Uruguayan pianist Polly Ferman has broken many boundaries in the performing arts throughout her career. As the Creator and Music Director of GlamourTango, she creates, directs, and performs with an all-female ensemble that celebrates women in tango through music, dance, and live multimedia. Polly Ferman has performed as a featured soloist with countless orchestras and music groups, including the Tokyo Philharmonic and the National Symphony of Argentina.
In our exclusive interview, we sat down with Polly, where she spoke about her empowering and enduring journey as a Latin American woman in music and tango.
How did you become a pianist?
I became a pianist when I was three years old. I was going to school, and they had a little orchestra with percussion instruments. They had one instrument that was the only one in the town; a xylophone. The director of the school called my mother and said, “Listen, this child should learn music because she has a very good ear.” So that’s how I started my career. I went to a very good conservatory in my country in Uruguay, and I had my first public concert when I was seven. I had a solo concert in a theater for 500 people and later on when I was nine and 10 I won international competitions. You know, life went very fast for me. I married when I was 16, and I divorced at 22 with three children, and then I stopped playing music. But I started again after a few years. So, my life story is for another time, but that’s how I started my music, and how I started playing the piano.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Polly Ferman
When you first started, how did you decide what type of music you would perform?
At that time, I did classical music and was a classical pianist, which I was until I decided to move to the states to try my luck with music. When people ask me where I was from and I said, “I’m from Uruguay,” most of them looked at me like saying “Where’s that?” Then, I decided to start playing music from Latin American composers who started their careers in Europe, taking their reasons and ideas of the folklore of each country. So I did that in my classical music career for many, many years.
I recorded several CDs with that type of music, and I played the repertoire internationally until around 18 years ago. I met a very famous composer of tango, and he asked me to be the pianist of his quintet and his company. I told him, “But I don’t know how to play tango.” He said, “You will learn.” For five years, I was touring Europe, and I was playing, and it’s very different, you know, the classic repertoire and the Latin American repertoire and the tango repertoire. Although you may not believe it, it is more difficult to play tango than to play classical music, because the piano controls the rhythm and together with the double bass. I was there for five years until 2006, when a producer called me to be the pianist and music director of an all-female tango show called, “Living Ladies of Tango.” It was wonderful, but it didn’t last more than four presentations because of the cost. It was a very, very, very expensive production.
What I’m doing by having my all-female tango show, GlamourTango, is saying to women, “There’s nothing we cannot do, if we do it with elegance and femininity and with, you know, being proud of whom we are.” In this show, I tried to showcase what happened with women and tango in Argentina and Uruguay. Tango at the beginning of the 20th century was performed and danced at the bordellos, and only women that worked there were allowed to dance. It has a connotation of something that was immoral. So what I do is to show another side of it, even though it started in a place that could be not affiliated with what we call the good people or the good society. Women took on roles that arrived until now, where a woman can dance with another woman, and it’s open, dignified, and wonderful. I just love it.
Photo Credit: Peter Schaal
How has the Latin American community responded to having women in leading positions?
Well, regarding my company, generally I would say around 95 percent of people like it. Women always like it, because they like to show that they can do something by themselves that was not conceived by them. Men have curiosity; many times they go because they like to look at women and some traditional tango men. A few have told me, “No, this is not tango,” because it is not between a woman and a man; it’s something else. In general, I would tell you that it’s very well-received. We have performed in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and Uruguay. And it’s always with a full house, and everybody likes it. We have been in New York almost every year for the last seven, eight years. We’ve also been in Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington D.C., along with being in Canada several times. We did a tour in China, and I’m now launching GlamourTango in Europe in a couple of months.
“There’s nothing we cannot do, if we do it with elegance and femininity and with, you know, being proud of whom we are.”
When you were growing up as an artist and developing your skills and unique style, what artists were inspirations to you?
At the time that I was a classical pianist, I felt that I was always a romantic, so I like Chopin and Mendelssohn; they attracted me the most. Then, when I went into the Latin American classical music scene, there were two composers that caught my attention. One is Alberto Ginastera from Argentina, and the other one is Heitor Villa-Lobos from Brazil. I did research and discovered that a lot of composers are not well known. I collected a lot of musical literature from them, and I just recently donated 40 boxes full of music to two universities: Texas Christian University (TCU) in Texas and The City University of New York (CUNY) in New York. These universities will put these unique scores in their systems, where more people can access them.
Photo Credit: Arturo Encinas
What advice would you give to someone just starting out as a musician?
Starting out as a musician and also starting out in life with something that you like is to follow your passion. If you start thinking what the difficulties are all the time, then you don’t do anything. Follow your passions and also learn that besides learning whatever your heart is filled with music, dance, you need to know about marketing. Marketing is critical because your product needs to be known, you need to be heard, and you need to be seen. There are more competitors now more than ever; most of them are very, very good. You have to concentrate on yourself and see how you can sell your product.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of GlamourTango
What do you think is the most difficult part of being a performer?
The economic aspects are the most difficult; this was especially hard for me when I was a single mother for many years. I had my music, which was important for me, but it had to work. This difficult part actually helped me develop my imagination. I had to create something that would make me different, so that’s how I went into the world of Latin American music, and how I learned how to do the tango and why I created GlamourTango. GlamourTango is the compendium of everything I lived through. From all my experiences, I love being able to give and sharing my experience with other artists. When we’re on tour and not on tour, we are friends. We share laughs and life stories and all that, so I think that’s the best part and the most difficult, no doubt, is keeping your life going with a family and music.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Polly Ferman
How do you feel about the idea of streaming the performing arts?
I think the idea is fantastic; that’s why I mentioned the importance of marketing. What Cennarium is doing is opening doors for artists, opening doors for shows. In terms of audiences, it’s a way of watching from your home or wherever you are the best shows in the world. I think the idea is brilliant and I know it’s going to be growing and growing, because it’s very unique and special.
Blog Header Photo Credit: Peter Schaal