“Musica Latina” vol. 1 by Wynn-Anne Rossi. Latin-flavor pieces for elementary and intermediate students

Musica Latina, album cover
Musica Latina

Wynn-Anne Rossi is an experienced pedagogical composer with a large catalog of well-written, colorful teaching pieces. In 2012 Alfred printed her 3-volume anthology “Música Latina,” each of them containing about 8 original pieces with different Latin flavors, at different levels.

Rossi knows how to write effective and attractive pieces, even at the elementary level. Volume 1, which is the one I purchased at an MTNA convention last year, contains 8 pieces in different styles: cha-cha, tango, calipso, etc., and a couple of slower lyrical pieces. Not all the pieces sound completely “authentic” – while rhythms and chord progressions often feel pretty true to the original folk genres, some of them (“Alma de Tango” for example) denote more of a search for “flavor” rather than an effort to be authentic.

I particularly like the faster pieces. They are exciting and feature useful rhythmic challenges for the students. The rhythm is at times the most challenging aspect of these pieces. It must be felt by the measure (at a fairly brisk tempo) – if the student gets too caught up with “counting and playing” the pieces lose their momentum and energy.

Here’s a rough video I just recorded of “Ritmos de la noche,” which feature extensive Salsa-like use of syncopation.

“La reina del calipso” also features syncopation and a major-modal feel. Like “Ritmos…” above, its notated in 4/4 but it MUST be felt in 2/2. Students can START learning the piece by counting in 4, but the counting must stop if the piece is to have the needed energy and direction. I often find it more effective to create lyrics and have students sing the lyrics (and involve the students in creating them too). In a way, you may say they are learning it “by ear” or by rote. Exactly! They must FEEL the rhythm, not count it. Of course, it’s important they understand how to count the subdivisions, but students will RARELY be able to play exciting and rhythmic versions of this music if they get caught up in subdividing and counting. You use a different part of the brain when you count, and it slows you and bogs you down.

Finally, another favorite:  Café cha-cha.  The rhythm in this one is more straight-forward (almost no syncopation here), but it’s still very important for it to be steady and solid. The challenges of this piece include touch (must be played with a crisp and light staccato) and the harmonic writing, which is more complex than in the other two.

In sum, a fun set of pieces, some better than others, that will the the rhythm in your student’s bones from early on. I look forward to taking a look at volumes 2 and 3.

You can purchase the first volume here:

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Musica Latina, Book 1
(8 Late Elementary Piano Solos That Celebrate Latin American Styles). Composed by Wynn-Anne Rossi. For Piano. Book; Graded Standard Repertoire; Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Musica Latina. Latin. Late Elementary. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.39391).

Ginastera’s Milonga: a rare, beautiful piece, now available in the US

Ginastera's Milonga. Published by Melos, Argentina
First page of Ginastera's Milonga. Published by Melos, Argentina

I bet you don’t know this piece by this major Latin American composer. Milonga is an arrangement, made by Ginstera himself, of his song Canción al Arbol del Olvido (Song to the Tree of Forgetfulness). Ginastera wrote this original song, with verses of Silva Valdes, in 1938, as his Opus 3. I’m not sure when he arranged it for piano solo – but we pianists are surely thankful that he did! It is a delicate, enchanting short piece based on the slow Milonga genre, a type of song attributed to the gaucho (Argentine cowboy), who used to sing it while accompanying himself on the guitar. The original song became a quick hit in Argentina, and several folk singers adopted it – see for instance this version by the Chilean activist/singer Victor Jara.

The charming lyrics of the original song describe the story of a gaucho who wanted to forget an unrequited love. He hears about a magical tree – those who fall asleep under it forget their troubles when they wake up. He goes there, falls asleep, but when he wakes up he realizes with bittersweet disappointment that he still remembers her. What happened? Instead of forgetting her, he “forgot to forget her.”

The piano arrangement follows the song almost verbatim. From a pedagogical point of view it is a great piece to work out cross-rhythms: the left hand keeps a constant rhythm based on 16th notes, while the right hand uses 8th note triplets pervasively. Quite a challenge for an intermediate student!

Listen to my version of Milonga:

Until recently it was very difficult to obtain this piece, as it was only available in Argentina. I recently found out that Elkin Music has it in their catalog, along with a few other pieces by Ginastera (Malambo and Tres Piezas) that were also published by Melos/Ricordi Argentina. You can order these pieces here.

Happy playing!


Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folk Tunes

Avignon Bridge. From http://www.poreuropa.com

Alberto Ginastera wrote his “Rondó sobre temas infantiles argentinos” (Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folk Tunes) in 1947. It is his opus 19, and his last “non-Sonata” piano solo piece. It has become one of his most often-taught  pieces at the intermediate level in the US, along with some of his American Preludes op. 12 and the Danza de la Moza Donosa op. 2. The Rondo is dedicated to his two children, Georgina and Alex. I believe Ginastera had in mind a young performer. While  his strong stylistic trademarks can still be found  in this piece, the Rondo is far removed from the relentless and often taxing energy of his fast toccata-like pieces (e.g. Danza del Gaucho Matrero, or the Coda of his Creole Dances). This charming and mischievous 3-minute  piece has a lot of humor and lightness to it  (almost alla Poulenc), a trait not often found in Ginastera’s music, which tends to be intense and concentrated.

As far as I can tell Ginastera used four children tunes in this Rondo: Sobre el puente de avignon (On the bridge of Avignon – see picture of this French bridge to the left) for the refrain, Palomita ingrata (Ungrateful dove), Yo no soy buenamoza (I’m not a good-looking girl) and a snippet of En coche va una niña (A girl is riding a carriage) for the episodes. On the bridge of Avignon is a well-known tune not only in Argentina, but in the rest of Latin America. You can see and hear performances of Palomita ingrata and En coche va un niña by the Argentine children author and musician Luis Pescetti, who currently lives in Mexico.

To find out exactly where these tunes start in the piece, watch my YouTube performance of the Rondo:

(Apologies for the LH misreading in 0:15)

From a pedagogical point of view, the Rondo is a great teaching piece. Many hispanic students in the US will recognize these tunes. The piece contains many contrasting moods. With its beautifully modal harmony, brilliant scalar passage work and the exciting bi-tonal closing, it works very well for recitals and competitions.

The Rondo is published by Boosey and Hawkes. Purchase this piece with a discount at SheetMusicPlus.com:

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Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folk Tunes
Composed by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). For Piano (Piano). BH Piano. 8 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M051281244. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48002613).