From a rocky beginning to a rocking ending

Rachel Cuccurullo/ Contributing Writer

Armando Tranquilino began his life in a middle-class home in communist Cuba.

The University music professor remembers how his father was wrongly taken into custody as a political prisoner for four years when he was 1 year old. Though his father was incarcerated for a small part of his life, the professor remembers a happy home.

Tranquilino, who teaches music theory, History of Rock and History of the Beatles, recalled government officials coming to his home to announce that the family’s request to enter the United States had been granted.

“We were to pack up our things right then,” he said.

At the age of seven, he moved with his family to Miami. It was in the US where he picked up his first instrument, the guitar. Then, at 17 years old, he moved on to study piano under the tutelage of classical pianist and former adjunct faculty member at the University, Arminda Schutte.

His favorite progressive-rock bands, such as “Yes,” “Genesis” and “Emerson Lake & Palmer,” were bands whose style got him into the classical genre.

“My friends thought the connection [ I made between progressive-rock band music and classical music] was crazy and couldn’t see the bridge I made between the two.” Tranquilino said. “It’s all music to me. There’s no distinction. It’s sound and silence. Bands like that had some songs with an introduction, first movement, second movement, et cetera. These were the groups that segued me to the classical style of sound.”

In 1987, Tranquilino was in a master of music and doctorate of music dual program for composition and electronic music at Indiana University. There, he met his future friend Glenn Gass, who started a History of Rock music course.

“I thought ‘Wow, this is really great. I would love to do something like this at some point,’” said Tranquilino.

He has taught music theory courses and was the director of the electronic music studio at the University of Arizona in Tucson from 1989 to 1993.

Tranquilino said he wanted keep in touch and “reconnect” with his Cuban roots.

“Coming back to live in Miami was a way to do that,” Tranquilino said, who then began teaching at FIU.

“After nine years of teaching theory courses, I was ready for new endeavors,” Tranquilino said.

These new endeavors resulted in the establishment of two new music history courses at FIU: History of The Beatles in 2006 and History of Rock in 2008.

“I tried to build a [History of Rock] course that was well-rounded in the historical context,” Tranquilino said. “In the History of The Beatles course, we go through the years before they were The Beatles, the years during, the Beatle classics and a little bit about their solo years.”

Tranquilino is also involved with international music conferences, lectures and festivals.

“I was in Germany three times for festivals last year,” he said.

Tranquilino was a guest lecturer at Hunter College in New York for “A Trip Down Penny Lane,” a presentation sponsored by the Cuban Cultural Center of New York. He also directs the annual “Classically Cuban” concert at the University’s Wertheim Performing Arts Center, sponsored by the Cuban Research Institute.

“Each year the concerts have a different theme involving Cuban culture while applying music. This year the focus is on the life of Marti. He’s a poet [and a] writer,” Tranquilino said, referring to Jose Marti, Cuban revolutionary and leading advocate for Cuban independence.

“Every piece of music is related to him in some way and I have actually two songs that I wrote with his texts,” Tranquilino said.

When asked about any plans for new music history courses, he said there has been some talk among colleagues about a course focusing on The Beatle members’ solo years, a History of Bob Dylan or History of Pink Floyd class.

For now, Tranquilino is creating and directing musical compositions in the music department.

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