What is Choro (by Danilo Brito)

By Produção

About the origin of Choro music

In the beginning, around the years of ‘1870s, European polkas, more a dancing music that time, were played by the most emotive Brazilian musicians, in a slower and dramatic way, being assimilated in an original form, in a completely different feeling. These interpreters then started composing in this style.

The listeners were thrilled, and these group of pieces became music of “choro”, meaning music to make cry [choro is the word for “to cry” in Portuguese], pointing to the emotion they transmitted, what is choro main characteristic.

Among other versions, that is the most accurate meaning and origin of choro as a Brazilian music genre.

At this time, a set of musical inflections were developed by these musicians to better express music according to the feeling. These musical tools became the trademark of the style and are till now some of the features that represent Brazilian traditional music.

Important musicians for this period: Joaquim Callado, Chiquinha Gonzaga, Anacleto de Medeiros, Ernesto Nazareth etc.

Later, Pixinguinha, flutist and composer, in the late ‘1910s, established what is considered Choro in a “definitive form”, independent of the original influences, giving more fluidity to the melody and rhythm.

Some important choro musicians of this period: Jacob do Bandolim, Garoto, Benedito Lacerda, Zequinha de Abreu, Luiz Americano, Waldir Azevedo, Luperce Miranda, João Pernambuco etc.

Many Brazilian musicians (soloists and composers), of classical or popular music, had choro as their school: Villa-Lobos, Tom Jobim, Radamés Gnatalli etc.


What is Choro?

Choro is authentic Brazilian music.

There are some rules, or parameters, as said, that must be present in a piece in order to sound as Choro, but this, in any way, means that this music is stagnated in past nor that it is repetitive.

The composer and interpreter of Choro has a lot of room to develop an unique style and create original and beautiful pieces.

Those few rules were developed as tools to have more effectiveness in technique and in transmitting emotion.

Choro music is tipically instrumental. The most traditional ones have three different parts, but choros of two parts are very common. Each part has usually 16 bars, the tonality may vary between them, the chords has little or none dissonance.

The harmony and melody can be very surprising and each part can modulate a lot.

The tempo can be very slow to very fast and is related to different emotions. Despite the origin of the name, choro music can be very bright. In this matter, there is not a predominant style: romantic, dramatic, bright, playful etc.


- The rhythm

It is 2/4, varying the tempo form very slow to very fast.

In my repertoire [and I can say in the repertoire of the authentic choro musician] other rhythms are welcome.

These rhythm were influenced or were originated from choro and also have the inflections are peculiar in authentic Brazilian music.  They can be very different in expression but sound as Brazilian music.

Some of these are: waltz, schottisch, polka, lundu, maxixe, Brazilian tango, samba, frevo, baião etc.


- Arrangements, instrumentation, ensemble

The typical ensemble is formed of acoustic instruments, the accompaniment instruments are: 7-string guitar, with an extra low string tuned in C, plays a very important role in counterpoints; guitar, gives rhythm and harmony; cavaquinho, helping the harmony and rythm; and percussion, the “pandeiro", for rhythm.

The soloist can be a mandolinist, a flutist, etc.

Other instrumentations are possible, from a solo to larger groups.

 Each musician has a different role in the group, and, as in an orchestra, they must contribute for the beauty of music. This is a difficult characteristic to achieve in contemporary groups.


- Melody, counterpoints and improvisation

Traditionaly, choro pieces has 3 parts, but choros with 2 parts are common, and there are a few of 4 parts.

In terms of length, choro music is usually short, about 3 minutes. Of course, there are longer pieces and shorter ones.

The counterpoints can be improvised or be part of the original compositions.

The melody is long and elaborated, and that is why improvisation in choro has a role completely different from the improvisation in jazz.

The melody improvisation is usually left for the repetition of the part, when the original version is already played.

Also, it is not a rule, is left to the soloist criteria, for the moment he feels compelled to, in a moment of inspiration and emotion.

The richness of the melody is enough, and there is no problem if the improvisation does not happen at all or are limited to small variations.


- Virtuosity

Choro pieces usually demands a lot of technique from the interpreter, not only in speed but also strength, dexterity, etc.

Despite not being a rule the soloists of this genre are recognized by their virtuosity.

It is common among musicians to say that the ones who play choro can play any music genre.

Virtuosity should not be understood as mere mechanical dexterity; the most important goal of it is the ability of transmitting emotion.


- About other influences

Music is an universal and abstract language, specially instrumental music.

Choro was developed from European music and African references as I said.

It is difficult to say that there is a genre that does not have any influence.

My goal, as I create music (composing, interpreting etc.) is to be original, still be authentic Brazilian, and, above all, true to honest emotion.


Choro for new listeners

For someone that have never listened to Choro, I can, with confidence, say that this is a genre with a lot to expect from.

The variety of rhythms and tempos, the beauty of melodies and of interpretation, the warmth of the emotions, in romantic, dramatic or cheerful pieces, the richness of details, always surprises the listener (even an old acquainted as myself).