Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation

By Torres, Nestor | ARSC Journal, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation


Torres, Nestor, ARSC Journal


Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation. By Sue Miller. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2014. 323pp. ISBN 9780810884410

For all the popularity and ubiquity of Latin Music in general and Cuban Music in particular, Charanga (a term given to traditional ensembles of Cuban dance music comprised of flute, violins, piano, conga, timbales, guiro, and 2 or more vocalists singing in unison) has yet to be known and enjoyed the way that Salsa, Cuban Timba, and Bachata are today. Moreover, for all the academic and anthropological research work done in the past 60+ years in the Latin Music field, very few have been successful in conveying the essence of their subject matter. Sue Miller's remarkable book does not only succeed in its comprehensive approach to introduce and educate both performing flutists and academicians to this wonderful music and its history, she captivates the reader through her passion, love and commitment to the genre.

Full disclosure is in order: rather than a review, this is more of a biased, personal reflection. I will not even try to be objective, much less analytical or academic about it. The reason is simple: I've lived this music and still do; it is part of my musical DNA. When I told my father that I wanted to learn to play the flute, the first music he introduced me to was Richard Egues (the most influential flutist of the genre) and Orquesta Aragon. As a teenager in NewYork City, I was fortunate to be part of the Charanga scene at its height. That enabled me to listen to and learn from Eddie Zervigon and Jose Fajardo (another pivotal figure in the history of the use of the flute in Charanga) first hand.

It was playing in Charanga ensembles where I learned about clave and to feel the music in 2, not 4; about playing not to show off how many fast notes I could play, but rather for the dancer; following the percussion rhythms and the call and response patterns of the vocalists. To this day, my improvisational style is firmly grounded on the Charanga tradition, for it was my first real professional experience. Most recently, I founded and conducted the Danzon-Charanga Ensemble at Florida International University in Miami, teaching flute improvisation as well. This is why I can state without hesitation that Sue Miller deserves the highest praise for a work of the highest caliber.

While it is likely that there may be some who will make a point to find some flaws in this book, I declare that Cuban Flute Style is brilliant and without precedent. …

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