An Interview with Liduíno Pitombeira
Brazilian composer Liduíno Pitombeira is a regular presence at the biannual festivals of contemporary music in Rio and has an extensive oeuvre to his credit, including numerous works featuring the flute. Unlike many Brazilian composers, he studied and taught in the USA. This interview was done by email in Spring 2011.
TM: Could you talk about your childhood years? You were born in Ceará – did you grow up there?
LP: I was born in Russas, a small city in the Jaguaribe valley, in the state of Ceará, in 1962. Two years later, 1964, Brazil fell under a military dictatorship. I think it is worth mentioning this fact because, only after a more democratic regime returned around 1985, one could have access to certain subjects forbidden during the dictatorship. Amongst these subjects were philosophy, sociology, and music, for example, all of them banned from the curricula during this period. Because of that, I did not have the opportunity to study music in the regular curriculum, like people before that who had the benefit of participating in the “Canto Orfeônico” program, established by Villa-Lobos, during the Vargas’ years.
TM: What was the musical culture like where you grew up? The musical environment in your family?
LP: I am the only musician in the family. The musical culture of the city was basically concentrated in the Catholic Church. The municipal band was not very active and the folk activities, such as “cantadores,” “sanfoneiros” etc, took place in the countryside.
TM: What were your musical activities as a child? As a teenager?
LP: My musical activities started at the local Catholic Church when I was 11 years old. The vicar, at that time (early 1970s), was well educated in music, played piano well and was a composer as well. There, I started learning the guitar and also had some initiation on theory. When I was 14, I moved to Fortaleza because I had been admitted to a technical school (Escola Técnica Federal do Ceará, which is today the Instituto Federal do Ceará), to study electricity/electronics. The year was 1977. In 1979, I started playing bass guitar in the school instrumental band (popular music and jazz). Also, at that time, I got acquainted with the music of Hermeto Paschoal and Egberto Gismonti, two great masters who had great influence in my formation as a musician. In the early 1980s, I joined the Oficina Band (Brazilian jazz), performing guitar, composing, and making the musical arrangements.
TM: Where did you do your university study ? Who were your important professors? What music did you study and listen to?
LP: I entered university in 1986, when I was 24. One year before, I had started private studies in harmony with Vanda Ribeiro Costa. At the same time, I started studying the recorder and the lute, and became interested in early music (especially from the Middle Ages and Renaissance). I also studied harmony with composer Tarcísio José de Lima.
TM: Please talk about your work as director and performer with the Syntagma ensemble? Do you see connections between early music and the folk music of the Northeast? Are these idioms incorporated into the music you compose? How?
LP: The Syntagma ensemble, founded in 1986, originally focused on early music. One year later, we started experimenting with folk and popular music from the Northeast, using early music instruments, and the results were very interesting. Right from the very beginning, Syntagma worked as a school for the many musicians that participated in our activities. Even though the personnel consisted of approximately ten musicians, the formation was very dynamic, and, around 1991, we could count roughly 40 members that had joined and left the group to pursue other activities. In 1993, besides performing (recorder, percussion, lute, guitar, and psaltery) and composing/arranging, I started taking care of the musical direction of the group. The work we did resulted in our first CD, released in 1997. There are some visible connections between early music and folk music of the Northeast. I think the strongest one is the modal system. As it is acknowledged by José Siqueira in his book “Sistema Modal na Música Folclórica do Brasil” (1981), the basic scales used in the music of the Northeast are the Lydian and Mixolydian liturgical modes, plus a mode, which combines characteristics of these two modes, known as mixed or national mode (C D E F# G A Bb C). Besides the modes, some social phenomena connected with early music can also be observed in the Northeast musical environment, such as the activity of the “cantadores,” which are analogous to the French troubadours and trouvères, and the strong religiosity, which in the case of the Northeast mixes the Catholic rituals with native ones. We may see some connection in the instrumentation as well (medieval psaltery and rabec, for example, have their counterparts in the music of Brazilian northeast). In my music, I sometimes use the northeastern mixed mode and the octatonic scale, which can be understood as a type of expansion of the northeastern mode (starting from the northeastern mode mentioned above, the D expands chromatically up and down to c# and d#, producing one of the forms of the octatonic scale: C c# d# E F# G A Bb). Another Northeastern musical element that I occasionally use in my music is the rhythm of “Baião.”
TM: Why did you decide to study composition in the USA? Was it a shock to be living in the USA? How? Did the music of the USA have an influence on the music you write? Which music? What kind of influence?
LP: After graduating in 1996, I spent some time teaching harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, and analysis, at the Universidade Estadual do Ceará, while taking private lessons from José Alberto Kaplan, in Paraíba, an activity that I had started in 1991. At some point, I felt the necessity of pursuing graduate studies in an environment that could give me better possibilities of growing as a composer. Unfortunately, the graduate studies in composition, in Brazil, still focus more on academic research than on musical creation, so to speak. Therefore, I decided to continue my education in an American university, where I could have more time to compose and more chance to have my pieces performed, since the American universities usually have excellent programs in performance with outstanding musicians. Besides, the concerts one can attend in an American institution and the superb libraries make a perfect complement for an excellent compositional education.
I chose to study at the Louisiana State University because of the first-rate facilities, the number of ensembles, and because my advisor, Dinos Constantinides, would not force me to write in a specific style, but would allow me to discover and expand my own composition voice. There, I also have the chance to experiment with other musical languages, such as sound mass, electroacoustic music, indeterminacy, integral serialism etc. These practices influenced my music written after 1998. Even though I did not become an avant-garde composer, I always incorporate some of these experimental elements in my music, along with my own compositional style. Concerning life in the USA, I had no problem. On the contrary, the environment was quiet and people, both at the University and in the city in general, were very friendly and respectful. I lived on campus, so, I could walk to school and to the library with no stress.
TM: How long did you stay in the USA? When did you return to Brazil? Why?
LP: I lived there for 8 years (Fall of 1998 to Summer of 2006). I returned to Brazil in August 2006. I came back to give somehow my contribution to the music education in Brazil, especially in the fields of composition and musicology. This is a very difficult task, though.