Archive for October, 2005

Vals – what, how and why

Posted in Music on October 13th, 2005

Last night, I read Louis‘s blog on vals. His question reminds me what I heard in Julio Balmaceda’s and Esteban Moreno’s vals classes.

Julio said the difference between waltz and vals is that, in waltz, you dance on every beat; while in vals, you don’t dance on every beat. In vals, the strong beat is the “1″, “2″ & “3″ are weak. While in waltz, even “1″ is still the strong beat, but all 3 beats (“1″, “2″ & “3″) are relatively the same importance or “equal” when compare to vals. This difference becomes very obvious when it comes to dance. In Vienna waltz for example, we step on every beat; but in vals, we don’t do that. In vals, we step on the strong beat (“1″), and occasionally we step on the weak beat (“2″ and/or “3″). I think so far that’s the best explanation I heard about the difference between waltz and vals.

Then during an advanced vals class in Taipei Tango festival 2004, Esteban talked about the tricks and possibilities to interpret/dance the vals. Here are the possibilities (I hope my memory is correct):

Rhythm A – 1 2 3 1 2 3… – You always step on the main beat

Rhythm B – 1 2 3 1 2 3… – You step on the main beat and make a double beat with the 1st weak beat (2)

Rhythm C – 1 2 3 1 2 3 1… – You step on the main beat and make a double beat with the 2nd weak beat (“3″)

Rhythm D – 1 2 3 1 2 3… – You skip the main beat and step on the 2 weak beats. (Not sure if Esteban mentioned this one, anyway, definitely it’s one of the possibilities)

Rhythm E – 1 2 3 1 – You step on every beat, but guess we won’t do that very often.

Try to clap them out and then you will have a better idea of what Esteban talks about. During the class he clapped all these out and of course each gives a different feeling. In real dancing, we consciously or unconsciously mix and use some/all of them. Julio made us did a simple walking exercise in the class, and we walk in this sequence: 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3… From this, we can see that his idea of a usual way to dance vals is using Rhythm A and B alternatively. And I think that’s the natural feeling derived from the vals, and that explains why we all tend to do the cross in double beat when we’re dancing vals. For those who are ready for challenge and invention, definitely Esteban gave us ideas on how to explore the world of vals on our own. I think if you’re good enough and familiar enough to the music, you can play with the rhythm and ultimately find more interesting/exciting ways to interpret the vals.

So going back to Louis’s question. So many vals played by different orchestras and each orchestra/vals give us different feeling, sometimes the same song can sound completely different when it is played by different orchestras. I think that came from different ways of orchestration or musical arrangement. Tonight I listened to a dozen of vals played by different orchestras. I paid attention to their arrangement and what kind of rhythms they used usually, and that’s what I found:

1. Almost all the orchestras use Rhythm A as the basic frame, which I think is normal.

2. It seems Rhythm E is almost universally used to indicate a stop or the end of a section. I think it’s because the rhythm itself derives a feeling to stop. (A series of strong beat won’t continue very long, I think in vals, it’s either 4 or max. 7 strong beat in a roll)

3. Rhythm C suggests a little pause or a little loop between musical phrases.

4. One of the differences between orchestras is how often they used/played rhythms other than rhythm A in their vals. Example: Alfredo De Angelis’s “Flor del alma” feels like a running river, because he almost only used Rhythm A throughout the song. Then Enrique Rodriguez’s “La cancion del soltero” somehow sounds like a March vals but full of humor, besides the fact that he made the strong beat really strong and heavy, between phrases he used Rhythm E to decorate the melody (listen to the piano), and that’s why it feels stopping all the time.

This is just a little study. Not much time and feel lazy to do a real and serious one, well… at least not for the coming few weeks.