November 4, 2011

Los Romeros workshop (part 2): Etudes and repertoire

I'm not going to be able to offer a whole lot of detail directly from a workshop I took no notes on, but I will offer a few highlights that I can recall and my own thoughts on those topics.

One idea that has stuck with me from the Los Romeros workshop I attended years ago, was Pepe's statement that students develop their technique using studies (specifically mentioning Carcassi, Sor, and Brouwer) and then reward their achievement with appropriate repertoire. This approach depends on having a patient student and some good guidance, but that's nothing unusual, is it?

I think he has a fair point. Etudes may not be "appropriate for the concert stage," but maybe it's better to work through the effort, frustration, and doubt of the learning process while learning these studies rather than  the music you intend to perform. Then, maybe you can go on stage with a whole program of music without baggage of effort, frustration, and doubt. That sounds like a much better situation to me.

A well-composed study like Carcassi's can offer a systematic technical workout in a bite-sized (or perhaps mouthful) chunk. The flip side of that, which I don't think Pepe mentioned, is that a good musical understanding is what transforms a "boring study" into a satisfying piece of music is the performer's grasp of the music itself. Perhaps even more so than the technique.

For example, playing a slur study well is more than merely executing the slurs. The dynamics and tone colors have to flow with the line, and pull-offs to open strings can't sound plunky. So the technique of a descending slur isn't just "pluck the string with the left hand." The speed and direction of the motion, surface area of the finger used, and amount of pulling the string sideways versus sliding across it are all factors that contribute to the sound of the slur.

If you try to control all of this at the muscular level, you'll just get bogged down in the details and never move on. It's much easier if you let your ears control your technique rather than your fingers.

November 1, 2011

Pittsburgh Classical Guitar Society, and a Los Romeros workshop (part 1)

I'm planning to visit my family in Pittsburgh, PA over Thanksgiving this year. I was wondering if there might be any classical guitar concerts to attend while I'm there, and while searching for that, I discovered that Pittsburgh now has a classical guitar society. I'm surprised it didn't already have one, but I'm pleased to see that it does now.

Several years ago, when I was living in California, I flew to Pittsburgh to attend a Los Romeros concert with my dad (who has been a fan of them for as long as I can remember) and to go to a workshop that they were giving the next day. I thought it was to be a masterclass, but it was really more of a lecture/demonstration. I was surprised by how many guitarists attended, but when Pepe asked if anyone would like to play something, nobody volunteered at first. So, nervous novice that I was, I volunteered and played the first movement of La Catedral. I'd planned to play the whole thing, figuring that nobody else wanted to play, but near the end of the prelude, Pepe's cell phone rang. He was embarrassed that it happened, and I wasn't really upset, but my playing kind of fell apart and I ended with the prelude.

I'm glad I played, though, because one by one after that, others decided to play something, until nearly everyone in the room had played. I distinctly remember a 10 or 11 year old boy playing Brouwer's etude #1 with great gusto. It hadn't occurred to him that he should be nervous like the rest of us, I suppose.

I had forgotten about this workshop until recently. I didn't take notes, unfortunately, but I think I remember some of the highlights. I'll write up what I can remember for my next blog post.

I want to thank my readers that have stuck with me even though I haven't been posting as often recently. I appreciate it.