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Tributes: Oscar Caceres

September 4, 2012

It was overcast at 7 am in the morning as I got on the “little train” from Meudon to head into Paris. At 8 am it was still overcast as I took my place in the audition line at the Ecole Normale De Musique. This was the third week of September 1977, and it was incumbent upon me to ensure I had a place to study guitar. This was my second choice, but it was a popular one with others because the line went down the hall and around the building. The line started to get restless at 9 am when someone came to tell us they would be starting late – in another thirty minutes .The man in front spoke to me, but my French was rudimentary, and not equipped to deal with fast colloquial expressions. He asked again, this time in English, “Where are you from?”

I explained that I was from Canada – Toronto – and that I was here to study guitar with a maestro for a year. He said that the line here wasn’t too bad, the line at the CNSdM [Conservatoire Nationale Superior de Musique] had been much longer, and they had to go into the evening to hear everyone. Our conversation progressed and he asked whether I was planning to work with Oscar Caceres. He explained the details about where and when he worked.

I was curious because I had mailed a tape to M. Caceres a few months before, and he had replied that he had no vacancies in the upcoming year. At this juncture I was very curious and showed up an hour early on his first teaching day. It was a small school – conservatoire of the 13th arr., and was housed in a community centre. The official name was l’Universite Musicale Internationale de Paris [l’UMIP], and the administrative assistant was most impressed that someone from so far away was at her desk inquiring about lessons.

I waited patiently, and soon Oscar whisked in and spoke briefly with the assistant, looked at his course enrollment form and found that one of his students was doing military service. He gave me a nod and led the way upstairs to his studio with a light step, bursting with energy.

He set up the room, and quickly put a cigarette in a long black holder. [This was 1977.] Then he pointed to the student’s chair and asked me to play. Dutifully I played through Villa-Lobos study 5 and was midway through the Prelude from Bach’s second lute suite when there was a knock on the door and a young woman peered in asking if she might audition for the maestro. Without hesitation Caceres responded “better come back next year”.

Thus began my lessons with Oscar Caceres, a teacher whose gentle wisdom was to guide me for many years to come. The lesson format was simple: you played two pieces for two weeks – first week attending to fingerings – second week to some musical details. Then you moved on, always learning new repertoire chosen by the student, never fully comfortable. However, we felt comfortable listening to our colleagues’ lessons, and there was an easy comradery among us all. Exams were in February and May. For these you had to prepare a required work and choose something you had studied. By this point, a month seemed like a very long time to spend on a piece.

Reflecting now upon the two years spent in the Caceres studio I get the sense that Oscar felt we were all on a personal journey, and his job was to help with the music/guitar part. He always taught the music not the person, which I enjoyed having seen some North American teachers get all mixed up with the personal issues. I felt that there was tremendous respect for the personal journey, but the big love was for the music. Many things were left unsaid – the logic of fingering was in the fingerings he taught us – if we overstepped the bounds of good taste in our interpretations, we were reminded delicately to respect the music.

Most of all I remember his light step on the stairs on our first meeting, moving quickly, anxious to get down to the work of sharing the joy of music.

Óscar Cáceres
Born: 1928 – Montevideo, Uruguay

The Uruguayan guitarist, Óscar Cáceres, began serious study of music not until his adolescence. The guitar has been his constant companion since then. His passion for the music of the Renaissance led him to the exploration of the tabulatures of the early vihuelists and lutenists, and, in order to understand their music better, he learned the lute as well.

The music of the 18th and 19th centuries interests him for the evolution of the instrumental technique which revived interest in the guitar. 20th century music finds him attentive and interested servant. The South American premiers of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Guitar Concerto were both given by Óscar Cáceres. In 1968 he was soloist of honour at the 10th International Concourse of the guitar in Paris. He has toured with great success all over Europe and South America where his rare talents have met with wide critical acclaim.

From → Reflections

One Comment
  1. Carey Weeks permalink

    Wonderful post, a slice-of-life shared; thanks so much.


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