Epilogue to the String Band Tradition

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from notes to “Epilogue to the String Band Tradition: Grand Curucaye String Orchestra of Trinidad (COOK LP 05020, 1956), by Emory Cook:

In centuries past, the Spanish string orchestra used to be something of the size of the Grand Curucaye. Then it was less difficult to hold together groups of eight or ten players to form an orchestra. Today, in the country, they still play for dancing and religious festivals, but during the last fifty years the size of the band has diminished to four or five, mainly because of organizational difficulties found in the climate and temperament. The character, the flavor has deteriorated, and the music has begun to slip away into a folk limbo.

The one thing that the Spanish demand from their music is an interesting complexity of rhythm. Until this point is well understood, the obscurity, occasionally repetitive nature and sometimes total absence of melodic line may deceive the listener into classifying the music as esoteric or ethnic.

Plucked suing instruments have a rhythmic attack rather totally absent in the blown horn. For instance, in a superficial sense the cuatro is strictly for accompaniment  and chords, but the Spanish do not listen to it that way. To them it is a rhythm instrument, imparting its nuances through the tiny variations made within the strict beat.

So also is the cello, with its string slapping percussively on the base of the neck. Above all this, a clear melodic line would have been sung in the old days, floating, legato and lyrical over the busy maddening accompaniment. Especially this would be true of the serenals, she Vieje Croix, and the galeron (corruption of “galeon”–galleon), a sort of Spanish sea shantey dating back to the 16th century, sung by slaves manning galleons in the naval battles between the English and the Spanish in the straits between Trinidad and Tobago, where the Spanish suffered defeat.

It is possible by listening with extreme care to pick out or to imagine a variety of hauntingly beautiful melodies and countermelodies buried in the old music of the Grand Curucaye Orchestra.

Listen here.

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