One-armed Octogenarian Violinist Lights Up the Big Screen
A visit with Ángel Tavira, star of El Violin
A few miles to the east, Tavira's hometown of Corral Falso and the neighboring village of Tlapehuala form the cradle of Calentana music. "I loved music as a child," he remembers. "I had many cousins and uncles who played. Almost all of my family were campesino musicians."
Tavira was very young when his grandfather, composer Juan Bartolo Tavira, passed away in 1929. Juan Bartolo was an iconic figure who played both violin and guitar, but his primary instrument was a small folk harp from another part of Mexico. In the villages along the Balsas River, the harmonic complexity and variety of rhythmic texture that mark the local musical traditions blended with Bartolo's compositions. In the cemetery by the river, Bartolo's crypt has saplings growing out of its side.
Don Ãngel studied ear training even before beginning to play violin at the age of nine. He lost his hand at 13. "It was a firecracker," he says, "Here they throw firecrackers at celebrations. Afterwards I stared at my hand for a long time."
Anastasio explains, "He didn't play for a while, and when he picked up the violin and tried to play again the first time, he got angry and threw it across the room and smashed it."
Tavira eventually learned to affix the bow to his arm with a ribbon. "It's a tremendous inspiration to all of us who whine about little physical things. He has to use the entire arm to go from string to string, so he doesn't have the [normal] flexibility. That being said, he really knows what he's doing and he can really get around.
"He plays a lot better than many of the two-handed players."