Esteemed Music Therapy faculty member chats with Brooklyn Conservatory of Music about joy, challenges, oceans and fruit
Where are you originally from and how did you find the Conservatory?
Born and raised in Fairfield, Connecticut. I don’t recall exactly, but I responded to a job posting at the Conservatory. Previously I worked as a Music Therapist at the Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC) with which Melanie Nevis was associated. I think she actually started the program there. So it wasn’t completely blind chance.
At what age did you start playing music?
I’ve always been a singer and then played glockenspiel in school bands and took piano lessons as a child – probably age 8.
What made you choose Music Therapy?
I was looking for a day job where I would be of service to the community and also incorporate my musicality. A Jesuit friend told me about Music Therapy and, after some research, I visited a woman who worked with children with autism. Immediately I saw that music could make a meaningful connection and was inspired to learn more about it. I attended NYU and received a Masters Degree in Music Therapy in 1997.
What is the most challenging aspect of the work you do?
Venturing into the unknown of a person’s world with every aspect of myself; music is the guide and the vehicle (sometimes we use the term: container). There is so much presence and attention required for this task, it’s quite exhausting.
What is the most rewarding aspect of the work you do?
The very same element that is challenging is rewarding. I never know what we will find when we enter the musical realm and there is always joy in having gone there. Even in grief and suffering, the fact that music has an impact is just remarkable and exhilaratingly hopeful.
Who are some of the musicians who inspire you?
In the early years: Judy Garland, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, John Denver, Bobby Short. Later: Mercedes Sosa, Holly Near, Carlos Gardel, Bobby McFerrin, Nancy LaMott, Nina Simone. Current: Lisa Sokolov, Silvia Nakkach, Renee Manning, Rhiannon.
Could you tell us one thing about yourself that we don’t know and may find surprising?
I played Bonnie in Anything Goes twice —in high school and in the local community teen theater production. Totally type-cast. I was cute as a button back in the day…. if that’s not surprising, then I’ll tell you that I was painfully shy as a kid. People are usually surprised about that.
Pool or Ocean?
Cranberries or Strawberries?
Sponge Bob or Patrick?
Bugs Bunny (I’m older than I look).
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Pianist and composer Emilio Solla has led Brooklyn Conservatory’s Tango Ensemble for three semesters, introducing students to the rhythmic, melodic, and stylistic subtleties of Argentina’s most beloved musical genre.
In his own music, Solla blends tango and other Argentinean folk forms with an affinity for jazz and solid classical training, resulting in a unique and sophisticated sound that has captivated NYC audiences in recent years. He is the leader of Emilio Solla’s Tango Jazz Project, which has made regular appearances at such venues as Smalls, the Jazz Standard, and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Brooklyn Conservatory’s Tango Ensemble is open to all instrumentalists of an intermediate level or higher interested in playing with others and learning more about this exciting and expressive genre. The class meets Thursday evenings from 8:00-9:30 p.m., starting on 2/26. New students are welcome to audit a first class session before deciding to enroll for the remainder of the semester. Contact the registration office at 718-622-3300 x10 for more information.
Maestro Solla was kind enough to take a few moments out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions:
How did growing up in Argentina and being exposed to tango music influence your own musical development?
Not much in the beginning, since my family was more into our folk music, but I got deeply into it after I heard [tango composer Astor] Piazzolla for the first time.
What is unique about tango music and what differentiates it from other types of Latin music?
Everything, almost. The rhythm probably would be the first aspect, and the phrasing as well.
Why do you think Tango is enjoying a recent revival in interest?
Honestly, I have no idea, but it surely deserves it.
What have you enjoyed most about teaching this course at Brooklyn Conservatory?
Being able to make musicians more aware, especially the classically trained ones, of how to sound like a tango musician, instead of just playing the notes!
What are some of the particular challenges of teaching this style to classical and jazz musicians unfamiliar with tango?
Phrasing, accents, tempos…
What are some goals for future semesters of the class?
Keep having fun, listening to recordings, and playing tango like maniacs!
Tango is traditionally played on the piano, string instruments, and the bandoneon (a relative of the accordion), but is it necessarily limited to these instruments? What other instruments may effectively be used in tango music?
Guitar, flute, clarinet, percussion . . . almost anything, if used properly!
You are perhaps more well known in New York through your own work as an accomplished jazz musician than as a pure “tanguista,” how important is tango to your own musical endeavors, and is it something you always try to incorporate?
Watch out! I am not at all a jazz pianist, I am a tango and Argentine folk pianist, with classical training, and a deep love for jazz, which I use for my own music, especially as it relates to harmonic structure and improvisation. Tango is in my music as a stain in a tiger, simply irremovable.
How would you advise your students to begin absorbing the authentic tango style?
Listen, listen, and LISTEN. Both to recordings of the masters, such as Piazzolla and Pugliese, and to each other when playing as an ensemble. Then play, play, and play with some coaching from a style connoisseur. In short, just come to my workshop! ; )
What are the main reasons new students should consider taking this class?
They don’t put good things on TV on Thursday evenings.
Some Audio Samples from last Spring’s Tango Ensemble at the Conservatory:
Milonga del Angel
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