We chatted with Antenor Noé de Souza, the Regent of the 11th Band Battalion of the Brazilian Army’s Mountain Infantry, São João del-Rei, in order to have a different view on other types of brands across the globe.
He has been in the army for 30 years and has served in several units, including Caçapava (SP), Uberlândia (MG), São Gabriel da Cachoeira – Brazil’s border with Venezuela and Colombia, Foz do Iguaçu (PR), Blumenau (SC), Campinas (SP) and Três Corações (MG).
He has been the band’s conductor officer since January 2009.
Besides being a maestro, he is an excellent saxophonist, like his former master, Professor Geraldo Chaves, to whom he dedicates this interview, very emotional: “I’m sure he would be very proud to see me as regent of the army band because deep down, it’s very exciting to talk about it, everything I am, owe and offer to him”.
A little about the beginning of his formation
In 1971, I was in the first year of the gymnasium, at that time there was still the admission course, and Mr. Geraldo Chaves (he was teacher and maestro of the Santa Cecília music band for many years) decided to create a music band. He went from room to room, asking for volunteers. And that’s when I introduced myself as one of the volunteers. I remember it was a class with about 40 students and most of them dropped out, maybe 10 left, and I had the grace to be one of them. I was 11 years old when he took us to rehearse, giving us an instrument for each one.
Did Mr. Geraldo Chaves musically alphabetize each one of you?
Yes, everyone started from scratch, musically, without knowing anything. With all that musical perception overloaded, he was seeing who had gift, was tuned, had rhythm and will, and from then on he invested in these people. He separated us, giving classes at different times, intensifying the preparation.
The choice of instrument since the beginning
I remember a word from Mr. Geraldo Chaves. I talked to him that the instrument I wanted to play was the piston [trumpet]. Then he said: “What about the piston, that everybody wants to play that instrument? I need someone to play the clarinet”. That’s when he told me: “You’re going to be a clarinetist.
Then, the first instrument I took was the clarinet, which I played for many years. After about five years, Penido [Penido family] made a donation of instruments to the band and among them came two saxophones, alto sax, and tenor sax. At the time, I went to São João del-Rei, in the band of the 11 [11th Army Infantry Battalion] for them to teach me the scale of the instrument.
Then, until I was 18, I was a clarinetist. When I went to the army in São João del-Rei, there was an opening for a sergeant on the saxophone. That’s when I was enchanted by the instrument and never stopped playing it.
Some musicians say that the clarinet is the most difficult wind instrument to play. Is it true?
The clarinet is a super difficult instrument, so it is the best school for the saxophone. Every saxophonist who was once a clarinetist can know that it has a very good base. The mechanics of the sax is easier and it is an instrument of interpretation, of making beautiful sounds. The clarinet is very difficult. So, I would say that those who studied the clarinet goes to the sax with tremendous ease, as far as the mechanical part is concerned. Now, for the interpretation is worth the gift, the talent of the musician.
You were a student of professor Geraldo Chaves. How was he as a music teacher?
Mr. Geraldo had a very big talent. He said that he was “a teacher of everything, but he didn’t have a diploma of anything”. As a teacher, he had an immense joy in passing the knowledge to the students. Today, as a band conductor, I can see the joy he had in seeing a student developing, playing an instrument well. It was a reward, a recognition.
He was a father to all the staff. He was sometimes a little nervous, but he treated us with affection. I won’t name names, but there were some musicians from poorer families who played heavier instruments. To these, he gave a liter of milk every day, from his own pocket, so that the boys would have more vigor to play.
And the discipline?
Oh, yes, he was very disciplinarian. He liked things to be right. Even, at one time he wanted to get away from the band because I was missing rehearsals. I notice that usually, the musician who has some opportunity tends to a certain rascality (laughs). It’s different from the one who has more difficulty, who tends to be more applied. Mr. Geraldo gave me a “hard one” after a rehearsal: “if you miss one more rehearsal, you’re out of the band. After a long time, me being in the Army, he told me: “If I had kicked you out of the band, it would have been a very big loss”.
Was he a perfectionist to rehearse the band?
No doubt, because the beauty of the band is precisely the tuning. If he has an out of tune instrument, he will contaminate the others. So he was, yes, a perfectionist at work, he took care of the tuning. In rehearsal, if he noticed that there was a musician there with problems with tuning, he would give a separate class to reinforce the mouth, improve the wind and do it quickly. It was a very good band, in tune and with a very well-rehearsed repertoire. Mr. Geraldo was a great master. Until today I miss him a lot.
So he had a decisive role in his formation.
I can say that I owe it to him to be a regent officer in the army. I speak it from the heart. If it weren’t for Mr. Geraldo, I certainly wouldn’t be treading that side of a professional musician.
Motivation to join the Army?
Every civil band musician tends to see the military band as the height of a professional musical career. Where the Army band goes is a real show because of perfection.
In the Army, as everyone is professional, you can charge the musicians the smallest details as much as possible. In a civilian band, everyone is a volunteer, so you can charge them up to a certain point, otherwise, the person gives up.
Being in an army band is like crowning the career of a musician, or making it possible for him to live from music, which is another very important thing.
You, as a military man, served in several barracks, in different states of Brazil, knew different cultures…
Yes, and I thank God very much because I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t want to, but even so the opportunity was given to me to live with other cultures. Brazil, although it is only one, has several cultures, different kinds of music, different customs. It was a very great experience that today I apply in front of the army band in São João del-Rei.
The Army has this characteristic of immersing itself intensely in the culture of each place where it is present, isn’t it?
Exactly, the Army lives for that community where it makes itself present. An example: if it weren’t for the army in the Amazon, the region would be in chaos. It offers medical assistance, dentists, locomotion, etc. The army participates in the local culture and always tries to encourage the military to dive into that culture.
How is the learning and incentive of music in the army?
The musician has total support. We have an excellent quality instrumental. For you to have an idea, the instruments are the Yamaha brand, first quality. Expensive instruments. All this for the musician to feel valued, encouraged, and have pleasure in performing his function. The army invests heavily in music. We even have a symphony orchestra, which is based in São Paulo, but travels all over the country,
To join the army as an officer, in addition to mandatory military service, you have to go through the School of Weapons Sergeant (ESA), And the musician, how does he build his career?
He initially enters the ESA and then goes on to the School of Specialized Instruction in Rio de Janeiro, where he stays for two years. In the army, the musician has specialized instruction.
But art is something that often goes beyond contests, bureaucracy. In other words, it may be that a brilliant recruit in the art of music emerges, but he can not enter the ESA. How does the Army deal with these cases?
They are special cases that sometimes happen and that trigger a big controversy. We have lost great talents, but it is a decision of the high command of the army. I have talked to the general myself, but he told me that the rotation of seven years (maximum time that the soldier and the corporal can remain engaged in the army) is a way to give the opportunity to other people. However, sometimes talents are lost and even others appear on the same level it takes a long time. For example, we have a repertoire in the band that is performed by color, as is the case with the folds. So, when a musician is getting to the point, it’s already time for him to leave. Here comes another one that needs to take it from scratch, in the sense of repertoire, of course.
Speaking of repertoire, what’s the choice of songs in a military band like?
We have the repertoire of “dobrados”, which is more from inside the Army and is performed on solemn occasions, parades, etc. Every time I’m going to put together a repertoire, I try to listen to the people, the musicians, to know what’s pleasing them. In a concert, I always like to close with a classic, which will characterize it as a noble, solemn occasion. Depending on the presentation, we choose a more popular repertoire. The band has a vast repertoire.
The folds please both the military and the civilians, don’t they?
Ah, of course. Where we go, there is always someone who asks for a double. There are those who are better known and never stop being executed, like “Batista de Melo” and “Avante, Comrades”. It is characteristic of the military band to play these folds with perfection, with all the details of the musical dynamics.
What is the function of the band inside the barracks?
The band has the function of giving vibration to the military. Can you imagine a military parade without the band? It’s that thing without vibration, without life. Now, the band at the front playing a fold contagious everyone who is in shape.
I’ll give the example of a troop that is leaving to the camp, where they will spend a week in the bush, with backpack, rifle and all the equipment. The band plays at the military exit and the vibration is fantastic. And it’s even bigger when the military returns to the barracks; the guy is tired, exhausted, after a week, raining.
Then the band receives him, starts playing. A new spirit is created, very big. I speak from experience. In 1987 the band went for the “mountain course”, which everyone has to do, and the end of the course is a march from the Serra do Lenheiro to the barracks. By the time we got to the corner of the barracks climb, everyone was already exhausted, especially the fattest ones.
Everybody was dragging. And we wondered why when everyone leaves for the march the band plays and now that the band left there is no one to play!?. Then came the surprise. When we went up marching, there was the São João del-Rei City Hall music band welcoming us. Then I could feel the band’s effect on my skin. Everybody who was exhausted was rejuvenated and went up that hill as if they were leaving at that time from the barracks.