When Pedro Ramos was growing up in his native Brazil, just beginning a lifetime of music as a guitarist, he was introduced to the most popular form of music in the country, called “choro” music.
“My father introduced me to choro,” Ramos said. “I grew up with music and I began playing all kinds of music. I played jazz and be-bop, but I could never play choro.”
However, once Ramos learned, he was hooked forever.
“Once I got into it, I couldn’t stop,” Ramos said. “I became possessed. It’s like jazz. Once you get into it, you go for it all the way.”
Choro is a Brazilian music style originated in Rio de Janeiro in the 19th century. It evolved from a blend of European styles like the polka, the waltz, the mazurka and the emergence of the samba.
The cross-blend result was a sophisticated, polyrhythmic, lively music which demands the best from its performers.
Over time, choro evolved into a form of popular chamber music based in acoustic instruments – mostly guitar, seven-string guitar, mandolin, cavaco, flute and light percussion, like the pandeiro and the tambourine.
Many people believe that choro comes from the Portuguese verb, “chorar,” which means “to cry.” Most of choro’s melodies are believed to sound like weeping, but there are other tunes that are lively, electric, very upbeat and energetic.
“The music is very lively and very demanding,” said Ramos, who now performs professionally with a group called The Choro Ensemble. “It’s definitely demanding, but sentimental and passionate.”
Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center Executive Director Bruce Sherman was first introduced to the Choro Ensemble at a birthday party at the home of Sherman’s friend, legendary Latin jazz performer Paquito D’Rivera, who is also a member of the Board of Directors for the HRPAC.
“I first heard the Choro Ensemble at Paquito’s birthday party,” Sherman said. “They played for him as a birthday surprise. He was obviously very happy, grabbed his clarinet and started to jam with the group. It was a really joyous moment. And then he and Anat (Cohen, the group’s clarinet player) started to play off of each other, as if they were in a type of clarinet duel. They were obviously inspired by each other and it was a lot of fun.”
“Paquito loves choro music,” Ramos said. “We were a gift for Paquito and he loved it. We just jammed with him for the rest of the day. It was a great day. I met Bruce that day and we became friends.”
Sherman said that he was so impressed with the enthusiasm with which The Choro Ensemble performed that day at D’Rivera’s house that he went to see them in concert.
“I’ve gone to see the Choro Ensemble play in Manhattan a couple of times,” Sherman said. “The audience always has a great time. Choro music is very joyful and uplifting. It’s a very sunny music which makes you smile.”
When Sherman started to hold monthly HRPAC concerts at the UBS Atrium in the UBS Building in Lincoln Harbor Plaza, he figured that the Choro Ensemble would be a perfect fit.
Tuesday afternoon at 12:30 p.m., the Choro Ensemble will be featured in February’s lunchtime concert, sponsored by the HRPAC and UBS, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Admission is free.
The Choro Ensemble will also pay a visit to the music students at Weehawken High School before they perform in the concert.
“When you listen to their music, it really is light and beautiful,” Sherman said. “It makes you want to get up and dance.”
Ramos said that he was pleased to be helping the cause of the HRPAC, one that is near and dear to the heart of D’Rivera, the six-time Grammy Award winning performer.
“It’s our pleasure and honor to be performing in Weehawken,” said Ramos, who will be joined by Cohen (saxophone, clarinet and flute), Ze Mauricio (percussion), Carlos Almeida (guitar) and Gustavo Dantas (seven-string guitar). “We are just ready to start touring soon, so we want to have workshops for children, adults and other people to teach them about choro music. In Brazil, it’s very popular, but we want to make it universal.” Ramos said that he is very interested in bringing choro music to students, because he is a music teacher himself.
“I love teaching and I love the passion of people who are willing to learn,” Ramos said. “We’re going to go over the basics, the rhythms and patterns. This will be our first workshop and we’re all very excited about it.”
The group has just recorded their first CD which will be available for purchase at the concert. A second CD is in the works for later this summer.
“It’s already doing well in Brazil,” Ramos said. “We just hope it takes here as well.”
Perhaps Tuesday’s concert will be the first step in that direction.