Sevillanas Accompaniment Update
posted in performance on march 15th, 2008
So it’s been about a month (er … and a week or so) since my first sevillanas accompaniment post (on 5th of February) and I suspect it’s about time for an update. First, as promised, I have learned some new falsetas and, good sharer that I am, I have posted them on the main Ravenna Flamenco site for your delectation ("plays well with others": check!).
Sheet music aside, I have some "notes from the trenches" for all you out there that might one day like to play for dancers. And if I may digress for a moment before delving into the more trencherly regions of said accompaniment, I don’t mind saying that accompaniment can be gratifying in all sorts of ways. Not only do I get to see the music I like playing actually do what it is intended to do (i.e. work as part of an ensemble), but all the dancers I’ve worked with so far have been really clear about how much they appreciate having live music. I don’t know about you, but for me, as a musician, anyway, this is a nice change.
But back to the trenches! Not all primrose and garden paths, this accompaniment business. Thus: item one: one of the most difficult things I’ve encountered in class: playing certain (i.e. typically fast) falsetas really slow – and I do mean really slow (isn’t there some kind of HTML markup for "double italics"? There should be). Intuitively you would think that playing slow would be easy, but such has not been my experience. Particularly for the faster falsetas (i.e. 8th note triplets or 16th notes) the melody seems to originate – for me, at least – more in the fingers than in the brain. The brain starts things off, then other parts take over (alas, as is often the case … ).
This arrangement, however, is not as ideal as it would seem: the fingers might be clever, but they’re not smart. They don’t adapt well. Of course, if you train them to play slow, the feat can be achieved – but be warned: slow isn’t as easy to pull off on the fly as one might think. On the bright side, though – and this is, I’m sure, not the first time you’ve heard this – the slow playing makes the fast playing better: more accurate, stronger, more flexible.
But enough about obstinate body parts and speed. Item two: this class has reinforced the importance of learning to play songs from the middle. Or from anywhere. And that it’s even better to learn how to loop those "middle" sections without breaking compás. In my case, once dancers had learned their entrance or the first tercio of a sevillana, they wanted to start with the second or third tercios in isolation to learn those sections. With sevillanas this (and looping) is relatively easy because of the regularly spaced compás (1 2 3 1 2 3 …), but other forms are not always so forgiving. As with playing slow, starting and stopping at odd times – or starting a piece in the middle – is good practice. My suspicion is that if you have to play every piece you know from the beginning every time, you’re going to drive your dance teacher nuts.
Finally, item three: we may all love Paco de Lucia, but playing his stuff in a beginning dance class is like starting beginning acrobats on the high-wire (perhaps without a net). I picked up one of the sevillanas from El Cobre (on the Almoraima album) just for fun – and right about the time I could play it (nearly) competently all the way through, I simultaneously realized that it would be a cruel (and perhaps unusual) thing to inflict on a beginning dancer. So it goes.
On the other hand (and even though I wasn’t really intending to turn this blog post into another shameless display of self-promotion), some of easiest to follow (and most fun to play) falsetas I use in class are the Sabicas pieces I’ve been transcribing and posting on the Ravenna Flamenco tabs page. And speaking of tabs, I believe I mentioned there are some new ones posted. This is true: there are. Check them out. There are also a few more traditional, Sabicas – and, yes, perhaps Paco – pieces in the works, so don’t be shy about checking back soon. I’ve also started posting videos to go with the tabs. (Gasp! Will the shameless self-promotion never end? Quelle audace!) Please do let me know if these are helpful and I’ll (perhaps) be more assiduous about getting them up.
Now – as always: Go play!