Alberto Rasore
| José Pedro Aresi

Balcarce - Interview to Emilio Balcarce

svaldo Pugliese used to say about him: «He has his tango essence at skin level» and, in fact, the maestro was quite right.

Emilio Juan Sitano, this is his true family name, was born and brought up in Villa Urquiza, a neighborhood where he still lives today. Since an early age he embraced tango which time later made him a violinist, bandoneon player, composer, arranger and orchestra leader.

It was precisely during a break of his work heading the Orquesta Escuela de Tango that the maestro began to tell us his experiences.

«My old man liked music very much and as he was quite restless he started to learn to play mandolin and, time later, he was all fired up with accordion playing. All my familiar environment made me be interested in music. At home we listened to tango music and we danced to it and so was hooked to it since I was a child.

«Before I was 7 years old my Dad sent me to study violin and, while I studied, I listened to the radio stations programs which aired the live performances of the orchestras led by Roberto Firpo, Francisco Canaro, Francisco Lomuto and Osvaldo Fresedo which I liked very much; but then Julio De Caro appeared all of a sudden. At the beginning, we were unable to know where to direct one’s ears because we discovered a number of musical combinations which were not usually heard in other orchestras. Strange voicings and new chords were heard and all this definitively drove me to tango and to that style.

«At the beginning De Caro was resisted, it was not easy to follow him. Neither was Canaro. Instead, Firpo was more musical and Fresedo was of the classic type. But among them all, those who caught me were De Caro and Pedro Laurenz due to their way of expression through bandoneon playing.

«I studied violin until I was 13 and I gave up because things were financially bad and my parents no longer were able to afford my studies. But by then I was so enthusiastic that while I listened to De Caro on the radio I played violin along with him.

«I recall that Daddy bought a bandoneon and began to study but as he had no musical instruction it was too difficult for him to learn. As the instrument was at home, I began to study its scales on my own. I was still a kid but I found my way with the methods to play it that were included with the instrument. The bandoneon in itself is somewhat capricious and not easy at all. I continued with the scales, the right hand, the left, opening, closing and with the diagrams that were included in the method I began to play some chords. I wanted to understand Laurenz’s way of expression and how De Caro managed to “place” those chords —ninth and seventh chords— which were not used then in popular music. So I became infatuated with the bandoneon, but I kept on playing violin and with some neighbors we put together a trio to play at parties, which later —adding a double bass— made into a quartet.

«I started to try writing some arrangements, because I had already learned something about the elements of harmony. I was around 14 or 15 years old when I made my attempts on piano sheetmusic.

«Later I met Ricardo Ivaldi who led a sextet modeled after De Caro’s style. They were all semi-professional musicians. One day he suggested me writing some charts for him and replacing his brother on bandoneon. Then I joined Ivaldi and began to play at dancehalls, tearooms and I recall I also played at the riverside resort El Indio in Vicente López. At the Cine Teatro 25 de Mayo of Villa Urquiza we used to play at the opening and during the intermissions of the theater plays. In other words, at age sixteen I already wrote arrangements and played bandoneon and at age seventeen I formed an outfit comprised, among others, by Ismael Spitalnik, Ramón Coronel, who played violin with Horacio Salgán, Lalo Benítez who was pianist for Alfredo Gobbi and I began to play with my own orchestra.

«The vocalist was Alberto Marino, whom I also took with me, when Emilio Orlando called me to conduct his orchestra and write the scores when I was only 19. So I began to work professionally, writing arrangements for other típicas (tango orchestras) and leading my own aggregation.

«Then in 1943 I conducted for a year the Alberto Castillo's orchestra. I continued with my own group through which the following vocalists passed Jorge Durán in 1944, Amadeo Mandarino in 1945 and Osvaldo Bazán the following year until 1947 when Alberto Marino split with Troilo and asked me to be in charge of the arrangements and the leadership of his own orchestra.

«The following year I worked as orchestrator for the aggregations led by Aníbal Troilo, Alfredo Gobbi and José Basso, while I went on with my orchestra until 1949 when Pugliese summoned me and I fell for his style and stayed with him for 20 years.

«In the Osvaldo's orchestra we were all composers and we played daily. We were so profoundly aware that, just with a glimpse, we knew what the other guy was to do and immediately we followed him.

«What did we feel when we played “La yumba”? We felt the rhythmical and vital strength it has. We used to play with all our strength in the glissandi, in the slurs, in the expression; because you feel yourself alive when you are playing. Pugliese was known as the leader of an expressive orchestra. He encouraged his players to compose and demanded from them a complete commitment, so much so that while I played with him I did not write charts for other orchestra leaders, except when it was the case of my own compositions.

«With Pugliese the ideas and the works were expressed through the orchestra itself. It was quite convenient in financial terms to work with him. The money was distributed according to an internal qualification that went from 7 to 11 points and which was assigned to each member in accordance to his contribution. To work with Osvaldo was not the same as in other orchestras. We earned more.

«The Sexteto Tango was born as a consequence of the lack of job existing at that time. Pugliese himself used to say that it was time of forming smaller groups and in fact many of the large outfits disbanded. We began to play without quitting the orchestra but the Sexteto became a boom and the engagements were many that we were unable to keep up with both things. Because of that we split with Osvaldo.

«With the Sexteto Tango we made some changes. Each one of us contributed with his personal things, which logically had to do with the expression and with the way of stressing the beat. For example, with Pugliese the first and the third beat of the four existing in each bar were stressed. We instead, -only for the sake of looking after new things- emphasized the second and the fourth beat and, as we were less members, we tried to achieve a more vigorous way of expression; but in general our rhythm was quite similar to Pugliese's. We have to remind you that we had had a long tenure with many years beside him.

«Of all my compositions, the one which most satisfied me was “La bordona” because it portrays the idea of a tango that crosses the city border and because of that it has a melodic theme with a country flavor. Instead “Si sos brujo”, which was my third number, is different, sounds more like a tango.

«I see that young people are having an interest in tango because they discover that our music is liked everywhere in the world and possesses a very peculiar way of expression, either in lyrics or in music. Then all this stirs up the interest of the youngest. Here we have kids that come by to know how tango really was and we have to explain to them how it reached the level of the seventies and there it stopped because later all what had been built was destroyed.

«The development of a tango that was changing according to the way the people of our country was growing and changing was interrupted. Pichuco started playing in a different way but when he played in the 60s it was another thing. Pugliese began playing like De Caro but later he was evolving. He was playing in tune with the taste of the public but he was growing musically. It's something very complicate. Because of that I tell the kids that they are fantastically prepared, but they have to feel that they are Argentine and to live our music the way it was played and from there they have to start today's tango. They have to assimilate the tango that was already made, but I'm not talking about commercial tango only, but tango with musical depth. It's necessary to work in the orchestra field because the outfits evolved in an incredible way in 30 years. Later they became stagnant.

«How would have played Pichuco today? Not in the same manner. Neither would have Pugliese, nor Gobbi, nor anyone. All them had a very peculiar way of playing but they always evolved musically and they did it along with the people. What was played? What was recorded? The material people liked or approved of. We have to play a kind of tango that may be understood. We don't have to make it so complicate. A music that "catches" people.»

So we said goodbye to Emilio Balcarce, a veteran worker of our city music, Honorable Academician of the Academia Nacional del Tango and who was awarded with the Diploma a la Gloria del Tango by the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo. The maestro had to go on with his task with the students of the Orquesta Escuela de Tango, to which since the year 2000 he contributes his long experience as musician and arranger, so ratifying the message he gave to us for the young.