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 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, you know...
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.

Venu is a sophomore at Texas Tech University and plays viola for the TTU Tango ensemble. Venu was interviewed by Sydney Brammer.

How long have you been playing?
I started off playing violin for 2 years and then went on to play viola, so I think this is my 8th year now. I've been in tango ensembles for 2 and half years. I was part of the same tango that I'm in now except I was in the high school version, so I was still under Mr. Olivier.
How did you get involved in the tango orchestra?
I got involved through orchestra in high school. We got notes saying that we should join and it seemed interesting... and it was free, so why not?
What does tango mean to you?
That's a really interesting question because, in orchestra, you play pretty much the same form of music. But with tango, it's so different. You do different things with your bow, with the strings, you make different sounds... I love being in orchestra, but what i love about tango is that you get to escape from all you know and learn something completely new.
How have you changed (as a musician) since you have become a part of this group?
It gave me a more open, broader mindset about [what] music is. I've always thought of orchestra as the only way to make use of my viola and this has just shown me that there are so many things- different types of music and culture out there in the world that you can learn and they're not the same.
What do you enjoy about performing?
I enjoy the feeling I get, the excitement, when we play something fast or really beautiful. I like seeing the audience's feeling. You get to express something that's not in words but you're still trying to tell a story.
Do you have a favorite piece/composition or composer?
My favorite composer is probably Dvorak and my favorite piece is his 8th Symphony- the first movement of that symphony, to be specific.
Café or dance tango?
Dance tango. It's more interactive and more interesting. I feel like it's interesting to be able to play music and have [people] dance to it.

Adam is a TLPDC Peer Consultant at Texas Tech University and plays the piano in the Double T Tango ensemble. He was interviewed by Sydney Brammer.

Which tango organization are you a part of here at Tech?
It started as a student ensemble. Technically, it's not a registered class anymore... We're called Double T Tango. It consists of 6 students- a few undergrad and grad students. For a while we played mostly small gigs around town at a couple dance studios... they hosted dance lessons and we played live music for them. Those have sort of come and gone. We've lucked into larger gigs like this weekend; we're traveling to Albuquerque to play at a tango festival for about 500 dancers.
What does tango mean to you?
I think it's hard to detach it from the dance. It's one of the things that's enjoyable about playing that kind of music that it is intended for dancing. I think we are interested to see what it will be like to play for a room full of dancers. We've played for 15-20 people who were taking a lesson, but the people we'll be playing for [in Albuquerque] are very passionate and, I'm sure, very skilled. Aside from that, as someone who was heavily trained as a classical musician, it's fun. Also, it's nice to be able to look at a page of music... leave things out... do what you want to do... have a little freedom- provided that you play kind of the basic nuts and bolts of what's on the page. In classical music that I usually play, your kind of "goal" is to represent what's on the page as best as you can.
What do you enjoy most about performing?
The things that we don't plan. I think we all have played together long enough, it has been 2 or 3 years, and I think we all get along well enough- there's no, you know... behind-the-music drama happening. We all get along. I think we enjoy playing and being in the same place. There are things you don't plan... we call them "diva moments." ... But, we enjoy seeing what each person does.
Do you have a favorite piece or composer?
I would say the music of Piazzolla is very gorgeous. But, again, it gets back to the idea of [being] composed out. There are many more things written down. Each part is written out thoroughly so there's not that sort of bare bones "this is melody, this is the basic idea- have fun." I like how gorgeous the music is but I also like having any old piece to play around with.
Are there any techniques or characteristics of tango that are unique to that genre?
My wife says "I know you're playing tango when you hit the piano." Mostly the music is meant to represent this very strict pulse. There are lots of little sound effects that go into it. If you play a rhythm and in between you sort of smush the keys, it's called "jumpa"... but there are things that will get people's attention. There's a technique called "vómito"- it's not really a technique, it's more of a sound effect- which, unfortunately is meant to represent... it's gross. But, you sort of make this loud sound leading into a new section like "oh okay, we're going on!" So, for me, I just throw my arm down on the piano and it makes a really loud sound. There are sort of "practices" about how free people are with their rhythm. There's a lot of tradition so one of the things that I like about playing a group with Charles [Olivier], who i was say is sort of our fearless leader, and Catherine, who's a violinist is that they're both pretty knowledgable historically; I think they bring that to our group.
What is something special about the Double T ensemble?
I don't know how many ensembles there are in the U.S., frankly, but I also don't know how many of them have come out of this kind of educational setting. I know that in other countries-like I know in Argentina there is a scholastic setting for this kind of music and there are students who study tango/music history the same way that we would study Beethoven, Mozart... things like that. But in the U.S., I would say that [the study of tango] might be unique. I just go back to the part I mentioned earlier: on some level it's a collection of soloists and we're all doing this together. At the same time, it's a nice balance between something that we do for extra cash and something that we enjoy doing together.
What is the most important skill or technique that you use while playing?
Rhythm. Rhythmic pulse. I think the group is used to me giving unhappy faces when they're rushing or dragging. I'm also a drummer by training and really particular when people fluctuate. It's very human to fluctuate but when you fluctuate like "we're going much faster" or we're going much slower," I like to point that out. For me, that's the core skill because that's how the music has to fit together. On a practical level, if you are in a situation where you're playing for actual dancers, they're relying on you to be consistent and if you're not, they won't rely on you anymore.
Is there anything else you'd like share?
I think we're looking forward to more out-of-town gigs and trips. We're doing a little mini-tour where we're going out to Arizona for New Year's and then Albuquerque... I think largely, being in college you see people come and go. That's just the way college towns are; you have friends, they graduate, and they leave... so for me personally, I think there's an element of, you know, it's great that we make money doing it, it's great that we get exposure... but, you know it's not going to last forever. People are going to graduate and move. I'm sure that new members will come and go, but I think we just to really enjoy each other's company while we have it.

Violet plays the viola in the TTU Tango ensemble and has been playing for over 7 years. She was interviewed by Brianna Goodman, Sabryn Aguilar, Eric Kennison, and Brogan Stewart.

What do you like about tango?
The rhythm...the danceable qualities to it. Just hearing it, it's very upbeat music and even if it's not, you can feel the culture in the music. It's something very special.
What kind of knowledge about the tango do you have?
I don't have a lot of knowledge about tango. I know of one very famous composer, which I think everyone that knows about tango knows about- his name is Piazzolla. He is the most famous one. He [helped] tango to be more worldly, more known. Unfortunately that's not my culture as a people, so I don't know a lot about it but I do like playing it.
What is the most important skill to use when you're playing (for you)?
Personally, I think the most important skill is probably being able to count the music. Again, it is a very tricky rhythm sometimes, so just making sure that you can count and follow the ensemble [is important] because most times we don't have a conductor. So, really, being able to work well with others and being able to read your part well is most important.

Natalie is a freshman at Texas Tech University and plays the violin in the TTU Tango ensemble. She was interviewed by Sydney Brammer.

How long have you been playing?
I've been playing violin for eleven and a half years. I played in the LISD tango orchestra for 3 years and this is my first year at Tech.
How did you get involved in the tango orchestra?
The tango orchestra was just starting up and they gave a presentation for all of the schools. I thought it was really cool and that I could use it for college resumes but it turned out to be much more than that.
(A) What do you think of when you hear "tango" & (B) is this different now that you've joined the ensemble?
(A) I've never actually thought about that. When I hear it- when [the instructor] let's us listen to it- he tells us what to think about, like "think about these rhythms," and I start listening more. I've never really had a general idea of [tango] before.
(B) Yes, I think so because I didn't really have an opinion about tango before [joining the ensemble] but I now realize how special it is and how it has an actual history that you've never thought about. When you think of world music, you think "they have a different culture," but we forget that there is history to that- something that made it form that way, so that really changed me.
What do you enjoy about performing?
We all have this secret communication. When we look at each other, we kind of know what the other person is thinking by their facial expressions because we know each other so well.
Do you have a favorite piece/composition or composer?
I love pretty much all of the music we play. A lot of it sounds kind of the same because of the same textures and rhythms but there's something special about each piece.
Café or dance tango?
What is something special about this ensemble?
The friends! Since it's so small, you form a close bond with everyone. It's not like an orchestra or band where there are over 100 members and you're all just there to make music; with this you're there to make music, but also to make friends.

We asked members of the tango ensembles at Texas Tech University some questions about their experiences with tango music. Survey created by Eric Kennison.