Charles is the director of the Double T Tango Orchestra at Texas Tech University, and plays bandoneon in the ensemble. He was interviewed by Sabryn Aguilar, Sydney Brammer, and Brianna Goodman
How did the tango orchestra come into being and what inspired you to create it?
The tango orchestra came into being back in the day, lets say 4 years ago. There was a professor here, his name was Dr. Thomas Cimarusti, and he ran what he called the 'Tango Camarata.' 'Camarata' just means "small ensemble." I was
in the Camarata, but I didn't play bandoneon; I was actually helping conduct the ensemble with him. Once he left, I then kind of picked up where he left off and I turned this small ensemble into what is now the Texas Tech Tango Orchestra.
What are some key elements in the history of tango?
Big question! I think probably one thing that everyone should know is: tango didn't start off in the brothels like [what] everyone thinks of... There are a bunch of wax cylinders that have tangos- there are tangos on these wax cylinders,
and if you really think about it, RCA Victor (the recording company) probably would not have spent a bunch of money just to hear the "authentic sounds" of Buenos Aires brothels. This was very middle-class, social dance music. I think
that's one of the biggest things you should know about tango history. About 1930 to 1935 was the Golden Age of Tango and that is when the most orchestras were playing it and also when the most orchestras were recording, so most of
the music that we play is transcriptions and arrangements of those orchestras. But, there are new pieces that are being written today and have been written from going past that time period. Right now there's a really big resurgence
of tango popularity here in the United States and also in Argentina...so you're seeing a lot of these orchestras pop up, either they are professional (like an adult orchestra) or an educational one like a high school group or college,
just like we are here.
Can you tell us about the roots of tango in Argentina?
Tango actually started right in the Mar de Plata area, which is actually Uruguay and Argentina. Nowadays, everyone associates tango with Buenos Aires. But, when it first started, it was very much a marriage between Uruguay and Argentina.
They were very friendly countries, so it was super, super easy to go back and forth. Some musicians from Montevideo, which it the capital of Uruguay, were able to come over and play in Buenos Aires, which is the capital of Argentina.
There was this amazing connection between those two countries. It started off as kind of a poor, lower-class dance. [Tango] was very much a mix of African [culture] and all of the other immigrant groups that came into Argentina at
the time, like Italian, French, [and] German. They were pretty much all at [that] economic level together. They were very much [living in] bad living conditions, almost on top of each other. But, in the history of the world, those
living conditions usually breed [these] amazing art forms; jazz is an example of people living on top of each other and ideas just colliding. That's really how it originated- this very cosmopolitan-type environment that bred this music.
How long have you been playing your instrument and can you tell us a little bit about it?
I've been playing the bandoneon for 3 years now and it's an accordion-like instrument, but what differs from the accordion is: when you play an accordion, and when you push in and pull out, it's the same note. But, on the bandoneon-
it's a bisonoric instrument, which means 'two sounds'- when you pull out, it's one note but when you push in it's a whole different note. It makes it really hard for beginners to learn this instrument because you're having to learn
almost 4 different keyboards. A good analogy is like: say you're typing a sentence and then the next sentence you have to switch to another keyboard with different keys in different spots. It would get really confusing after a while,
What do you enjoy about performing tango music?
A little secret: it's okay if you mess up in tango because [one of the] characteristic[s] of tango is that it's a little bit dirty anyway. If you mess up something, it's just adding more to that gritty kind of earthy sounds that the
music is playing. I really enjoy how free it is; it's not like classical music where a spotlight's on you and if you miss one note, then the whole performance everyone thinks you did bad. In tango, it's all about what feeling [you
are] conveying and if you convey that feeling, then it was a great performance.
What do you enjoy about being the director?
A lot of things... I think probably by top two would have to be:
1. Just getting to spread this knowledge of tango to the next generation of musicians because, honestly, I go to a lot of summer camps for tango during the summer...
me and my wife have to be at least thirty years younger than everyone else there. We're "the youngins," as they call us. So, I'm really excited that I get to continue and spread this on to the next generation of players that will do
even better than what we're doing right now.
2. The second thing is just making some great music with some great kids. The students are phenomenal and the level of music-making that we're doing is really exciting.
What are some technics and/or elements that are unique to tango?
Like I said earlier, there's a little bit of dirt to the sound. There's a lot of techniques that honestly reflect the dance. There's what's called an arrastre, and that just means to drag. That sound drags to the next note and when
someone's dancing, you can see them kind of dragging their step to the next step. I guess another one is, my favorite technique, what's called la yumba, and it's, again, a very dirty sounding technique. The piano player plays and he's
playing something that sounds really good, like a really nice pretty chord, on the right hand, but on the other hand he just takes his whole hand and smashes it on the lower end of the piano. It's a really cool effect and there's a
lot of little effects like that all throughout the music.
Do you have a favorite piece or composer?
I have a favorite- not composer, because in tango a lot of the pieces are composed [in the] 1920s-1930s, and then different orchestras arrange certain kind[s] of things to make their arrangement very popular- but, my favorite orchestra(r)
would have to be Osvaldo Pugliese. What he did [was]: everyone in tango, this [was] around the 1950s, was very, very focused on playing for dancers and Osvaldo Pugliese really wanted to bring back the real roots of tango, which is
a very African kind of tradition. He included a lot more rhythmical elements, so it's danceable but there [are] a lot more syncopations, so it's a little harder to dance with. But, as a musician, it's really fun to play.
What is something special about this ensemble?
What's really special is [that] a huge majority of the students in the ensemble are actually former students of the high school tango orchestra that I run here in town. So, they've already had 3 or 4 years playing tango. Now [I] get
them in a college setting with other really great-playing musicians, [and] they already have 3 or 4 years of that style under their belt[s]. This ensemble specifically, we've been able to really make the sound of tango happen because
we've already dealt with teaching style... they already know that. So, now we can focus on really making some great tango music.