Why play the bandoneón, out of the dozens of other more common instruments that I could have chosen? I started playing the violin back in the 90’s and that was hard enough; a love/hate relationship if I may be frank. With a background in orchestra conducting and string instruments, why choose now a free-reed instrument over a viola, cello, or even the guitar?
The bandoneón is by far the most complex instrument I have come across. Playing it can be a workout session, for the body and mind. Most people have never seen one in person; those who see it for the first time usually say something like, “What a pretty… accordion."
I have been a violinist for over two decades and I still perform to this day. The violin was always appealing to me; “the king of the orchestra” I heard it called many times. Also for which a large amount of fantastic music has been written. Family and friends were the first supporters who appreciated the early stages of my musical journey, plus I've had my five minutes of fame as a violinist. However, still no hardcore goose bumps when playing it, at least not for a sustained period of time.
Don’t get me wrong, I value the qualities of the instrument and its repertoire. I feel grateful for the places I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, and the adventures I’ve lived because of my fiddle. At the end of the day, however, the violin has always been a tool of my trade, so to speak. It is something I do well enough to get paid (sometimes) for doing. It is a skill that I developed over years of training, but it is actually a pain, quite literally. The violin strains my neck, shoulders, and back. It stresses me out every single time I play it! Sure, it sounds beautiful and I do like it, but it’s painful at the same time (and not the kind of painful that is enjoyable).
The bandoneón, on the other hand, is very intimate and very dear to me; from that night almost a decade ago, when I first held one for just a few seconds. Think back on a time when you met someone who made your blood boil and you discovered what love at first sight was. Perhaps after a few days, maybe a few hours, it turned into a passionate love affair. The emotion and sensation of it may not be something that anyone other than you would connect with at a deep level, but for YOU, the interaction took on a whole other meaning.
The “bando” represents that passionate love affair which ignites with the lightest touch and the softest whisper. The bandoneón is a rarity; an oddity. In fact, it's hard to find someone who plays it, or even owns one, but that makes it all the more seductive. Some find its timbre too piercing; but I am transcended when I hear the warm, deep tones that emanate from its left button-board (the bass), or the powerful, yet melancholic and evocative tones of its right side (the treble).
Organic may be an overused word, but that's the best one I can think of to describe my interactions with my "German Babe". The bandoneón has a human quality as it "breathes" with the movement of the bellows when opening and closing. It sits on the performers’ lap while holding it in place with both hands and carrying the weight with your legs, keeping a light grip to allow mobility of your fingers.
The bandoneón is not only a pleasure for the senses, but also a challenge for the mind. Concentration and good memory are a must, since the randomness of its buttons can drive you crazy after the first try. It also requires a good deal of energy for accompanying music like Argentine Tango. After all, you cannot ignite the dancers’ passion by playing lullabies with flabby arms. You have to harness your own energy and direct it to your core, which provides a very strong sense of power and command. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like the sweet flavor of that potion.
The bandoneón is not one that fits in easily. Perhaps we have that much in common, but when you have that babe on your lap, you don’t care if the world is watching… You display your affection!
My current instrument