Jessica Valiente, Flutist
The Chicago Flute Club Pipeline is a print-only publication. This text version does not include the images contained in the published edition.
The Chicago Choro Club
There is a new rhythm on the streets of Chicago. It’s a Brazilian rhythm. It’s the rhythm of choro, and it’s being brought to you courtesy of Julie Koidin and the Chicago Choro Club.
What Is Choro?
You may think you have never heard of choro, the Brazilian popular music genre whose history extends back nearly a century and a half. But perhaps you have. If you’re a fan of classic Hollywood films, you have probably heard Brazilian actress Carmen Miranda sing “Tico tico no fubá” in the 1947 blockbuster, Copacabana. This was a major hit for Miranda, and with more than 25,000 recorded versions in existence today, it’s no wonder that this 1931 choro composition by Zequinha de Abreu is familiar to American audiences even now. If you’re a fan of American pop culture history, you may also be familiar with Percy Faith’s 1952 hit, “Delicado,” which is a choro by Brazilian musician Waldyr Azevedo.
The Brazilian choro is often described as a predecessor or cousin to the samba. To Americans, choro may sound like the love child of American ragtime and Argentinian tango; the harmonies and melodies are firmly rooted in 19th-century European compositional tradition, but spun over a foundation of Afro-Brazilian rhythms. The choro made its first appearances in Brazil in the last quarter of the 19th century, not coincidentally, at about the same time as ragtime and tango.
In Brazil, the choro has served as common ground for a variety of social classes. It developed as both a musical and a social phenomenon through a communal event known as the roda de choro, literally translated as a “choro wheel.” At a roda de choro, musicians would meet at a café, private home, or music store, to eat, drink, play music, exchange stories and share musical knowledge. These jam session-parties were called “rodas” probably because the musicians often sat in a circle as they played. Often a roda was hosted by a wealthy patron, who paid for the food and drink, and the musicians included both middle-class, classically-trained musicians who read music and working class, self-taught musicians who learned the repertoire by ear and by demonstration.
The earliest choros were performed by trios known as ternos. A terno consisted of flute, guitar, and a Brazilian relative of the ukulele called a cavaquinho. The flute was the featured melodic instrument, the guitar provided a bass foundation, and the cavaquinho played a dual harmonic-rhythmic role. As time passed, other instruments became common in choro: clarinet, saxophone, mandolin, trombone, and a Brazilian closed tambourine with jingles called the pandeiro. While many instruments can play the lead melodic role in choro, the flute still reigns supreme. Throughout its history, most of choro’s significant and prolific composers and respected performers have been flutists.
Choro: Every Flutist’s Dream
It was the discovery of this fact that led flutist and Chicago-native Julie Koidin to dive whole-heartedly into an exploration of choro in 1995. After all, what flutist wouldn’t love a genre of music that combines intricate and beautiful melodies reminiscent of all of our favorite 19th-century etudes with fun and funky Brazilian rhythms? Choro inhabits that elusive musical meeting place between popular and classical music. So if you have ever fantasized about being a rock star (or, at least, impressing your non-classical-music-fan friends), choro may be the ideal vehicle. In choro, improvisation is allowed but not required, making it excellent common ground for flutists with either classical or jazz backgrounds.
Over the years, Julie Koidin has turned her passion for choro into a career path. When she returned to Northwestern University in 2002 (where she had done her master’s degree) to pursue her DMA., she proposed a dissertation on choro flute style seen through the life and career of one of the legends of choro flute-playing, Benedicto Lacerda. Two of the six (yes, six!) Fulbright grants that she has won have been for research and study on choro in Brazil. She has published numerous articles and two books on choro pedagogy and choro social history, and now she is bringing this passion and expertise to a new project for the people of the Chicago area. These have taken the form of a radio show, a school, and a social community.
The Dream Becomes Reality
In November of 2014, Koidin was inspired to propose an all-choro radio program for Chicago, after presenting a guest program on public radio station WFMT’s Latin American weekly program, Fiesta. The program was such a success that she realized that there could be an audience for a dedicated choro program presented on a regular basis. As an English-language broadcast devoted to choro, the program would be the first of its kind.
As she began to raise money and create a buzz for her project, Dr. Koidin met more and more people in the arts community who thought the idea was worth expanding into more than just a radio broadcast. Why not a concert series, master classes, lessons, and rodas? Realizing that a program with a broader scope would garner her greater support, Julie knew exactly where to turn. She approached The Musical Offering, a community music school in Evanston.
The Musical Offering is a community-based school that offers music classes and lessons for all. From infants through adults, and beginners through professional, The Musical Offering is dedicated to making music study accessible to musicians at every level, regardless of income. Julie had already had a long relationship with the school as a member Ondas, one of their resident chamber music ensembles. Ondas’s primary focus is performance of chamber music by Brazilian and Latin American composers. Because of the relationship with Ondas, she thought The Musical Offering would be a good fit for a parent organization to host choro classes and rodas. And she was right. Thus, the Chicago Choro Club was born.
Since September of 2015, the Chicago Choro Club has been offering weekly choro lessons and monthly rodas on Sunday mornings at The Musical Offering. So far they are off to a modest beginning with about 10 students, consisting of both professional and amateur adults. There are still openings available for flutists as well as students on other instruments. The rodas have attracted about 30 musicians, with a strong representation of mandolinists and guitarists as well as flutists and other woodwind players. Violinists are also welcome. While some of the pandeiro players came in with percussion experience, others came in with no previous musical training, but Julie set them to work studying pandeiro. They were able to engage in almost immediate participation. So, if you know of someone who is interested but does not play an instrument, tell them they should not be dissuaded. They can begin on pandeiro and participate as their skill level increases.
At the Chicago Choro Club, each student is matched with an appropriate instrumental teacher who designs a program of study fit for his or her level of proficiency. Lessons take place every Sunday morning. The rodas take place once a month, and they are not so much performances as they are social gatherings. Students can be confident that the roda is a judgement-free zone, and everyone gets to play and participate at his or her own comfort level. Choro is a good fit for flutists who play at an intermediate level or higher, and who can read music.
Information and Registration
Flutists and other interested instrumentalists can find full details about instruments, registration, and participation on the Chicago Choro Club’s page on The Musical Offering website at themusicaloffering.org (the page will link to Chicago Choro Club’s own website at www.chicagochoroclub.com when the page goes live). The schedule for winter/spring 2016 is as follows: Session I, classes every Sunday morning from 10:30-11:30 a.m., from January 31 through March 20, with rodas on February 21 and March 20 from 11:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Session II classes are held on Sunday mornings, also 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. from March 27 through May 29 (no classes on April 3 and April 10), with rodas on May 1 and May 29.
As the Chicago Choro Club continues to grow, plans for Koidin’s choro radio program continue to progress. The show is currently in production and is expected to air on WFMT and its national affiliates during the Summer Olympics in August of 2016.
If you would like to check out some choro music before you dive in to choro study, you can search YouTube or streaming channels for “choro”, and for flutists such as Pixinguinha, Benedicto Lacerda, Altamiro Carrilho, Corina Meyer, Gabriela Machado, or Alexandre Maionese, just to name a few. You are sure to be inspired to dive into this rich musical tradition!