November 10, 2012

New website

Hi all,
I've redone my Classical Guitar Tulsa website and am moving my blog there. All new posts will be there instead of here so please update your bookmarks. I apologize for the initial inconvenience, but I think the format is much nicer for reading and for the videos I like to link to.

At long last, I have some ideas for new posts I intend to write soon, so please keep an eye on the new blog.

June 1, 2012

A bit of a rant

One thing that has always frustrated me about classical guitar is something that many people find to be one of its primary assets. I've lost count of how many times someone has said to me, "oh, I love classical guitar! It's so soothing!"

It comes off as a sort of unintentionally back-handed compliment, so I am most surprised when this comes from other musicians whom I feel should know better... It reminds me of a classical radio station in the SF Bay Area, which has the slogan, "Casual. Comfortable. Classical." Because we all know that the reason for all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into composing and performing classical music is to make your morning commute a little less stressful.

There are two similar notions I have been pondering, especially today, as I have been at a music teachers' conference in Oklahoma City.

  • As a guitarist, I must only be interested in guitar stuff. (Guitarist/composer Brad Richter gave a talk and performed a new piece that the music teacher's association commissioned from him. Therefore, since I am a classical guitarist, this must be the only reason I am here.)
  • It is surprising that I may find presentations interesting even if they do not involve the guitar. 
Now, I don't take these personally or hold them against the people who express them, because it does genuinely seem to be true that guitarists tend to be interested only in guitar stuff. This is something I have struggled with, too, as I see it as a shortcoming of the guitar community and because I see myself reflected in it.

On the flip side, I play Irish music on flute, and have often ended up in uncomfortable conversations in which I had to explain to people that I don't play Scottish or "Celtic" music. Many people don't know the difference, and many people take it as a sign of snobbery. I know some people find it really off-putting and I am sorry for that, but it's just pure honesty. 

But to me, they are quite different musically, and some things appeal to me and others don't. In fact, to say that I play Irish music is almost a bit misleading, because there are styles within Irish music which don't appeal to me and therefore I don't play them. In the end, I don't wish to do a disservice to music that I don't appreciate by pretending that I can do it justice.

So maybe the classical guitar community is kind of conservative and insular, and in some cases may be ignorant of the larger classical music community... But I am glad that there are some people out there who can hear something other than soothing background music, because we guitarists would be in REALLY sorry shape if nobody could hear the artistry that we aspire to.

So, upon much reflection, I am happy that there is a community of people who appreciate classical guitar for what it actually is, because it is really difficult being passionate about music for which most people have only apathy. People who only like guitar music deserve high quality music to enjoy, too. We can do our best to expand our audience, but let's start by being grateful for what we have.

May 31, 2012

Classical Guitarists: Conversations by Jim Tosone

I recently ran across the book "Classical Guitarists: Conversations" by Jim Tosone and was surprised I hadn't heard about it before. It features interviews with many prominent classical guitarists and composers, and they all go into greater depth than one typically finds in an artist interview.

The highlights or me are the interviews with John Williams, David Starobin, Sharon Isbin, and George Crumb, but the entire book is well worth a read.

Here are a few things I picked up from the book that I found interesting:

  • George Crumb has written more for the guitar than I realized. When I was in high school, my friend Len introduced me to Crumb's music, and it opened my eyes to a whole world of music I didn't know existed. I think this is a large part of why I am a classical musician today. I am now determined to perform Crumb's "Mundus Canis" someday.
  • Many of the artists featured in the book play Thomas Humphrey Millenium guitars (or did at the time of the interview).
  • Having ridiculously long fingers, according to Eliot Fisk, is not always an asset when playing guitar. He talks about having to finger some typical open position chords differently because his fingers just get in the way. My thought on this is that we get good by figuring out what works for us, not forcing ourselves into preconceived notions. 

May 24, 2012

Segovia: El Renacimiento de la Guitarra

An hour long documentary on Segovia. It's in Spanish, but features lots of performances.

April 26, 2012

Narvaez: Fantasia played by two guitarists

Here's one of my favorite pieces, by my favorite composer, played by two of my favorite guitarists. Enjoy!

First, Pablo Marquez.

Next, Kevin Gallagher.

April 23, 2012

Matt Palmer

My wife and I drove four hours each way yesterday to see Matt Palmer perform in Kansas City, MO. My conclusion: it was well worth it! Matt's making a name for himself based on his impressive technique, but his tone, phrasing, and timing are wonderfully tasteful.

If you live anywhere near Kansas City and are not aware of the Kansas City Guitar Society, you should make a point of connecting with them.

April 15, 2012

New book by Jean-Francois Desrosby

I just read "Guitarists: Unlock your potential" by Jean-Francois Desrosby. I'm still digesting the information, but it's a very succinct book which looks at guitar technique from a physiological perspective. It did give me some new ideas to think about, but most of what I have gotten from it so far are explanations as to why some things which seem most logical don't work (usually because that logic is based on incomplete or mistaken information).

The main principal of his book is to use each muscle in the manner for which it was designed. A good example is giving the task of shifting positions to the large shoulder and arm muscles, rather than driving it from the hand, so the hand can stay relaxed. You may say, "how can the hand move without the help of the arm and shoulder, anyway?" I suppose it can't, but on the flip side, many guitarists create tension in their hand while shifting when in fact the hand should be able to stay relaxed. The key is to figure out what is actually going on whenever you do something, and remove all the elements that are unnecessary.

Here's a video of Mr. Desrosby:

March 30, 2012

Quick tip for students

Whenever you have a question for your teacher, write it down, so you don't forget it before your next lesson.

March 10, 2012

Brigitte Zaczec on Baroque lute

I just found this very nice video of Brigitte Zaczek on baroque lute. I'd never heard of her before but was  intrigued because of her last name's similarity to my own. I find the interviewer to be a bit creepy, frankly, but I enjoyed the performance and the great footage of her right hand technique. It's especially interesting how she uses her right hand thumb to manage the beginning and end of every bass note. We have to do the same thing on guitar, too, but in comparison, we've really got it easy!

As a bonus, here's audio of her playing a piece by Mertz on a period instrument.

March 5, 2012

Make your own path

I'm not sure what made me think of this, but a while back (it must have been a long time, since it has been several months since I removed myself from internet forums in order to enjoy my life more) maybe a year or two I remember someone saying he planned to spend the next year immersing himself in the music of one composer. The responses varied, but I believe the general feeling was that in the interest of being a well-rounded musician, this was not a good idea.

Well, if your goal is to be a well-rounded musician, maybe so. Being a well-rounded musician is a great thing. On the other hand, if the music of Fernando Sor is what gets you out of bed in the morning, I think you should go with it. Cultivate the obsession and learn as much about Sor and as much of his music as you can.

Several years ago, for a variety of reasons, I quit playing guitar altogether for about a year. I used to really regret it; I did lose some technical ground and some flexibility in my hands that took a long time to regain. On the other hand, during that time, I became a pretty good irish flute player because that was the obsession that drove me at the time. Flute led me to a world of social music-making that has helped me make some very close friends and enriched my life. Making music in that kind of capacity has brought me a wealth of insight into the nature of music and performing, following the flow of and getting carried away by music. All these things could have happened if I'd followed a straighter path, but they would have been different.

A few years before that, I'd been working hard to prepare myself to audition for music school. I was ready to quit my job and start my life over, despite being deeply in debt at the time. In the end, I stuck with my job and paid off my debt. A long the way, I fell in love and got married, and together the two of us saved up a substantial amount of money and went for a 7-month road trip. I'd probably be a much better guitarist by now if I'd stuck to the plan and gone to music school, but instead I had the experience of a lifetime, the likes of which most people may never get a chance to have. Was it a better choice? I don't know. The right choice? For me, yes.

I'm not saying you shouldn't go to music school or that you shouldn't try to become a well-rounded musician. I'm saying that if you should never regret following your dreams and making the best of whatever you end up doing. To paraphrase a famous quote, it's better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.

January 20, 2012

Adam Rafferty: This is how I practice guitar

Thanks to my friend Anton Emery, I just read fingerstyle guitarist Adam Rafferty's nice blog post about how he practices guitar, in which he says:
When I practice, I do it for the love of doing it.  I play my scales every day with attention to “form”, relaxation, groove and tone.  I run my repertoire for the delicacy and delight of playing with a deep satisfying rhythmic pocket and fingers that perfectly “touch” the strings.
I plod along, day by day – and will do so for my whole life.  Day in, day out.  That’s what I do.  I practice for the love of practicing itself – with no result in mind.  This is how I practice guitar.
I have to agree. For me, the learning and experience is the key. Some days I really enjoy solving problems and developing my understanding, and some days I can just sit there for a half hour and just work on smoothing out one small aspect of technique. I find it more satisfying to accomplish one substantial thing than to try to chip away at a whole bunch of things.

January 3, 2012

Holiday break recordings

I recorded three videos last week during the holiday break. Having a full-time job again and students in the evenings, I haven't had enough practice time to maintain any repertoire. However, I've found that spending an hour in front of the camera is one of the best and quickest ways to improve my playing.

All three pieces are fantasia-type pieces (as opposed to dance movements) from the renaissance era. I just can't get enough of this kind of music. The first is one from Frederick Noad's "The Renaissance Guitar" book. I recorded a few takes of this one on the day after xmas but was unhappy with them. I left them alone for the night and listened again the next day, and decided to feel the piece differently.

It's written primarily as half-notes with a few sections of quarter notes. I was unhappy with it when I played it all at a sort of measured pace, so I decided to treat the quarter note sections as written-out ornaments rather than part of the melody.

The second piece was a fantasia by Francesco Da Milano from an old book called "Lautenmusik aus der Renaissance." It's the first piece in the book. I more or less used the fingerings in the book, which were for standard guitar tuning. I'd like to try it again sometime with F# lute tuning, partly because it would suit the piece better, and also because the next piece on the page (another da Milano Fantasia) is one that I already happen to know in that tuning. The two would pair nicely if there was no need to change tuning.

The third piece is "Preambel" by Antonio Rotta, from the same book. This piece puzzled me when I first looked at it, although I hope it doesn't sound like that anymore. I think perhaps that much of the renaissance music we encounter in collections has been chosen because it is relatively accessible with our experience of tonal music.

This piece begins like it's in A minor and progresses like it's in D minor, but the larger phrases resolve to D major. Two or three times in it, however, D major is set up as though it's the V chord, which we would expect to resolve to G major, but instead it goes to E minor. It also has some significant IV-I cadences, which remind me of the polyphonic vocal music from that era which I love so much.

Thanks for listening, and I hope my discussion of the pieces gives you ideas to think about in your own music. I'll try to do this again more often.

For those of you interested in recording, my friend Doug has put a nice video on Youtube about the process of recording. He takes a track from his new album and talks about how it was recorded, processed, mixed, and mastered. You should view it on YouTube in high quality to get the most from it.