25.07.2005 - 11.08.2005 0 °F
'Caer en blandito' - to fall out of nowhere onto a soft bed; an expression of luck
Ernesto Martinez was a name Thollem was given by a colleague in San Francisco, who owned a CD of this Mexican composer/performer. With a few exchanges of emails and a phone call, he not only agreed to a visit, he was as excited about it as we were. Many laughs and amazing coincidences later, we look back to marvel at that miraculous encounter. Perhaps I wax too greatly, but it was an amazing experience to witness: two musicians meeting for the first time but brothers separated at birth. Their thinking was similar, their styles of composition were parallel, even the way they joked was familiar. Ernesto showed us directly to his studio - a faded blue cinder-block box that loomed in the courtyard of their old downtown adobe house. This was his sanctuary, and we were instantly invited in. We sat closely around his computer set-up, and my eyes wandered to the guitar with piano keys while Ernesto spoke music with Thollem. He and another musician had spent a year perfecting a technique known in older times at 'hocketing' - playing between each others' notes, back and forth, in this case, very quickly. We listened to his compositions performed most recently in New York, and I could not bring myself to believe, to fathom, that one person was playing the piano between every note of the other! I knew that Ernesto would see truth in my words - hermanos separados al momento de nacer - when he heard Thollem's music and the speed with which he played. But before that could happen, we needed to eat. Passing into the house, we walked through the kitchen into the dining/living room area - a huge rectangular room with a table full of food and people at one end. Normally a quiet house of four, cousins and in-laws were visiting for a couple of days. David, the brother-in-law, prepared spaghetti with huitlacoche, a black fungus that grows on corn stalks. Contrary to how it sounds, the dish was tasty. It was accompanied by a lively bantering of jokes and many laughs. Dessert was homemade chocolate from Guatemala, by way of a friend. Sweetness and chocolate perfectly blended melted upon our silenced tongues. Ernesto broke the awe by following up on a thought he had back in the studio. A friend of his, playwriter and actor, had invited Ernesto to perform that same night at a space in an up-and-coming barrio. The neighborhood was poor, and the actor and his wife/colleague spotted it as a great place to get a community space going. They moved their theatre from downtown, and were hosting a concert that evening, with Ernesto opening, and later, DJs. Ernesto's thought was to perform with Thollem that very night. A few minutes later, into a little car five adults went with synthesizer and drum machine, and other electronic instruments. While they set up, I talked to the wife, learning that her husband's plays had won various awards, and all the plans they had for this new space. On a bench along the wall, I took in the whole scene as she went to chat with local women who had come with their children. A cinder block building, it had huge cement beams running across the ceiling, and three columns from ceiling to floor. At one end were Thollem and Ernesto running a sound check while the DJ guy tried out his set-up. In the mad combination of sounds, I observed the mural (painted by community members long ago) behind the stage...but now don't remember exactly what it depicted. Too much going on in front of it, I think. Kids started to run about on the linoleum floor, having a great time. Going outside for a change of soundscape, I found the playwrite donning upside-down angel wings (with feathers) and a monster mask, smoking. A fun soul, he was dressed to attract the attention of passing neighbors. (Usually, they paraded around the neighborhood in costumes to let people know it was time to go see the show.) As he went about promoting, I struck up a conversation with an animated social worker who entertained me with the story of how he met his girlfriend. (I always enjoy those stories!) While he spoke, young men and women, kids, and mothers were going inside the performance space. I got the whole amazing tale just before the concert started. Our first night in Queretaro, and here I was, seated against the column, on the cool floor, to listen to my husband play with another awesome musician! I was one huge smile. After two brief speeches, kids and adults alike sat listening as Ernesto and Thollem entertained us with varying rhythms and textures. At one point, Ernesto gave Thollem a 'look' and Thollem quickly switched his fingering. I was laughing. Another time, Ernesto had Thollem start with a certain sound, and mid-way through the piece, gave the 'look to Thollem, then ended up motioning to him to switch places. The music didn't miss a beat as they stood and moved, in front of an audience now in histerics. Later, the antics were remembered, accompanied by many teary, belly-aching laughs. ("Where should I put which fingers?", Thollem joked.) Invited to stay at their place (since the relatives preferred a hotel room), we went to sleep after late-night left-overs. The next day I wandered around 'el centro', leaving Thollem and Ernesto in the shaded courtyard with their minds and a bottle of Spanish tequila (that's what Ernesto called it, at least). When I returned in the afternoon, they were all in the same spot, only the liquor had grown shorter, and the list of ideas for performing together had grown long. An intriguing instrument sat on the dinner table: a large horizontal harp with piano keys perched above, such that each key plucked a string. Ernesto had made it (he also fashioned the guitar with piano keys in his studio). A piano technician, he had other tricks up his sleeves... an inventor of instruments! A day later, when I left with Thollem, he was filled with plans for a tour of the West Coast with Ernesto, his colleague and invented instruments... and indeed, the October tour was a success.