resources:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing on a topic that I've been thinking about lately. I have instrumental music training, so I understand dynamics in music. Tango partners have got me thinking about dynamics in dance. I believe it's more than chemistry between a couple.

    I can feel the dynamics coming from my partners bodies because they feel the music. They know the music so well that they know when to give more in a crescendo, etc. Their expression comes from within and remains a feeling we share.


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