Afro-Latin Pianist: The Girl from Quebec

“I was trying to prove them wrong that if you are talented, skilled, you study, and you research, you can make it sound just as good as a Cuban player,” Andree-Ann told The University Times.

Andree-Ann Deschenes is a Cal State LA alumna originally from the province of Quebec, Canada. She has received her Master’s Degree in Afro-Latin Music and is currently pursuing her D.M.A. in Piano Performance at Claremont Graduate University. She is also teaching piano classes, along with accompanying instrumentalists at Cal State LA.

Andree-Ann performed with many different groups, such as the CSULA Jazz Big Band, Jazz Combo, Afro-Latin Ensemble, and many more. She was the main pianist for many events throughout her time as a graduate student, including exclusive gigs for President Covino.

Her fascination in Afro-Latin music was not born within, but meant to be. When she first came to the University to study piano, she mainly played classical music. Dr. Paul De Castro, the director of Afro-Latin Ensemble as well as the instructor for piano, persuaded her into exploring this type of music and soon enough, she was hooked.

“Afro-Latin music is sort of a combination of both classical music and jazz,” Deschenes said. “It has a different flavor to it that European music doesn’t have.” She enjoyed playing pieces with grooving rhythm the most.

However, it was quite challenging to play Afro-Latin music with the right feelings when someone had a very profound background in classical music. Quite a lot of people contributed to the idea that nobody can sound good playing Ernesto Lecuona’s music unless you are Cuban.

Andree-Ann disagreed. It was not easy but definitely doable. She said the most difficult part was to “make it sound legit”. You would want to make it sound like where the piece came from. You would need to try to understand what was the aim of the music, and what the piece was about. “You got to try to understand the basic elements in a certain piece and try to exploit that,” and most definitely, she lived up to her standards.

In 2014, she recorded her album Cervantes, Lecuona & Nazareth. Deschenes wanted to do something different by combining her classical background and the new knowledge, and introducing Afro-Latin music to the general audience. A recital only stayed for one night, but a recording will always be there. Deschenes did a lot of research on these composers and their music, as well their history to their home countries.

When talking about music, there were so much more than just the notes on paper.

“These composers were all nationalistic, which means that they were trying to incorporate their country’s identity in their sound,” said Deschenes. “You have to maintain the integrity of the country, to maintain the Latin-ness in the music, while still trying to play the best you can. It still needs to sound like concert music in the end.” Aesthetic empathy is crucial for a good musician.

Her album had been featured on New and Noteworthy in iTunes Canada as well as on KXLU radio, a Latin American music show. Her recordings had been featured several times throughout last year.

Deschenes’ Cervantes, Lecuona & Narzareth is available now on iTunes, Amazon and a few other sites. Music is not a promising business but musicians rarely back down because of this reason. “I’m not selling millions of copies but somebody is buying it every month,” said Deschenes. “There is constant interest in my album so that’s very encouraging.”

Not only Andree-Ann, many music major students don’t feel the need to be famous or wealthy, as long as they have the opportunities to play their music and live a comfortable life, they are happy.

When asked if “making it” matters to her, Deschenes replied, “I play piano and teach piano for a living, I’m not in poverty, to me I’m ‘making it’ right now. But I think the definition changes as you get older and it also depends on how successful you are.” She is going to finish her doctoral degree and hopefully keep teaching at a university, while  recording more Afro-Latin music for us to enjoy.

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