Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2009 Summer Tour Reflections: Buenos Aires

The Glee Club just got back from an amazing South American tour to Argentina and Brazil. Below, rising senior Sarah Dewey looks back at our time in Buenos Aires, our first stop. 

"Buenos Aires Capital City" was, as advertised, the Paris of South America, a fact evidenced superficially by the couture and the locals' affinity for their dogs; however, it was clear that here was a city and a nation with great spirit and an easygoing attitude. All of this was visible in the graffiti we passed in each South American city: in Buenos Aires, flights of fancy and colorful characters; scrawled initials in Rio, and in Campinas a kind of cramped Portuguese futhark that covered the struts of every building. Argentineans express themselves in a way that only Argentineans can, as we soon found out when our buses rushed from stop to stop before an organized protest could clog the city streets near the Plaza del Mayo and impede our progress to the hotel.

Appropriately, we started off our tour with a pilgrimage to Eva Peron's grave, and visited also the La Boca neighborhood. La Boca is a barrio divided into extremely touristy and extremely impoverished areas, with its charming brightly-colored corrugated tin buildings catering to the romantic imaginations of travelers, and its slums next to Rio de la Plata serving as a reminder that all throughout South America, YGC would encounter such surprising juxtapositions. We wondered what this abstract "power of song" could possibly do for the people of this continent, rich and poor alike. Why was there a cameraman with us documenting every moment, every arm wrestling battle, and every jubilant chorus in the streets of whatever city we descended upon? We received our first answer when we gave a concert at the Colegio del Buen Consejo, an all-girls’ school, and found our biggest fans. The little girls used the prayer benches in their academy's nave to great effect, standing on them and giving thunderous applause. It was an excellent reception to the country and a reassuring moment for everyone when they greeted us with enthusiasm.

Eager to try out our classroom Spanish in practical settings, many of us soon felt meekly resigned to the basics of menu Spanish, namely "empanada carne" and "agua con gas"--the power of song, it seems (ah, the relief!), is that music really is the most universal language. It was with this, the enumerated of our innumerable epiphanies about foreign travel and our odd sort of statesmanship, that we met Nestor Zadoff, a leading Argentinean choral conductor. While his name evoked delightful memories of the grandiose "Zadok the Priest", the man himself was amazingly humble, friendly, and overall charming. While music was the universal language for the duration of our workshop on Astor Piazzolla’s tango arrangement, “Adios Nonino.” Zadoff also proved fluent in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English, language skills which greatly aided everyone in understanding and led to not a few chuckles as our translators got cheeky or the Francophones in the group suddenly got a chance to feel smug in a linguistically hostile continent. Zadoff teased out the subtleties of the piece, explaining to us its meaning as well as showing where we should emphasize certain aspects of the tango style. He could hear colors in the notes that were foreign to us, because the piece was written by his countryman with a musical attitude purely Argentinean. As much as song is international, it became clear from this workshop that music requires incredible cultural intuition to properly perform, and that merely perfecting one's diction on a rolled "r" is not going to accurately represent great music. Zadoff taught us all of those things without saying them, and gave us his director's comments with such good humor that the hour-long workshop flew by and we quite regretted not having more time to work with him. Our performance of the piece had clearly greatly improved, and we couldn't wait to debut it the next night, hoping to wow the crowd with tango v2.0.