photo courtesy of Maria Camillo

  Urban classic: Choro, samba, bossa nova...  

Choro was the first music in Brazil to define a national musical identity. It is over 130 years old, and it's still intact - not diluted, nor part of a loosely recognizable style, but a living, continually growing cultural gem, deeply understood and with many hundreds of popular tunes in the repertoire. Well-described as "classical music played with bare feet and callused hands," it is oozing with soul. The Afro-Brazilian syncopated rhythmic groove is irresistible. And yet it is challenging, complex, and elegant - a sweet spot between classical and improvisatory collaboration. There is really no music on earth quite like it!


Choro tunes are breathtakingly beautiful and exciting. The style is catchy and melodic - easy to appreciate - yet bursting with kaleidoscopic harmonies and counterpoint that fascinate the listener. Some compare it to ragtime. Some compare it to jazz, because it is transmitted from player to player and across generations as a mostly aural tradition in a "roda" or circle. Others compare it to the blues, because just as the blues gave rise to rock-n-roll, jazz and other American forms, so does choro form the basis of samba, bossa nova, and other Brazilian musical styles. Becuase it is such a fun playground for a wide variety of acoustic instruments, we will focus our attention more on choro; for choro provides not only an incredible listening experience, but also a perfect opportunity for classically trained players who yearn for musical collaboration and might like to stick a toe into improvisation. Learning choro helps musicians who read well step beyond the page, while still enjoying the chromatic richness of classic 20th-century European melody and harmony. 


In Brazil, the musical values shared by choro players are themselves remarkable. The "culture of choro" is generous, inviting, and respectful, while still retaining a sense of daring, humor, and friendly banter. Studying and playing this music requires and builds awareness and musical skill in ways that carry over into one's attitude towards others and towards life. It's fun, challenging, social, and heartwarming. You can't ask for much more from a musical adventure!

  Northeastern pulse: Forró, baião, frevo, maracatu...  

Each of these traditional musics have developed, like choro, from the mixing of European and Afro-Brazilian cultures.  Maracatu derives from pre-colonial African traditions and forms a primary ingredient of the annual Carnaval celebrations in the Northeast. "Frevo" means "to boil;" Forro indicates a party - but no amount of definition will prepare you for the sheer ebullience of any of these rhythmic and melodic patterns. Each has its own complex and virtuosic rhythmic underpinnings. Flutes, horns, and most especially a wide variety of percussive instruments dominate, and dance figures prominently in the popular performance of these styles, all of which have found their way into popular instrumental music, including choro. 

  Moderns: Hermeto Pascoal, Gismonti, Guinga...  

The musical heritage of Brazil remains alive and simmering with cross-pollination today, and this is to some extent the work of three giants of composition and performance. Miles Davis was not careless with his compliments, and when he called Hermeto Pascoal "the hippest musician on the planet" he certainly had reason. All three have composed a number of pieces that are beloved favorites in the the choro repertoire, while pushing traditional forms into new territory as modernists do.

© 2015 by West TN Choro

West TN Choro is an association created to celebrate the popular instrumental musical styles of Brazil through education, participation, and presentation.

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