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.