On Tradition

14 11 2008

– an extended scene from Astor Piazzolla’s tango operetta, Maria de Buenos Aires

[originally posted here]

Uri Caine’s talent [involves] seeing connections where others see distance.

-Jeremy Eichler, cited in Tango: the Art History of Love, by Robert F. Thompson, p. 204

This is how Thompson opens his chapter on Astor Piazzolla, the great Argentine composer who fused tango with everything from jazz to the music of Bela Bartok. Where tango traditionalists saw sacrilege to old venerable forms, Piazzolla saw the spirit behind those forms, which were themselves collisions between various musical sources that made criollo music. For Piazzolla, to quote Jaroslav Pelikan, traditionalism was the dead religion of the living, while tradition is the living religion of the dead. That is how he did tango. And that is why, on the corner of Nueve de Julio and Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, his image towers over the those who pass by the heart of the Argentine Republic, playing his bandoneon standing, rather than seated (another innovation).

We can get so caught up in forms and labels that we miss the true principals of what we believe. I have seen it over and over again, from left-wing Marxists to semi-fascistic Roman Catholic traditionalists: traditonal form is everything, there has to be a continuous war against innovators who try and take us out of our militant stance. It is always about “us and them”; and in the end, who cares what “they” think since they think differently.

What I am now trying to do is to figure out, if someone thinks differently, WHY do they think that way? Again, as our music critic above says, it is about seeing bridges where others see only wide chasms.

Does this mean giving up what we think, becoming soft and mushy headed? Another anecdote from the Southern Cone: a former friend in seminary, now a musician, told me that the training of a tango musician involves learning to play perfectly with the metronome. And after years of doing this, and being sure that he has mastered it, he takes it, throws it out the window, and plays however he pleases. It is not enough to be caught up in formulas. The Baltimore Catechism is fine if you have mastered it. But if you truly have mastered it, at one point, you have to throw it out the window and realize that things may not be as simple as it says. You will, however, never get to the point that you say it’s wrong: that would be simply becoming a heretic, and we have enough of those running around. You will, however, be humble enough to admit that what you know is not even a drop in the great bucket of Divine Truth. And that will make you humble, less quick to label, and in the end, more Christian.



5 responses

18 11 2008

Yeah, I dunno: this gringo (it’s hard to get more gringo than me!) is rather intrigued by Arturo’s descriptions of Hispanic folk Catholicism. I feel rather like a Baptist witnessing traditional Catholic rituals: it all seems very naughty, but there’s still something very compelling about it all.

One of my favorite places, possibly on earth, is the Shrine of Our Lady of Regla in Miami’s Little Havana. It’s actually affiliated with the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. Again, the look and feel of it is all very foreign to my experience, but the place absolutely radiates and pulses with sanctity …

15 11 2008

Hey, wait a minute! Ain’t nuthin in this post, and very little on this blog for that matter, that this Anglo/gringo disagrees with, and it sure as heck don’t weird me out.

14 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Plus, I can’t help it if gringo religion sucks.

14 11 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Is that a bad thing?

14 11 2008
Jeff Culbreath

It has just occured to me. The whole point of your blog is to weird out us Anglos. Admit it.

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