By Alejandro Prieto
Montevideo, May 26 (EFE).- Regarded by some as a sort of musical panda in danger of extinction, the bandoneon – a German version of the concertina responsible for the trademark sound of the tango – is making a comeback in Uruguay thanks to a new teaching method that makes mastery of the instrument accessible.
“For me, to play tango without bandoneon is like making a stew without potatoes,” 69-year-old artisan Ricardo Matteo tells Efe at the Montevideo workshop where he repairs and refurbishes bandoneons.
The instrument, invented in the mid-1800s to serve as a substitute for the organ in religious processions, has “something of magic” about it, he says.
“I grew up in a family of bandoneonists,” Matteo says, recounting that his father and two of his uncles were part of a “very well-known orchestra” in the 1940s.
Ricardo was 12 when he began his apprenticeship under the guidance of those uncles. While one taught him to play “a few tangos” on the bandoneon, the other instructed him in the arts of repairing and restoring the instruments.
Bandoneonists have “a different sensibility,” Matteo says, preferring old instruments, no matter how badly damaged, to new ones, and will bring him bandoneons in terrible condition with the expectation that he rescue them.
Sergio Astengo was a rock guitarist when he chanced to hear some tango classics by Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla and set himself the goal of learning the bandoneon.
“There was no turning back,” he says.
Budding classical guitarist Veronica Rumbo was captivated by the sound of the bandoneon in tango class.
“It brings together the virtues of many instruments. The rich timbre that a violin or guitar can also have, a very wide register,” she says. “You can play many notes together, so it is like a little orchestra in itself.”
Learning to play the bandoneon is not as difficult as it looks, according to Astengo, who was taught by a recognized master of the instrument, Luis Di Matteo.
While it has been decades since bandoneons were mass-produced, Astengo says that new ones can now be found in Uruguay: “You must search and get it right. Have patience, another thing the bandoneon teaches us.”
Last November, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) approved a grant to Uruguay’s Cienarte Foundation to support its “Bandoneon: The sound of the tango” project.
Cienarte’s director, Raul Lorenzo, points out that most of Uruguay’s surviving master bandoneonists are quite old, making it difficult for people who want to learn the instrument to find a teacher.
To address that problem, Cienarte plans to create a school of bandoneon with four branches located across Uruguay, project administrator Sofia Antonaz says.
“It will run based on a teaching method devised by the master Raul Jaurena” with the idea of using it with young people, she says.
Another element of the project will be a course in the making and repair of bandoneons. EFE apf/dr