Thursday, November 15, 2012

More about Gypsy Music

On Tuesday afternoon I walked up to the St. Paul Central Library to see the exhibit about gypsy music. My route is 3.5 blocks down the street and then across the railroad tracks. From there one turns into a park that skirts around the Science Museum. As I was walking this path I got a good view of the District Heating plant. The temperature was about 25 (-3 Celsius). The steam was really rolling out of the plant.

The exhibit is housed in two showcases on the first and second floor. It includes a copy of the book about Django.

It includes concert handbills, programs, and photographs related to Gypsy Jazz.

These materials are on loan from the Cite de Musique in Paris and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

The explanatory material included said something like this: In Gypsy culture, music is like breathing; it is necessary for life.

I also learned that Gypsy music is not just one thing. It is many different kinds of music, synthesized with other cultures. The music I heard in Hungary, for example, comes from a synthesis with Balkan music.

Gypsy Jazz actually has some midwestern US roots. Django did a tour with the Duke Ellington Band in 1946 playing concerts in places such as Minneapolis and Rochester, MN as well as Omaha, NE. This experience led him to develop what today is called Gypsy Jazz. It also remains in the Twin Cities played by the Hot Club. Click here to hear some of this music. Djano took the jazz back with him to France and continued to work with it. However, there are certainly roots for this earlier than 1946. If one looks at the playbills closely, one sees groups from Harlem playing in the Paris music halls before Django came to the United States, and playing the same music halls that featured the gypsy musicians.

In a similar manner, the gypsies in Spain embraced flamenco.Thus, the next musical event in this series is about flamenco.

On Wednesday evening I went to the Flamenco Concert. The concert was held at the James J. Hill Reference Library which sits next door to the Central Library. This library features a collection of information related to business. The building, itself, is on the Historic Registry.

I remembered last week that we needed to be there at least 30 minutes in advance in order to get a good seat, so arrived at 6:00 for the 6:30 event. I found people waiting at the door for the library to open.

By the time all of us who had waited were seated, about half the chairs were filled. I was glad I had come early. I estimate about 400 people came for this concert.

 The Hill Library is built in the style of old European libraries. It was easy to feel as if one had traveled farther than a 15 minute walk.

We were asked not to take any pictures or video. I found some good photos on the web site for Zorongo Flamenco.

The photo above is Michael Hauser, who is credited with bringing flamenco to the Midwest United States. Before he performed he spoke a bit. His story is very interesting. His father is a noted sculptor and his mother is a modern dance artist. He started out though as a forest ranger in Africa! He went to Madrid and stumbled into flamenco music and then started to go back whenever he had money to take lessons there. And the rest is history.

The concert included magnificent performances by Jesus Montoya  and Pedro Cortes. 
Pedro Cortes comes from a family of Spanish Gypsy guitarists. If you click on the link I've provided you will be taken to his page to learn more about him and to also hear some of his music.

 Jesus Montoya is also a member of a Spanish Gypsy family.  He has been performing professionally since he was 13 years old. In some of the informal conversation he noted his mother is much better singer! I invited you click on the link for Montoya's name to learn more about him and hear some of his music.

Then we were treated to Hauser joining with Montoya and Cortes for  music and song with dance by Susana di Palma. Flamenco dance didn't turn out to be at all what I thought it was. It is a very controlled dance, not flamboyant as I've seen it portrayed in movies.

The artists explained it is quite like jazz since every musician does a great deal of improvisation during a performance. Cortes said, as a guitarist, that he follows the lead of the singer or dancer, whichever is performing at the moment. 

As we were leaving a gentleman sitting next to me asked if I had enjoyed the concert. I told him yes, certainly and that I had experienced a lot of gypsy culture in Europe and it was great to see such diversity.What struck me particularly is that there was there wasn't any of the discrimination or shunning I've seen elsewhere because these people are gypsies.People seemed to find it delightful to learn about a whole new group of people.

I'm so glad I learned about flamenco from this experience rather than being taken to some restaurant by a tour group. I really learned something about the music and the singing and dance that goes with it.

The concert was partially supported by what's called the Legacy Fund. A few years ago, over the objections of Pawlenty, a Republican governor, the Minnesota electorate voted for a slight increase in the sales tax to support environmental concerns and the arts. This month the electorate voted down a Voter ID Constitutional Amendment and voted down an amendment to the constitution prohibiting gay marriage -- two causes put on the ballot by a Republican Legislature, who were voted out of the office, too, in this election. Let's see: We're for the environment and arts, against voter suppression, and against discrimination. Maybe we've got our heads screwed on right!

And to end with another spot of beauty.

 Rice Park, across the street from the library buildings, is beginning to be all decked out for the holidays. In Saint Paul the white lights, such as this, remain in place until the end of Winter Carnival in late January.

Hope you enjoyed learning more about gypsy music. What a wonderful opportunity we have with our library.

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