“Bossa nova school”: students bring Brazilian music to Middlebury


Much like Jack Black’s rockstars in the famous movie “The School of Rock”, the students of the “School of Bossa Nova” course gave a performance to cap off their semester study on the musical tradition of the rock. bossa nova. Luso-Hispanic studies teacher Mario Higa and his Portuguese class brought several bossa nova standards to life at Robinson Hall on December 1.

Bossa nova originated in Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s as a blend of the Afro-Brazilian samba tradition and American jazz, resulting in a smoother feel than its parent genres. When jazz musicians learn bossa nova, they are told to feel the groove like a to balance, rather than the swing typical of jazz. Bossa nova inherits jazz chord progressions and samba rhythms, which combine to produce a delicate trance-like atmosphere. Her soft lyrics in Portuguese add to her elegance and capture themes of love and beauty.

Between songs, the performers taught us the history of bossa nova and its pioneers. Most of their repertoire has been written by Antonio Carlos Jobim (aka “Tom Jobim”) and his often associated lyricist, Vinicius de Moraes. The students expressed that they had come to appreciate the duo’s talent in composing such a profound songbook. Moraes’ background in poetry and playwriting has manifested itself in the lyrics of their creations, so many bossa nova arias take a deep literary orientation.

The performers also shared the history of the bossa nova genre. Bossa nova translates directly to “new trend” or “new wave,” an appropriate name given the novelty of its sound at the time of its creation. As well as being a new invention, it was considered a social movement, as its popularity on the airwaves helped instill a sense of national pride among members of the Brazilian middle class.

Bossa nova is also frequently seen in the American cultural sphere. “Garota de Ipanema” (anglicized as “The Girl From Ipanema”), an invention of the Jobim / Moraes canon, is considered one of the most covered songs of all time, with versions by almost all jazz musicians modern, including popular musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Amy Winehouse. The musical components of the song are also recognizable in other popular songs today, such as “24/7/365” by Surfaces, which has the exact same melody and beat, but with different lyrics and rhythms. updated electronics. Higa’s group decided to stick with the original.

Another song performed by the class was “Castaways,” which was originally produced in 2005 for the children’s TV show “The Backyardigans”. The song was also all the rage on TikTok several months ago.

Other songs performed by the band, almost all of which belong to the Jobim / Moraes repertoire, include “Corcovado (Quiet Night of Quiet Stars)”, “Chega de Saudade”, “Água de Beber”, “Wave” and “Mas Que Nada ”, the latter of which is an actual samba rather than a bossa and was also featured in the 2011 animated film,“ Rio ”.

The educational interludes of the night also addressed the role that women have played in the tradition. On the one hand, the most famous bossa nova voice was that of Astrud Gilberto, who recorded and performed frequently with her ex-husband, guitarist João Gilberto, and American saxophonist Stan Getz. Beyond Gilberto, many contemporary women have chosen to record bossa standards, notably Stacey Kent and Diana Krall.

Kent, a Grammy-nominated American jazz singer, attended Middlebury Language Schools to learn Portuguese so that she could authentically sing bossa nova.

“This was the most dynamic and engaging course I have taken at Middlebury,” said Malick Thiam ’24, who played the shaker role in the performance. “It was a perfect mix of films, readings, lectures and discussions. Preparing for the show was so much fun – we learned the lyrics in class and in singing sessions at the Portuguese house.

Higa, who played both acoustic and electric guitar during the show, shared similar thoughts about the class, raving about his students’ commitment to the material.

“I was impressed with the level of engagement of my students. They really bought the idea that I sold to them. Since there was tons of academic material to cover, we didn’t have enough time to practice at the start. We then started rehearsing outside of our class schedule, staying longer after class or meeting on Friday afternoons, ”Higa said.