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Milwaukee's Master of the Flamenco Guitar

Apr. 13, 2011
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I have known flamenco guitar master Peter Baime for 40 years. He studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, as well as in Spain. Baime has played professionally since 1965 and, since 1969, taught at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee. We've had many conversations over hearty coffee.

What drew you to flamenco?

The sound and the improvisation in the music—and I love the guitar.

What makes flamenco so intoxicating?

Well, I was certainly intoxicated by it. The music has such a unique sound that is so recognizable. Just a few moments of listening and you can tell what it is—music from Spain and flamenco, specifically.

What did it do to your soul?

I felt something intense. It was the right sound, the sound I wanted to make.

How much of it is written and how much improvised?

In academic circles it's referred to as a written music. Sure, you can write it down and document it, the same way Bartók documented folk music in Hungary. But flamenco wasn't a documented music, and still isn't. Most of what you hear live is not written down. It's improvised and worked on by that guitar player. It's unique to that guitar player.

Flamenco has several forms. Do you have a preference?

There are about 30 forms, and the ones I like boil down to four that give you a range of emotion—Bulerías, Alegrías, Seguiriya and Soleá. They differ in their rhythmic structure and emotional presence. Alegrías is light and happy. So is Bulerías. Seguiriya is very dark and internal—Soleá the same.

Flamenco is performed with dancer, singer or with solo guitar. You've played it all. How much of a change is it from one to the other?

It's very different. In the accompanying role, you're totally supportive of the other performer—dedicated to make that person sound and look good. If you do not follow that performer, you're contributing nothing—getting in the way. I love both. I've spent half of my work accompanying.

How popular is flamenco outside of Spain?

There's an explosion of it with the amount of material being published now and the number of videos on YouTube. Fans range from teens to seniors. Every larger metropolitan area in the United States has some flamenco activity. Chicago does a monthlong festival every year with performers from all over the world, with 50, 60 concerts in a month. And they sell out Orchestra Hall.

And in Milwaukee?

I feel humble for having been supported here. This is all I've done—perform and teach. I don't know whether the community can support several groups. There's a small community in Milwaukee and everybody finds outlets.

Reflecting on your career, where do you find yourself?

I'm still learning. One of the wonderful things about music is that you have that continual learning. You never know everything. Nobody ever did.


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