Playing & Learning

Last week I finally found the so-called Gypsy musicians – a trio of friends who busk regularly in Trieste, playing a Gypsy Jazz repertoire of old and new. Almost everyone I’ve met here had told me about them and recommended listening to them. I came across them in Piazza Cavana, which, as far as I can see, is the number 1 busking spot. After listening for a while, I went to speak to them whilst they were having a break – I told them I really liked their music and that I, also, was a violinist (the group is made up of a violin, double bass and guitar.) On learning this, Berki, the violinist, offered me his violin and asked me to play them a tune – which I did. He asked me how long I’d been playing and was quite impressed when I said 7 years. I had meant to say since I was seven years old! whoops. They continued playing and I stayed for a few more tunes – as I was leaving I asked Berki if he ever taught Gypsy style violin – he replied apologetically that he didn’t read notes and plays only by ear. ‘Anch’io’ (me too) I said. ‘Davvero? Porta il tuo violino!’ (Really? Go and get your violin!) So that was that – I left feeling very lucky as this was to be my first collaboration with local musicians.

About an hour later I returned ready to go and… they’d gone. After looking in the other popular busking spots around town I was beginning to doubt whether I’d find them, but alas, they returned to their original post. I was immediately welcomed into the crew, being offered cigarettes and a Radler (a lemony-beery drink.) Then we began to play – I think they kindly started with their more gentle repertoire to ease me in! Here are a selection of the results in the form of sound snippets. I think you can just about hear the 2 violins (I am the slow one trying to catch up!)

And here is a video –

Once again, I have the problem of not know what these tunes are or where they come from. I asked Berki about them but he also did not know the names – as they had been passed down through his family from his Mother’s, Mother’s, Mother’s, Mother etc. ! I have been able to find out more about the songs from last weekend’s Barcolando, as they all had lyrics, but music without lyrics will be more of a challenge to research!

At the end of the session, I thanked the group for letting me join them and Berki for giving me tips throughout. It was the first time someone had given me instruction on how to play since my last violin lesson (2-3 years ago) which felt quite strange but also nice. Strangely nice. He said that I had a good tone but need to practice rhythmical bowing. The melodies of these tunes aren’t so complicated but the bowing of the Gypsy Jazz style is completely new to me. And once I am more familiar with both the melodies and rhythms I can start to improvise a bit more.  It was also my first time hearing violin terminologies in Italian – the names of the strings, Sol-La-Re-Mi. Archetti lunghi (long bows) – though whilst trying to pick up the tunes and work out the meanings of new terms, I don’t think I put these into practice very well!

This encounter has made me think about teaching, learning and sharing music. In the U.K, at least, music teaching and learning tends to be a very formal experience – lessons are costly and, in a way, quite solitary. Using written musical notation, dominates the teaching methods of ‘classical’ instruments. The experience I had with these musicians was the absolute polar opposite of this – I was learning with a group, in a public place, responding solely to what I was hearing. None of the musicians had ever seen written versions of what they were playing. For me, learning to play by ear feels more organic and personable. It has a more grassroots feel – an exchange between musicians without a third party (written notation) involved. Imagining myself learning to play these tunes on my own with a score feels kind of… artificial. And also a hell of a lot less enjoyable!

Well, I have my work cut out for me – I’m off to practice.

 

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