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Live or recorded?

By March 6, 2019News

Lately we’ve been thinking about live music at Milongas, and why it doesn’t happen more often. The thinking has been prompted by a very courteous email recently received from a skilled musician. He was enquiring whether we would like to have him play at one of our milongas, and that got us reflecting on the whole issue again.

The short answer is no, we won’t have live music at our events. But there’s a lot of careful consideration behind that simple choice.

It’s nothing personal; we just prefer dancing to recordings of the great Tango orchestras in their heyday. If you listen to them, it’s not just the songs that inspirational; it’s the way that they are being played, with the dancers in mind. Their music has a ‘compás’ or beat that creates energy on the dance floor. The energy and vitality that filled the dance floors night after night. Wouldn’t it be great to have the immediacy and excitement of  those orchestras playing, just like in the Golden Age in Buenos Ares? It’s certainly a very romantic notion, and I guess many dancers have fantasised about being on the dance floor when D’Arienzo or Tanturi were playing live.

It’s not really fair to compare modern musicians with the masters of Tango, playing at their prime at the peak of Tango’s popularity. It’s a tall order, and who could realistically expect anyone to match up to such virtuosity? And yet inevitably, that’s what the dancers will do whenever live music is being played.  The dancers have heard the same tracks throughout their Tango dancing, in lessons and at Milongas, and the music is a constant companion and friend as their dancing evolves. A modern rendition will be an interloper in that relationship, struggling to match up to the energy and foibles of the familiar recordings. And let’s face it, the live performance is most likely going to sound a bit second rate when you’re used to recordings by brilliant orchestras who honed their art night after night in the most competitive era.

And yet, perhaps there’s something special about dancing to the spontaneity and immediacy of live performances? In our experience the novelty is often outweighed by the poor quality of the performance. And if the performance is top class? Ironically, a dancer recently reported the a live orchestra at a milonga was so good that ‘they sounded just like listening to a CD’. Go figure.

Oh, and there’s the brutal economics to consider. Organisers already have to budget to cover the cost of hall hire, advertising, a DJ, catering, insurance etc. etc., so the extra cost of live musicians fees and travel just isn’t affordable. And because the attendance at a Milonga is never guaranteed then sadly it’s very brave or foolhardy to commit to paying musicians a fair rate.

So, there it is; live music is a nice romantic idea, but in reality, it’s just too expensive, and can’t match up to recordings of the great orchestras from the Golden Age. Shame.


  • Stephen Butler says:

    Charles. I can’t agree. You are entitled to your personal fetishistic obituary to those tinny,crackly recordings but they were, obviously, produced on early, unsophisticated equipment and cannot sound anything like the live sound produced by those bands at the time. Monophonic recordings with no depth nor warmth..
    When you put on a record it has, by definition, no relationship to the dancers; no mutual connection; no dynamic involvement. Don’t you feel the difference at a theatre compared to a film ? It’s the same.
    Most of all, I reject your dismissal of modern musicians. I am captured by their technical skills and flair, certainly no less than those of your “Golden Age”. Tango music, like jazz, flamenco etc is an artistic performance and if it’s played differently each time, that’s the artistry. It’s LIVE not dead.

  • I agree entirely with Charles Long’ original post (and it follows, disagree with Mr Butler’s comment). Stephanie and I also prefer dancing to the masterful musicianship of Golden Age orchestras. It is one of many reasons when in the UK that we find ourselves so drawn to the TVT events. In fairness, Charles’ post does not dismiss modern musicians, he simply observes that on occasions the promise can exceed the outcome. An exceptional orchestra playing live would hold the dancers’ attention throughout an event, but so often, as both a dancer and musician, I feel a sense of relief when average performances give way to Golden Age recordings.

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