This past fall, Israeli recorder player and composer Tali Rubinstein B.M. ’14 was invited to fill harmonica virtuoso Antonio Serrano’s spot with Flamenco Legends, the late Paco de Lucia’s band, now led by Javier Limón, artistic director of the Mediterranean Music Institute. Over the course of the tour, she reflected on her experience in a travel journal. Here are her entries in full:
By Tali Rubinstein B.M. ’14
Being on an airplane is one of the strangest situations. It is as if time has paused, someone put the hourglass sideways. You are obliged to wonder, to doubt and ponder. I am on my way from TLV to Sacramento, to join the late Paco de Lucia’s band, “Flamenco Legends,” led by Javier Limón. Indeed, what a legendary moment I’ve been waiting anxiously for, for so long! Only one hour left for this flight in this crowded cabin, and then time starts rushing again, towards our first show out of four, tomorrow. Just as a typical musician, I had close to zero time to practice, and the music is probably the most challenging repertoire I’ve faced as a professional musician.
So – what do I do?? I practice in my head, on the airplane. For 11 hours straight, I listen to the music and imagine that I’m playing. Much of a professional musician’s practice is done on aircrafts, subways, buses, cars, and other vehicles, as I discovered during the past few years. So much of our work is everything but the music – scheduling, arranging flights, coordinating, preparing charts, correcting charts (there will always be another mistake in the chart, no matter how many times you correct it – it’s a rule of nature…). So, the actual musical work becomes so precious and unique, you really start appreciating transcribing solos and working on scales, like never before.
Also, you become creative (and shameless) in the way you practice – playing an imaginary recorder on the plane, next to people, writing notes to self like: “‘double notes F’ theme goes into ‘romantic C#’ theme”, and hoping it will still make sense at the end of the flight… Listening over and over again to Antonio Serrano’s solos and wondering if there is a slight chance that Charlie Parker transformed himself into a Spanish harmonica player. In any case, Antonio, who I am subbing for, is brilliant beyond any description. I just wish I could take a picture of every phrase he plays, frame it and hang it in my room. The question is, how do I get into these huge Spanish shoes?
On the plane, there was a guy giving me some advice – I should imagine myself doing a supreme job, and then picture everyone applauding and telling me I was great. Then he showed me some videos of him hitting people (he is a martial arts fighter). I get his point, and I’ve heard of these guided imagination techniques before. But I think, in the case of music, it is not hit or miss, succeed or fail. I want to enjoy, to connect with the other musicians. To be able to set aside all the worries and distractions, and create meaningful moments together. Easier said than done… Lets see how it goes.
I remind myself, that being a musician, I have a responsibility not to be dragged down or paralyzed by fear. To be inspired by musicians I admire, rather than intimidated by them, and to rise up to the occasion, always. The outcome is not relevant, what is important is to do my best.
Today is a special day. In one hour I’m going to have a rehearsal with Antonio Sanchez, and this evening we have our first show in Folsom, CA. After a very long travel day yesterday (26 hours, three airplanes) I arrived in Sacramento. Our lovely tour manager, Tim, picked me up at the airport and took me to our hotel to meet the guys. I quickly settled in my room and went downstairs to say hello to everyone: Piraña (percussion), Alain Pérez (bass), Farru (dancer), David de Jacoba (singer), and Antonio Sánchez (guitar). I was very excited to meet them, although I hid it well under my jetlag. We briefly spoke the best of my Spanish (thank you, Deborah Bennett, Spanish 1!) and the best of their English – both very basic, but thanks to Tim, who is fluent in both languages, we could communicate longer sentences than 3 words.
The guys were kind and welcoming, as I remembered from our short meeting, about a year ago in Madrid. We made a plan for the day, and split off to our own rooms.
Sunday, November 5
Back at the airport, on my way to Israel. I thought I’d have time to write every night for my blog, but it was just too hectic, so I’m only writing now. I’m trying to think of words to conclude this experience, and I can’t.
After an intense week in Israel, I finally have a moment to sit and write. I just read everything I wrote so far, and I’m realizing – I didn’t actually write a single word about the concerts! it was just too much to take in and too little time to process. So… first show in Harris Center (Folsom, CA) went well, I think. I was in survival mode the whole time, half panicking, but with a smile. I watched Antonio for cues, and I guess I looked pretty desperate, since the guys kept trying to cheer me up and make me loosen up during the show, calling out my name and some Flamenco cheers. For the most part, I did ok – except for one look of Antonio that I misinterpreted as a cue, so I came in with my melody, only to realize the surprised look on Alain’s face when I cut his solo short. I felt pretty awkward, but then everyone was smiling, so I guess it was ok.
During the whole show, I was trying so hard to play all my parts right in the correct moments and not to forget anything, that I wasn’t really paying attention to anything else other than that. I remember starring emptily at Farru’s dance solo, while actually running through my next line and trying to remember on which beat it begins, how many measures it is and after who’s solo… but, well, sometimes it’s like that. There’s just so much brain to go around at each moment, and in emergency mode, you recruit every cell to the performance. Coming to think of it – there was one rare moment that I recall being fully aware of: Before the show, Farru, Antonio, and I went for lunch together, and Farru told me that the artist he loved the most (after Paco) was Michael Jackson (!), and even claimed there are many similarities between his flashy moves and Flamenco. I asked if he knows how to do the moonwalk, and he said he did. In the show, about half way through his first appearance, he actually incorporated a flamenco version of the moonwalk into his solo! What a smooth criminal…
Indeed, that was a splendid little moment of joy. Yet, since I was partially paralyzed during most of that concert, I decided that for the remaining three shows I will be on a mission – I told myself, “Tali”, (I refer to myself in 3rd person to make myself seem more dramatic to myself) “You know what?”, and I knew what – “From now on, you are going to HAVE FUN, no matter what it takes, and you won’t let anything or anyone stand in your way!!!” Then I shook my own hand, which I felt was a bit much.
The next three shows were in Mesa Arts Center (Mesa, AZ), Valley Performing Arts Center (Northridge, CA), and Musco Center (Orange, CA). When we arrived at our hotel in Mesa, there was a guy looking at our group, who after several minutes of gazing, finally approached us. He said he was a fan of the band, that he himself was a Flamenco guitarist, and he saw the group with Paco several years ago. Now, he said, he flew all the way from Minnesota to Phoenix to see the show. I said a general “Wow!”, and later google-mapped (is that a verb?) to reassure that yes, it is far. He wasn’t the only fan who followed the band around… In every concert there were numerous people in the audience who knew all the tunes, cheered for every musician enthusiastically and yelled in Spanish. It was really beautiful to see how loved and respected these musicians are – not only are they phenomenal, most of the audience seemed to really understand Flamenco and deeply appreciate their musicianship. There was a sincere connection between the audience and the musicians, of mutual appreciation and gratitude, devoid of hierarchy. I loved witnessing that. Another thing I enjoyed during the shows, was that the musicians kept encouraging each other verbally, shouting “Olé!” and “Agua!” when the soloist hit a sweet note or laid a sophisticated rhythm. There was true synergy on stage, and this atmosphere created magic. Even though these virtuoso musicians could easily play an amazing show with a totally soloist approach, the concert would never elevate to this level of euphoria if it wasn’t for the unity on stage. It took a group effort, not because each individual wasn’t valuable or versatile enough, but because this value and versatility had to be translated into human connection.
Back to Flamenco… so – how can I sum all this up? Did I actually get to enjoy it all? Is Flamenco a little part of me now? And what would have Paco thought about this? I can’t even answer the first question. This overwhelming experience came one week after my father passed away. I was a coin flip away from cancelling my participation in this tour. But at the very last minute, I decided to do it. There were many shaky moments when I felt extremely insecure, unsure of what I’m doing and why. But after all the cluttered thoughts during travels and sound checks, the second the lights went off and the show began – there was a thrill of pure anticipation and excitement. The silence before the first note was a world of possibilities. And the music felt like slowly un-revealing a secret… An hour and forty minutes of being very much alive.