Dancing to Biagi

When I have a music question, I have to go find a sympathetic, and patient, musician to ask. As I've written in previous posts, I don't have the remotest education in music, so just looking something up doesn't really work. The terms don't mean so much to me. Someone has to take the time to break it down and explain it. Thankfully, we're lucky to have tango composer Glover Gill in our community who not only plays several times a month at milongas, but takes time to answer my random tango music questions.

So here's the scenario . . .

As the music starts, you invite your partner and step onto the dance floor. As you step to the beginning of the next phrase, you noticed that at the next strong beat, where you would normally be stepping down, you're actually in midstep. So, maybe you shift weight a bit, start with the next phrase - and there it is again - where other orquestras have placed the "weak" beat, this one has placed emphasis - a strong beat. Notes that you were expecting to hear are missing, or very soft. The rhythm that seems almost in the background of other orquestras' performances, is almost eclipsing the melody in this one. And while he doesn't have the "missing bing" as consistently as Enrique Rodriguez, that last note is frequently very soft - almost inaudible depending on the venue.

(Speaking of venues, some places are better than others for listening to Biagi in particular. Poor sound systems, or too much background/crowd noise can make the more subtle aspects of Biagi's music almost impossible to hear.)

Welcome to the music of Rodolfo Biagi . . . What follows are my hurried notes from our conversation at Texas French Bread about learning to dance well to Biagi.

My question for Glover this week was, "Why is Biagi harder to dance to than say, Di Sarli for example?"

A little background on Biagi's music - it's usually dominated by an almost aggressive rhythmic style, heavy syncopation, dramatic pauses, breaks and accents where you don't normally hear them. All of that can make Biagi seem very complex, even intimidating, to dance to but, Glover assured me, his pieces do follow a pattern. All you have to do is learn what that pattern is. Another hindrance to understanding (hence dancing well to) Biagi is that for many dancers, as tango students, we haven't necessarily been exposed as much to Biagi in classes because other composers/orquestras are easier to learn to - like Di Sarli, for instance.

But back to deciphering Biagi . . .

Once you know that the normally "weak" and "strong" beats are often reversed, it can be easier to sort out the rest. Unlike Pugliese for example, Biagi's rhythm is very regular, so start there by listening to the rhythm. Next, listen for the phrases. When you're listening to/mapping/charting the music, you'll notice the first few phrases sound one way (the "A" portion), the next few sound different ("B"), then "A" comes back again, and the pauses (or syncopation) returns. Now that you can hear the structure - you can predict the other elements that were so tricky in the beginning.

Glover's advice - listen to Biagi a lot before you start trying to move to it. Pick a piece and listen - map it out if you have to. I did this with Belgica, the song I tend to giggle through because listening for the breaks has become "the-best-game-ever" for me. (I don't know why, truly, I don't. It just is.) Sure enough those "random" breaks and pauses aren't the least bit random - they fit in the "pattern" of the song.

I couldn't find Belgica for the player below, but you can listen to that particular song here. Meanwhile, have a listen to a few samples of Biagi's work in the player embedded below.

To find out more about Rodolfo Biagi's life and work, visit TodoTango.com .

A Biagi Sample Playlist

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Thanks again to Glover Gill for spending the time and energy answering my questions.


ModernTanguera said...

I wish dancers would regularly talk about music structure like this! Biagi does very interesting things with the music, but understanding the underlying phrasing and structure of any music can deepen your relationship to it--and your ability to dance to it. Awesome!

On a side note, I LOVE Biagi. I have one very, very favorite leader for dancing to Biagi, because we both know a lot of his songs inside and out and we both hear the music in a similar way. So much fun! :)

Mari said...

@ModernTanguera - I also *love* Biagi - kind of gotten hooked, actually. But early on I had the great luck to dance with leaders who really loved him and they passed on their enthusiasm to me.

I'm hoping to go through many of the orquestras this way - even though my points/discussions are pretty subjective. I just overhear a lot of questions with very few answers when it comes to the music we dance to every week - so I don't think I'll run out of material any time soon.

Unknown said...

Thank you! I've previously stayed somewhat clear of Biagi, but am definitely going to look at seeing to crack a few tunes now I know there is a pattern underneath the tracks.