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Paula & Fabiana Chavez

Paula & Fabiana Chavez are classical pianists and they live in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I was fortunate enough to meet them in London in early 2015.

Rupert Cheek & Paula Chavez

What is your earliest memory of music?

Since we were little children, we always felt a special attraction to music. When we were 6 years old, we were both fan of ballet and wanted to become ballet dancers and we loved music by Tchaikovsky [So did/do I!]. At that early age, we seamed to have very keen interest in classical music, so our parents bought classical music recordings for us. And They even tried to get the best seats for concerts at the Teatro Colon (Columbus Theatre) which is the main opera house in Buenos Aires. That’s when  we had the chance to enjoy hearing the most notable pianists, orchestras and operas.

What kinds of music are popular in Argentina?

In Argentina we have 2 main popular music genres: Tango, and Folk, but we also have lots of rock and pop music bands which are very famous here; we call this genre “Rock Nacional”.

When did you start learning to play the piano?

At the age of 13, we received the diagnosis of a rare disorder called Stargardt disease that affects the retina and causes progressive vision loss. It was very overwhelming for our family to know that no therapies were available to cure this condition, so our father, who has been a pianist, had the greatest idea to buy a piano as a gift for our birthday. It was love at first sight!  Our father was our first piano teacher, and we suddenly started to play classical piano pieces by Chopin as if we had been studding piano for years.

It was not easy for us to learn the piano pieces. Although we were not blind at that time, we had a very low vision and we were only able to read printed scores in magnified characters, focusing on the use of our remaining vision. For that reason, our father copied each musical symbol in a large sheet of paper for us to se. That means we never read Braille music notation.

In this way, we finished our music studies at Santa Ana Institute of Buenos Aires, become Professors of Music and started teaching at primary schools, secondary schools and institutions for students with special needs.

Have you played any other instruments?

Yes, we have.  Fabiana studied flute for 3 years at the National Conservatoire, and Paula took clarinet lessons, although piano has always been our favorite instrument.

Why piano and not another instrument?

Piano always seamed to be magical for us. We remember very well the piano in our grandparent’s house. When we were both little girls, we always wanted to play it but they never allowed us. That increased our curiosity and fascination with the piano.

Did you ever play piano on your own or have you always played together?

We always played piano on our own for the exams when we were at the conservatoire and we even performed solo in several concert halls. Lately, we specialized in piano 4 hands performances taking the advantage of being identical twins. This has given us a very special relationship with each other. The likeness and the connection between us allows to playing piano as we were only one person.

What was the first piece of music you remember playing together on the piano?

The first piece we played together at the piano was a waltz called “A mi Madre” by the Argentinean composer Francisco Pena. The arrangement for piano 4 hands was made by our father.

Actually, the first classical piece we played was Hungarian dance 7 by Johannes Brahms and we had or debut as a piano duo in 1996 at the Alliance Francaise’s auditorium of Mar del Plata with pieces by Debussy, Ravel, Brahms and Juan Carlos Zorzi.

When did you start to lose your sight?

There is wide variation from person to person in symptoms and in how quickly Stargardt disease progresses. In our particular case, we first lost central vision and about 7 years ago we lost our usable residual sight.

How long did you stop making music for?

For about 8 years we had to leave our musical activities.

What gave you the confidence to start again?

When we lost our functional vision, we had to make some changes and adaptations both technical and methodological to compensate for loss of sight.  Due to the preponderance of the musical text in academic environments, we had to find a new method for reading scores that would work as an audio-description. That’s how we discovered “Lime Aloud” on the web.

Follow Fabiana & Paula Chavez on Twitter

What impact did the software have on your freedom to be pianists again?

Lime Aloud is a musical notation program that provides blind musicians with verbal and musical cues. This software let us navigating a musical score independently and most productively. It works as if it’s a sighted person described each score elements and symbols in our language, Spanish.

You told me you met the person who produced the software.
How did you help him to make it better?

When the president of the company of the software we found useful for us to read scores, decided to translate his software into Spanish, we took the idea of helping him to fix some mistakes related to language issues, or to translate a few words that were not translated at that time. It was very exciting for us to take part of this motion, because we do believe that the spoken language is a very important barrier to overcome, especially in this case that verbally description is the most essential.

How long does it take you to learn a piece of music using the software?

It depends. You’ve got to consider several issues to calculate how long it will take us to read and memorize a music work. For instance: if we played a piece a long time ago, it takes us less time than a new one. If we have to read and memorize a very long word like 3 movements of a great sonata, it will probably take a long time. But also, if we have to study a new short contemporary piece that includes change of rhythm or other difficulties, it would take us certainly a long time to read it all.

Some people, not just pianists, say they only study the score, because they dont want other peoples ideas; they only want to read the score. When you learn new music, do you listen to other recordings of it?

Yes! that's right ! It really helps us.

How do you decide which recordings to listen to?

We listen to all kind of recordings, to get many ideas, and then choose one to listen to as a reference.

You still have a teacher now?

We need someone who can see the scores to be sure that we are memorising well, with no mistakes.

Have you ever composed any music?

No, we haven’t. We are convinced that you must have a particular gift for it.

Have you ever commissioned any new music for piano?

No, not yet.

Thank you very much for giving me a copy of your CD [iTunes - Amazon] I played the Poulenc Sonata for 4 Hands with someone I knew about 3 years ago.

What did you do when you were in London?

We had the great honour to be invited by Dr. David Baker from UCL Institute of Education to perform and speak for the “Visually-Impaired Musicians’ Lives” international conference. This event focused on musical participation and explore education and learning choices and the impact of new technologies on visually-impaired musicians. It took place at Jeffery Hall on 10 -11 March. Our trip to London was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of Buenos Aires government.

At the conference we met Indian musician Baluji Shrivastav and his wife Linda Shanson, who invited us to join The Inner Vision Orchestra for a participation on a concert at The Forge, and on March 20th we attended the “Accessible Music Notation” [doc] exhibition at RNIB , where we played piano sonata by Francis Poulenc as an example of the use of Lime Aloud software.

Did you hear any live music?

Yes, we had the privilege to attend to 2 fabulous concerts in London. We heard Andrew King (tenor) & Sharona Joshua (fortepiano). They performed a charming lieder programmed interspersed with well known fortepiano pieces, at Lancaster Hotel, and we also had the pleasure to her to the outstanding Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini at the Royal Festival Hall. He played pieces by Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin, in a magisterial manner.

Did you meet any musicians?

Besides Baluji Shrivastav, at the conference we met Victoria Oruwuari (soprano), Kevin Satizaval (pianist), Terry Kelly and Lucas Haneman (Canadian guitarists and vocalists) and Joey Stukey (guitarist and vocalist from USA.  We also met our friend Daniel Roberts (classical pianist who lives in London).

You can see pictures of some of these musicians on their Facebook page

What was your favourite part of London?

We both visited many places in London, but we felt a special attraction for St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. The audio description devices let us know that is the burial place of 10 monarchs in England.

Will you visit London again?

Yes, we hope to perform in London next year.

Follow Fabiana & Paula Chavez on Twitter

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