Music is the Path, Not the Goal



In February 2023, Jasmin Röder, a recorder player and also a columnist for the German magazine Tibia specializing in recorders, wrote to us requesting an interview.

The interview was published in May 2023, and now we provide a translation for our readers in Portuguese and English.

Portraits: Music is the Path, Not the Goal

Original Article:

or read the original PDF file here

Jasmin Röder in Conversation with the Quinta Essentia Recorder Quartet

May 5, 2022 Jasmin Röder / Photo: © Paulo Rapoport

The Quinta Essentia Quartet, founded in 2006, is a Brazilian recorder ensemble. Its current lineup, consisting of three female musicians and one male musician, inspires new compositions and promotes Brazilian culture and chamber music in various countries. The quartet currently consists of founding members Renata Pereira and Gustavo de Francisco, as well as Francielle Paixão and Marina Mafra.

Since your foundation in 2006, you have already achieved a lot. Your ensemble has won various prizes, you have released a whole series of CDs and you also give masterclasses and play concerts. What is your recipe for success?

We put together hard work with long term planning, and slow cook it for 17 years.

We’ve learned a lot all over these years. At the beginning, we just wanted to have a professional recorder quartet, playing concerts, presenting the recorder as a serious musical instrument. At that time, we didn’t have many instruments: each of us had just a soprano 442Hz, an alto 442Hz, and an alto 415Hz; plus, one plastic basset, one plastic tenor and one wooden tenor for the group. None of these instruments were really good, and we knew that it would be sufficient to begin, but we would need to invest much more in instruments to improve our sound. For many years, 80% of our income from concerts were reinvested in new and better instruments. The first priority was to change plastic to wooden instruments, and after that, to get the bigger basses to allow us to play a broader repertoire. Now we have more than 60 instruments in the collection, in 3 different pitches, and featuring Renaissance, Baroque and Modern instruments.

Many recorder groups like to play a kind of “tutti-frutti” repertoire, playing pieces from all historical periods in the same programme. We also did it at the beginning, and our first album La Marca shows it. After that, we learned something we do differently in respect to all other recorder groups: we play Brazilian music, and when we play European repertoire, we do it differently from other groups; this makes our performances something unique, and we like to do this way. We also learned that it is better to develop thematic repertoires, putting together pieces of music around an idea, a style or a period of history.

Besides of all of this, we have weekly rehearsals no matter if we have appointments or not, and we treat music as a language, and because of that, we play by heart even when there are parts on the stage. To understand this issue, you can just imagine if you trust an actor that is reading his text on stage, and compare him with the one that play his hole by heart. Of course, there are other issues that derives from treating music as a language.

– How are new concerts programs or CD ideas developed? Who was the creative mind behind your latest CD “Tunes!”. An unconventional CD idea where soundtracks are brought to live.

Many ideas were born many years ago, and during the time, we could make some of these ideas to come thru. The idea behind Tunes! came around the year 2012, but many projects took part in front of it, and we could do it just now. Some themes were in our minds since then, like the Mario’s and Zelda’s themes, and we needed to research to find other themes, like the Skyrim’s theme for an example. The mind behind this idea and also the arrangements is Gustavo de Francisco.

The 8 bit videogame themes, like Zelda and Mario, were very natural to be transcript for recorder quartet. Even the game sound is similar to the recorder sound, and many of those themes were composed for 4 voices. We were not restricted to games, and we were searching for music that were caught in our hearts, activating memories from the 80’s 90’s and our childhood, this is why we pick some themes also from cartoons, and some from more actual TV shows and games. We think there are at least 2 themes from Tunes! you must listen, that is the Monster’s Inc. and The Beauty and the Beast.

In 2016, 10 years after we started, we recorded J. S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue. We had this piece in mind since the beginning in 2006, but it was impossible to play on our instruments of that time because we would like to play in 415Hz pitch, and also the range of each counterpoint is challenging for recorders, sometimes going far beyond the range of 2 octaves and a second. In 2014 we’ve got our great-bass in 415Hz, and this allowed us to go for this project. The transcriptions for recorders were made by Gustavo from Bach manuscripts when available, and from the first edition for the movements that are not in the Bach’s manuscript. A baroque pitch G alto, a Bb soprano and a Bb tenor, were added to our baroque consort for this project.

For the Caboclo, the idea behind were Brazilian repertoire from 20th Century, featuring great and known composers, great music, and modern recorders. We have 2 original pieces for recorders being one of them dedicated for the group, everything else are music for strings, piano, brass or voice, that were arranged for modern recorders by Gustavo, using the extended range provided by those instruments.

– How do you normally organise new Cd programmes or concert programmes? Is there a certain order, are the tasks distributed in the ensemble? And do you rehearse regularly or in blocks? What steps are necessary from an idea to the finished programme?

We rehearse regularly, one whole day per week is dedicated for rehearsals. Gustavo does the arrangements and the agency/production, Renata does the marketing and the social media. All of us play the repertoire by heart, that is a challenge by itself. The fact we meet regularly is decisive to keep us to have new ideas about repertoires and other stuff. To work in blocks is not ideal for the way we produce our music.

It is difficult to say how many steps are necessary from the idea to the finished programme, because each repertoire is unique, and the challenges are different for each repertoire. Anyway, we have an idea, we must research the ways to achieve it; sometimes we need more instruments, sometimes we need other resources (such as projections, or on stage equipment), and the music itself has their own challenges. Usually, when we are rehearsing a new repertoire, someone is already thinking on what is coming next, researching new music, doing arrangements and so. Sometimes the arrangement does not work when we play, and we need to change the route.

I could resume like this: to have an idea, to research repertoire, to listen music, to do the arrangements, to try each music, to think in the marketing and texts, to rehearse, to try all music together, to make a concert trial, to record an album. The last step has many other steps in itself.

From the beginning of the research for repertoire to the premiere concert, it can easily last more than 2 years. From the first rehearsal to the concert, around a year.

– A lot of your music is played by memory? What is the idea behind it? Where do you see the advantages of this practice?

Our goal is to play everything by heart. Sometimes, in the premiere for a new repertoire, we use parts but all players are already playing by heart.

I prefer to say by heart instead of by memory; in Portuguese we say “decor” that means the same as English and French, by heart. This is part of the idea behind it, because when you do something by heart, that means all your body and mind are linked together to complete the action, and you don’t need anything else, just yourself. It improves confidence, and allow us to have a great communication to the audience.

As mentioned before, music is a language, and when we are speaking [or playing], we don’t look for the words we speak in the dictionary; neither an actor reads his role if one wants to move the audience’s mood, or even a dancer reads the steps on the stage. So, to make music, we communicate a message over the notes, rhythms, articulations and more, and for that, we need to do it by heart. There is something else: for the audience perspective, the parts can be a barrier that cover (or protects) the artist, inhibiting a great communication, and causing trouble to see what the artist is really doing on stage.

For music learning, to play by heart is also a great thing. But I could write an entire book about it, and it could be a theme for the next interview.

– How can one imagine the recorder scene in Brazil? Is the recorder an accepted and popular instrument? Do many young people choose the recorder?

In this matter, I think no country in the world has the tradition as you have in Germany, and also, they have in The Netherlands. Perhaps we will have a great community in Taiwan in the near future, where I see many young recorder players playing well.

In Brazil, there are many regular schools that uses the recorder in music classes, and also, we have many recorder enthusiasts. In music schools and conservatories, we have good recorder teachers, but artistically, there are not many active recorder players proportionally to the country size when compared to Europe.

There are many kids and teenagers that choose the recorder as an instrument, but many of them just give up or change instrument after someone telling them to play an orchestra or a pop music instrument.

I think the recorder will always to be a very attractive instrument by its simplicity, low cost and small size. What we must do, not only in Brazil but all over the world, is to insert the recorder in the music scenario that it is not inserted yet, like the pop music, the orchestra, or in the chamber music with other “canonic” instruments such as the strings, piano and voice, by doing this, we will have it being performed for bigger audiences.

– Are there dream projects or goals that you would like to achieve in the future?

The dream project is that the Quinta Essentia gains its own life, not depending of ourselves to continue, even if we decide to retirement. From all these years, many people played with us, and we’ve put many efforts and energy to maintain the group when someone decided to leave. It is not an easy task. Anyway, it was rewarding to do around 25 concerts per year, one overseas tour per year, playing in all continents until now, and our biggest audience for a concert was around 2000 people. Sorry, a mistake, we didn’t play in Antartica yet, shall we play for penguins there?

For the near future, we have 2 new programmes that we didn’t recorded yet: Impressionist Seasons featuring works by Ravel, Debussy, Satie, Piazzolla and Boulanger, and Abendmusik featuring works by Buxtehude, Muffat, Pachelbel, Telemann and Bach. All this music is really special, and the arrangements in the impressionist programme are really unusual, mixing modern and renaissance recorders.

– What do you think a good recorder ensemble needs? Is it enough just to play the music?

It is never enough to play well. I think all of us know people that plays well an instrument, and it is not sufficient to be successful in this market, and this is especially valid in the recorder’s Lalaland. We need to be entrepreneurs, that means we need to look after what we do in the same way business managers look after their companies.

We need to play well, because this is our best and more valuable asset; but it means nothing if one can’t transform this asset to other goods the people are interested in. It demands planning, marketing, production, investment, dealing with different people, learning other languages, assuming risks, and face all of it doing everything for fun. At the end, we are connecting people using music for that. Music is the path, not the goal.

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