In Flamenco the word Toque is an all-encompassing term meaning "all flamenco played on the guitar."
This blog is a running account of my pursuit of toque in the Pacific Northwest.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Change is Afoot!

Hi all. Just a quick note: we (meaning "I") are (am) shaking things up a bit here at Ravenna Flamenco. And what does "shaking up" mean, you might ask? First, it means a move to a new server. Second -- and much more fun (ultimately) for you -- it means a site-wide redesign aimed at bringing you more functionality and better content across a wider range of devices.

Okay, so what does this mean for you right now? In terms of the current site, you should find everything where you left it. Metronomes, tabs, and articles will still all be available. This blog page has gone flat (and lost its most recent updates), but everything else should be copacetic.

As for the site moving forward, I don't want to divulge too much, but I will say that I think you'll like where we're going. I will also say that all the content you enjoy for free now (metronomes, tabs, articles, etc.) will continue to be free (and freely available) on the new site.

I will also say that if there's always been something you wish Ravenna Flamenco offered (i.e. that it doesn't), now is the time to speak up. Don't respond here: post a note to Ravenna Flamenco's Facebook page. I can't guarantee that every suggestion will be incorporated into the redesign, but all of your feedback will definitely be taken into account.

And what does the timeline look like? I hope to have the redesigned site up and running by July. In the mean time, keep your eyes peeled for updates and please do feel free to send along requests.

And above all -- and as always -- go play!



Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Doctoral Hiatus

One of the more frequent comments I get from people who write to me here at Ravenna Flamenco goes along the lines of, "Oh, how I wish I had more time to play guitar." Believe me--this is one lament I couldn't empathize with more.

Granted, for most of us, finding "practice time" comes down to a question of priorities. How much time do we spend watching TV? (a worthless pursuit--we all know it)--or sleeping? (c'mon, people--that's what espresso is for!).

I don't mean to suggest that eking and extra hour or two out of the day to play guitar is easy. But it is often possible. Sometimes, however, the "priorities" question can be sticky. This is the situation in which I find myself now.

As some of you know, in addition to playing guitar, I'm also a PhD student in English Language and Literature. On the surface, I know this sounds like all fun and games (humor me here), but amidst all the hang gliding and hot-tub parties there is a point where pen must hit paper in a serious way: this is called the doctoral dissertation . . . and at present I'm right smack in the middle of it.

And what does one do in such a position, when the number of hours that need to be spent writing exceed the number of hours available in the day? Enter prioritization. Now I know what you're probably thinking: "So you're saying you're going to stop playing guitar while you write your dissertation?" Well hold on--this would make me a crazy person, no? Of the many things I am, "crazy" is not one (at least I don't think so . . . ).

Since, however, I'm already exceeding the recommended daily dosage of caffeine for humans (by a factor of roughly twelve), I must identify some other place to free up time. As I did for my PhD qualifying exams (in Oct. 08), one source of freeing up practice time will come in the form of taking a hiatus from actively adding to Ravenna Flamenco for a while. As you may have noticed (and as was the case just before that earlier leave of absence), there's been a flurry of activity around here the last month or two: new articles, new video posts, a new metronome website, new blog entries. (Think of this as an appeasement to you all in advance for my pending scarcity.)

Of course, just scaling back my web-writing doesn't yield quite the diss writing time I need. And here's where the priorities really get prickly: I've also decided to temporarily withdraw from playing for flamenco dance classes and for La Peña Flamenca de Seattle. This last withdrawal was probably the most difficult to make, but it ultimately came down to this question: do I want continue playing for a group and just "get by," or is it better to spend my limited time honing my skills at my own pace, and then move back into wider pursuits when it better suits my art?

Put like this, the decision got a lot easier: after all, I got into flamenco to begin with for my own personal fulfillment. Playing for others (or for money) has been a bonus, but that has never changed my original motivation. I am, of course, all in favor of being a "working artist," but--for me at least--that has to happen on my own terms (after all, if it doesn't, then I'm just "working," no?).

Which isn't to say that I won't continue to "work" when it suits me over the summer. I may play the odd wedding. There's also been talk of--if the writing proceeds apace--coming back for part of the Peña show in June. The most important thing for me, however, is that even with this unholy amount of writing yet to do, I'm still building time into my days to play guitar in the way that best suits me as a musician.

This said, I know from my last hiatus that you likely still have a couple of questions:
  1. "Will you actually come back to Ravenna Flamenco, or is this a sneaky way of throwing in the website towel?"

    Well, my crystal ball is in the shop at the moment, but I don't mind pointing out that I've taken just such a break before and got right back at it when my latest hurdle to über nerd-dom had been cleared.

  2. "What sort of stuff are you planning on doing with Ravenna Flamenco when you get back?"

    Good question! Some of this will have to do with you all. Over the last month or two I've been focusing mostly on making the metronomes more accessible. When I get back I would like to spend more time developing guitar tabs. I'm also thinking about putting up a discussion forum, or maybe hosting a public Ravenna Flamenco "Wave." And there are of course a couple dozen article ideas kicking around in my head. But this is where you all come in: What do you want to see more of on Ravenna Flamenco? Let me know--either in a comment on the site, or in response to this blog post (which would conveniently keep the suggestions all in one place).

  3. "So," you ask, in an offhand sort of way, "what's your dissertation about, anyway?"

    Here I must demur. You really don't want to know. It's nerdy. If you must press, look at my University of Washington website--but don't come complaining back to me saying that you weren't properly warned!

And there you have it. I shall write to you all again sometime next fall (whereupon, if you wish, you can call me "Doctor Andy"--though keep in mind that no amount of kind words will get you complimentary prescriptions for anything fun from me--alas, I'm not going to be that kind of doctor).

And now: You! Go play!

I'm going to go write . . . then play . . . and then write some more . . . .


Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flamenco Metronome (dot com!)

I suspect that many of you think that I don't listen to your comments and suggestions, that I just putter along in my utter obliviousness over here behind my keyboard. Boy have I got news for you! In response to an overwhelming number of requests, I've decided to make the flamenco metronomes here on Ravenna Flamenco downloadable.

As we all know, there are already a number of free-standing and PC/Mac software-based flamenco-specific metronomes. And, of course, the Solo Compás CD series is an excellent resource for audio compás accompaniment. It strikes me, however, that a growing number of people have personal media players (iPods, Zunes, smartphones, etc) and that with a bit of effort these could be made into quite serviceable (and uber-portable) flamenco compás metronomes. This, in any case, is the niche seeks to fill.

Don't have a clue what I'm talking about? Here, check this out:

Hopefully that makes a bit more sense (though take note, the mustache is still in beta testing--we here at andy-labs aren't sure if that project is going to make it . . . ).

Anyway, for the full skinny, head over to and check things out: download a metronome, leave a comment (I'd love to hear what you think), "fan" me on Facebook (should you feel so inclined). There's also a YouTube channel and a Twitter feed (for those web-nerds among us that just don't know when to stop networking).

This tool isn't everyone's cup of tea, I know, but if it's useful to you, have at it. Flamenco compás can be tricky (especially if you don't have access to a good teacher or a supportive community); sometimes it's the little things that can make a bit difference.

Anyway, there you are. Update concluded. Now go play!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Peña Potpourri 2009

You have perhaps heard the rumors.

The subterranean mumblings, hoarse whispers from dark corners.

A flash impression! Now here--now gone.

And all the while, the wheels keep turning--could it be? Dare you believe?

Yes, dear reader--dare: it's true! All true! After the Snowpocalypse of 2009 . . . La Peña Flamenca de Seattle . . . has returned! For another winter show!!

And--actually--it was a lot of fun! But, unfortunately, I don't have any pics or videos yet. Sorry.

Instead of a long ramble, however, about this that and the other thing (as is, we all know, my bent), I thought instead I might share with you some heretofore unpublished (well, unpublished here at least) pics and videos of Peña goings-on this year.

The Peña, of course, is the amateur performance group made up of Rubina and Marcos Carmona's advanced students. Capricious meteorological conditions permitting, we generally put on two major shows per year (i.e. one in the winter and one in the summer). I suspect that pics of the most recent winter show may turn up in a month or two, but in the meantime, here's a "potpourri" of stuff from Winterfest and from the 2009 summer show.

First off, a video (since it has been soooo long since I've posted one of these). This is Markus, Steve and I with an arrangement of Paco de Lucia's canonical rumba flamenca, "Rio Ancho":

This is from a DV Cam in the audience, so the audio levels are a bit low, but you get the idea. This is actually the first "solo" number that the three of us have noodled through, so all in all I think it came off well enough. I had mentioned in a previous post that right up until the opening bars I was unsure as to what degree my peripheral nervous system might abandon me, but cold fingers aside, nervousness turned out not to be a major issue.

Of course, there's a difference between "getting through" a piece and really inflecting it musically--which for my part I'd like to do a bit better--but it is in doing (and performing) that these things improve, no? In any case, it was fun to be "on the spot" for this one (instead of hiding behind the dancers--which is what we usually get to do).

And speaking of dancers, here are some Seattle Winterfest pics (taken by Jal):

And there you have the update--photo, video, and otherwise. And I plan to make good on that promise not to ramble . . . by stopping here.

Think of it as my leaving you a bit of extra time in which, instead of reading my ramblings, you can go play!



Saturday, December 5, 2009

Winterfest 2009: An Update on Renegade Limbs

So I'm coming up on three years playing with La Peña Flamenca de Seattle this year and I can't help but notice that there have been certain regular markers of the passage of time along the way. One of these is the Seattle Center Winterfest show--which just happens to have taken place last weekend. In looking back over my archives, it appears I didn't write a blog post about it last year (probably because of my PhD exams), but I did write up a blurb about it for the year before (2007).

Here's a bit of what was on my mind post-show two years ago:
I'm not particularly afraid about getting up in front of people, but my nervous system gets weirded out by public appearances. Tragically, this is what connects my brain to my hands. For this show, at least, "the claw" (my fellow guitar player Markus's moniker for an oh-so worthless set of panic-frozen fingers) didn't keep me from getting the job done--most of my job was chording, really. In any case it's a condition I wouldn't at all mind getting over.
Being an irremediable nerd at heart, I take no small pleasure in documenting the sundry vagaries of performance, anxiety, and the link between the two. As such, I was curious about how things would turn out in a similar performance situation two years later. The reason is this: The question I really wanted an answer to in 2007 was, "is this the kind of thing that gets better, or am I stuck with anarchic limb syndrome forever?"

Well, I can't speak for every performance occasion--I would imagine bigger or more complicated shows to be a different ball game--but as for the Winterfest show (for which we played for a couple hundred people, all the same) the news is good: I didn't feel even so much as an elevated pulse, let alone full on nervous system rebellion.

Granted, my hands were cold through nearly the entire 45 minute set, but this is something I can live with. It is irritating, yes, but not debilitating. Having played a number of full length shows with my little flamenco cuadro, I've actually come to expect that my hands won't warm up for at least three or four songs. Again, a drag, but not fatal.

The subtext here is that in between the 2007 Winterfest show and last weekend, I've played "out" a lot more than once or twice a year. There have been better and worse shows, of course, but so far I've yet to see any catastrophic relapse into neurological mayhem for the kind of performance situations I commonly see.

Of course, this is just me--results may vary, see your doctor, etc.--but for anyone out there who wonders why his or her hands won't cooperate when they're needed the most, and, more importantly, if it ever gets better, here's a vote for "yes, it does get better."

And here's the moral of this story: Get out! Play!

(Which is what I'm going to do right now)



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kristos Round IV: A Preshow Beverages Update

That's right, the Zamani Flamenco autumnal hiatus has officially come to a close: this last weekend found us back at our regular performance spot--Kristos Eastlake in Seattle.

Though the venue was familiar to us, night was new: instead of Sunday evening as we had been doing, the show this time around was on a Saturday. This had a couple of implications for us: first is that most people didn't have to be up early (and sober) for "the man" the following day--which meant that we could start (and go) a bit later. The second implication is that whereas on Sundays most of the folks at the show have been people who had come explicitly to see us, for the Saturday show there was also a healthy mix of Kristos regulars and random weekend revelers. Which meant that we got to reach out to (and see the reactions of) folks who had no idea what they were in for.

All of which, finally, turned out to be full of pleasant surprises. An example: Kristos has a loft dining area that looks out over the main restaurant (and our performance space) below. A group of about twenty had reserved this space for their own event, not connected to our show. It didn't look to me like they were there to practice transcendental meditation or anything, so even if they weren't interested in what was going on below, I didn't imagine they would be at all bothered. This was my line of thinking. It was quite a nice surprise, then, to look up toward the loft during the second or third song of the set and see them all lined up along the railing looking on and then cheering when we were done. New flamenco converts? Well, that I don't know--but I am pretty sure they were pleasantly surprised and enjoying the show.

But wait, you ask--what about the "beverages" mention in the title . . . and what on earth is that monstrosity pictured above? I'll answer the second question first: that is a picture of what is easily the most brilliant espresso machine design to date: the Saeco Etienne Luis. I hear it makes mediocre espresso and that you could probably by an Archdukeship in Latvia for what it costs, but still . . . just look at it!

Okay, great, you say, but what does this have to do with flamenco? Which brings us back to the first question: beverages. As some of you (i.e. those of you who read this blog semi-regularly) know, I've been experimenting with the calming/debilitating effects of various beverages before a performance: The whiskey flask, in general, lives in my guitar case. I've also tried the odd glass of wine or a pint of dark liquid goodness before a show. There seems to be strong anecdotal evidence here (real or imagined) for some mild calming effect. If nothing else, these things provide a tasty and welcome diversion.

I have noticed, however, that when I practice at home in the morning over coffee my dexterity, attack, and speed tend to hit a peak right around my third cup. So what about coffee? (Hence the glorious spiky espresso sphere above, natch.) The risk of this, of course, is widespread caffeine-fueled peripheral nervous system revolt--which on some levels might sound wildly imprudent. The final result on the night of the show? It was actually pretty mild: my fingers felt strong and coordinated, and, while perhaps a bit cold (which is pretty much always the case), they were definitely not "stupid."

As for definitive conclusions of this scientifically rigorous inquiry into the influence of pre-show adult beverages? Honestly (as a scientist), I've got to say that the decrease in nervous system rebellion is probably more attributable to the cumulative experience of performing than it is to my consumption habits. I'm sure there are things that can mess one up before a show (i.e. 5 minutes to curtain is probably not a good time to experiment with Spicy Chicken Vindaloo), but as for sure-fire calmers? Though I can't help but be tempted by the possibilities of an "Irish-Coffee-Car-Bomb," for the moment a skeptic I remain.

Now you, good scientist: go play!


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Time & Timing (or, "Wait--What Month Is This?")

Oh my. Has it really been over a month since my last blog post? Do I still have any actual readers out there? (You kind, tolerant, understanding souls, you?)

As we all know, I get these terrible pangs of guilt when I ignore a writing project (at least one I haven't deliberately decided to murder). It's like locking a puppy in the car in the mall parking lot on a hot day and then lingering at the Häagen-Dazs stand, or "accidentally" losing young relatives in the inescapable bookshelves limbo at Ikea. But never fear! I'm here to make amends--or at least excuses!

And there will be a point to all this--I promise! But first, the up-and-comings: As you've no doubt surmised, I've been laying low performance-wise for the last month or two (doctoral dissertations have this way of wreaking havoc on one's practice/performance schedule). But all this low-lying business changes in the weeks to come. My cuadro Zamani Flamenco will be back at its regular spot, Kristos Eastlake, on the 14th of November, and I'll be playing Winterfest at the Seattle Center with La Peña on the 29th. Then on the 12th of December is the big semi-annual Peña show at the Ethic Cultural Theater in Seattle.

Hooray for getting out of the office!!

But wait, you say, wasn't there some question of time (as in not having it for practice)? Indeed there was--and still is, in fact. And the upshot is this: if I'm going to have time to teach literature to college undergrads (or at least keep them from chewing the covers off their books) and otherwise get some writing done, I've decided that I have to find another approach to practice.

The new approach boils down, essentially, to the fact that instead of playing as much as I feel like I need to in a day (usually several hours), I can generally only get an hour in. Which means that I have to prioritize. Do I work on repertoire? Drills? Do I nuance pieces I know, or grind through the really challenging stuff?

What I decided--and it seems to be going well so far--is to concentrate on some essential drills (rasgueado, arpeggios, picado) and then hit the hard stuff (Paco, Vicente Amigo, Tomatito). I've found that my other (i.e. easier) repertoire material is still where I need it (as long as I hit it once a week or so) and that the technical challenge of the hard stuff (and the repetition of the drills) keeps my dexterity and strength up. And, perhaps as important as all else, working on challenging music gets me looking forward to practicing so that when I sit down to play I'm generally focused and task-oriented.

The other thing that having to pare down my practicing has done is make me focus on the quality of how I spend my time. This is where "timing" comes in--and it comes in more and more these days with a metronome (cf. penguin above). Example: I've been working on Vicente Amigo's solea Tio Arango for a month or two. He plays it fairly libre, with lots of push and pull in the tempo. What I discovered when I started playing it more frequently with a metronome is that I was actually rushing through the most challenging passages (and consequently mutilating them), but that when I slowed them down (to tempo, as it were), I could pull them off much cleaner.

This, I realize, in writing it, sounds painfully obvious. Of course it's easier to play hard stuff slower. My point is that before setting "the clock" to it and making myself play this otherwise libre piece in strict time, I didn't even realize I was rushing. For that matter, since there's so much syncopation in this piece (and because the tempo is slow), I've been using the "flamenco compás" metronome (right here at RF, BTW) almost exclusively as a study tool (i.e. versus mixing it up with other compás recordings). Tying this piece down to a rigid tempo makes it feel a bit "square," but it also makes it correct (as in, in compás). I will eventually untether myself from the metronome, but only once I'm sure I can do it in time. In the mean time, the clock keeps me from rushing (and consequently massacring) the passages that are still a bit squirrely.

Which makes for better, more precise, and more effective practice all crammed in to a paltry sixty minutes. (Which, I'm afraid, is going to be the case more often than not until I finish with all this dissertation tomfoolery!)

And now, alas, in keeping with this post's theme of temperance (despite its being fueled by Jameson's best), I'm actually not going to go play--but only because it's late and I'm still not entirely convinced that my wife is categorically opposed to spousicide if the conditions are right.

But you, on the other hand, should definitely go play!


Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Seattle Flamenco (dot org!)

Soooo. As many of you know, I start to feel guilty when it's been a long time between blog posts. Like several weeks. Or almost a month. And I start to scramble around and come up with excuses as to why I would be so negligent. You've no doubt already noticed that I've clearly plunged into "excuse mode"--but what you might not yet know is that the excuse is a good one!

So what have I been doing, you ask? I've been website building! No, not another flamenco magazine (like Ravenna Flamenco) and not another site dedicated to my own pursuits of flamenco. Rather, this site is one dedicated to everyone that's involved in flamenco in my little geographical niche (and, for all practical purposes, available to anyone who wants to find more out about that niche). It's called and it is exactly what it sounds like: an open format non-commercial (i.e. not-for-profit) site that represents (or at least aspires to represent) all of the flamenco in the Seattle area.

Why would I do such a thing? There are several reasons. The first is that many of my fellow flamencos (and myself) have, for some time, been in the habit of complaining that the flamenco "community" around here is a bit disjointed. (And I'm sure Seattle's not alone in this complaint!) I can't guarantee that this will fix that problem, but at least if it doesn't our fragmentation won't be for lack of trying.

Beyond just getting the flamencos on the same page, however, I also wanted us to have a central place where people outside of the various Seattle flamenco circles could look in and discover a bit about what's going on right under their noses (and hopefully come out to support it!). I mean, let's face it: individual groups (mine included) spend a lot of time getting people to their own shows, but not a lot telling people about all the other options out there. Truth be told, it's not directly in their interest to do so. But it's in everyone's interest to stir up excitement about the scene. That's what this site is after.

Finally, there's quite a bit of "because I can" involved in the creation of this site. Mind, I've never built anything like this before (we'll see soon enough if it stands up to the test of traffic!), but I'm (evidently) not the type to let obliviousness stop me. Good idea? Or not? Well, we'll find out.

This, of course, all begs the "how?" question--and, perhaps more importantly, the "and what the hell gives me the right?" question. Fortunately for all of us, these two are answered in the same way: I get around both of them (I hope--we'll see) by making the site user generated. Show and event postings, artist and instructor listings, they're all user modifiable. Which means that even though I'm the one that set the thing in motion, how it eventually takes shape is up to the community as a whole (or at least to whoever decides to participate).

And which also means that aside from making sure the databases don't fall apart, I only have as much say in how the content shapes up as everyone else. Of course, I also play interference for spammers, and potentially referee for disputes, but ultimately the idea is that since this is a community built project, some sort of reliable and communal account of the scene will emerge. We'll see!

I guess the final question is this: will people actually use the site? This is something else we'll have to see. So far, as of two days "post-site-launch," things are looking good: the site has almost three dozen "fans" on Facebook and twenty followers on its Twitter feed. This all equals free publicity, which strikes me as a pretty good reason for anyone to use a site. As I mention above, though, if folks let this one fall flat, the days are over that they can complain that no one ever tried to help!

And now, dear readers, I am going to go play.

I suggest you do the same!


Labels: ,