One of my favorite things about music is that it can take me anywhere, even to the stars. I’m happy to introduce “Estrellas en el cielo” from my new series, Música Latina. This piece is a tribute to La Paz, Bolivia where humans can reach up and almost touch the stars. It is the world’s highest capital city at 11,975 feet!
Just like jazz, Latin music has particular inherent features. One of these is the frequent use of syncopation. I often refer to syncopation as “rhythmic surprise.” As syncopation is not always easy to feel, a rhythm workshop is provided as a warm-up. I use a big drum in my studio which the students love. The rhythms can also be practiced on the student’s lap. Once students are comfortable with this exercise, they can easily proceed to the music.
Two common forms of syncopation surface immediately at the beginning of this piece. In measure 1, a tie causes the 2nd half of beat 2 to have unexpected emphasis. In measure 2, a rest on the downbeat causes a mild rhythmic shock. Emphasize syncopation by accenting these percussive moments. In measure 3, notice the LH circled note. This natural stress point occurs several times throughout the piece.
Another aspect of Latin music is the frequent use of creative harmonies. Beginning in measure 11, basic analysis reveals the use of 9ths, 13ths, and even quartal harmony (based on 4ths). In fact, every measure of this piece uses harmonic color beyond basic major and minor triads. This is one of the more beautiful aspects of the Latin style.
Polyrhythm is the presence of two or more distinct rhythms which are not obviously related. Latin music is famous for this! In measure 11, the piece is first and foremost in 4/4 time. However, below the surface is an entirely different rhythm in the 8ths: 12312312. If you back up to measure 3, you can see the first subtle developments of this unusual subdividing which continues throughout the piece.
Outside the obvious Latin nature of the piece, there are other important things to bring forward in its performance. Shaping of the phrases gives the stars a sense of movement and depth. The form is ternary (A – B – A). The fermata in measure 18 is an excellent time to breathe and calmly prepare for the return to A. Also notice that the compositional tool of sequencing is at work. Measures 7 – 10 are an exact replica of measures 3 – 6, simply lowered by a whole step. You can also see sequencing in the melody line in measures 11, 12, 15, and 16. Of course, I am fond of pointing out the tools of composition! For more information on sequencing, please reference Creative Composition Toolbox, book 3.
Let’s not forget imagination! This piece is about stars. The touch should be light, with warm pedal for maximum twinkle. The ending is particularly important. The stars are seemingly moving into the distance, leaving us to our own lives on earth. But they are constant, reminding us of a magnificent, ever-present universe.
Latin music is a rich, multi-cultural style which is often quite difficult to play. Música Latina brings these complex sounds into more accessible levels of performance. I wish you and your students beautiful travels as you explore these fascinating new sounds.
Author, Arranger, Composer