Saturday, March 28, 2009

"The Earl of Essex's Galliard" (John Dowland) called "Can She Excuse My Wrong" by The Julian Bream Consort(21)

I found this and couldn't help but to enjoy the supreme rhythmic bounce of Julian Bream. Also lovely to hear him speak.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Manuel de Falla - Homenaje (Le Tombeau de Debussy)

Recorded late on Tuesday / early Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Beauty of the Ordinary

In this rare audio interview with Glenn Gould, I noticed he says something which is very important to all of us. As he talks about wearing a business suit as opposed to a suit and tails at 7:22, he goes on to say that he thinks it's a "bad strategy to let yourself think that anything is a special event". He then says "the easiest way to be happy at this business of making music is to treat every concert as if it were a days work of any kind. The more things that you do to indicate this is something special or apart from everyday pursuits, the more likely you are going to succumb to nervous tension". The interviewer doesn't quite get the depth of the statement, but it's obvious to me that Gould knew very much about his psychology while playing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Inner Ear

“We are limited, not by our abilities, but by our vision.” Anon

When I was young, I learned music by ear. I would meet with my band every week for many hours, and we would decide on what songs we wanted to learn (heavy metal covers mostly). Then we would learn the songs together or separately.

The nice thing about learning music by ear is that you always have a clear vision (the recording) of what the music should sound like when you play it. You can keep checking to see if what you are doing sounds like the recording you are learning. Eventually, the recording gets into your inner ear and you can tell if what you are doing sounds correct. This is how I learned to play music.

With classical guitar, we learn music by reading written notes. One of the advantages to this is we don't have to guess what the notes are - unlike learning by ear. All the answers are there. However, one of the disadvantages is that we can practice a piece without knowing it. We can get into the habit of reading rather than hearing the piece with the inner ear. For example - the student will practice a piece, but slows down at difficult passages. Most of the time, they don't know that they are adjusting the rhythm. They can't know because they have nothing to compare it to - the correct version is not in their inner ear.

I believe the inner ear is one of the most important and overlooked parts of musicianship. Our inner ear is our "recording". It's our vision. The clearer our inner ear hears the piece, the easier it is to follow it and express it - just like a real recording.

Guitarists tend to do most of their practice with the guitar in hand, but it's equally important to practice the inner ear - read the score, feel the rhythm in the body, let your imagination run free with ideas. Do this without the guitar every day. This strengthens the "inner ear recording" of the piece. By doing this you'll see great gains in your rhythm, memorizing and overall musicianship.

Keep in mind that we are ALWAYS expressing our idea of the piece - whether it's clear of not. The word "express" is defined as "to put thought into words; utter or state: to express an idea clearly. Focus on getting the idea clear so that you know what it is you are reaching for in your physical practice. It seems basic, but is overlooked by most of us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recording as Therapy

As you might have noticed, I've been recording quite a bit since getting back from Portugal. Recording is extremely therapeutic because it documents how I'm feeling while playing the guitar.

I've come to the realization that underneath the notes, dynamics, colors, etc, what we are actually hearing is the way a person feels. There have been quite a few cases where I played a piece "perfectly" - clean, accurate, nice rubato, good phrasing - and yet when I listen back to it I'm not really drawn to the playing. I can tell that I'm not really playing the guitar - there's a subtle feeling of "work" there - a "wanting" to make it clean, accurate, with nice rubato, with good phrasing etc.

There's a beautiful line between wanting something, and letting it happen. Recording has become the study of letting it happen - of letting go and letting myself disappear completely into the play of the present moment.

Check out this video from the great Alan Watts - "Work as Play" It's ironic that he uses "playing the guitar" as an example of playful activity.

Fernando Sor - Study in B minor Opus 35, No.22

Probably the most famous study by the great Fernando Sor. It was one of the first pieces I performed in public.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fernando Sor - Study in F Major - Op.31, No. 11

A little piece by Sor that I was reading through late last night. i think it's a lovely gem.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Charles Combe (1961-2009)

My friend Charlie Combe died last week. He was a great friend who loved music and the guitar dearly. He will be missed by many.

The last coversation we had included our mutual praise of the Spanish guitarist, Miguel Llobet. I dedicate this Llobet arrangement to him.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Coming back from Guitarmania in Portugal, I'm very happy to report that the entire week was wonderful - the teachers, performances, the audiences, the students - everyone was in a great sense of harmony throughout it all. The weather was sublime and work and play were often blurred. Even the guitar competition had a warm sense of camaraderie rarely seen by this competition veteran.

My good friend, Dejan Ivanovic invited me. He ran the festival, taught 10-12 hours per day, judged the competition, and performed a huge new program twice with his duet partner Michalis Kontaxakis. Michalis is very warm and friendly and a wonderful talent on the guitar - he has a great sound and expression. He and Dejan had only a few days to learn a program of an hour and 15 minutes worth of music! To think that I was nervous because my program wasn't entirely learned a month ago. Needless to say, their concert was stunning. Dejan and Michalis are good friends and play like one person with 4 hands - completely together, wonderful clarity, phrasing, and a wide variety of colors. It was a real treat to hear them at the beautiful Capuchos Convent - one of the best halls for guitar I've experienced. Every concert was sold out at this festival - there were no problems finding an enthusiastic audience for the classical guitar in Lisbon.

Also at Guitarmania were the wonderful performers and teachers Marco Socias and Carlo Marchione. It was the first time I had met Carlo and Marco, but we got along like old friends, going out to eat whenever we had time, chatting at length about experiences as competitors, performers, teachers, and sharing our love for music and the guitar. Both Marco and Carlo are amazing musicians of rare talent - I encourage those who don't know them to find their recordings and videos.

Carlo Marchione

Marco Socias

The three unsung heroes of the week were Paulo Lourenco, Rosa, and Pedro. Paulo in particular put more than 600 miles on his car for the week - picking up teachers, performers and driving them everywhere - concerts, dinners, masterclasses, even hospitals. Paulo himself is a great conductor and teacher but dedicates his help to the festival every year. It is because of his help that the festival has grown so rapidly. Rosa and Pedro also helped drive us everywhere we needed to go, making sure our schedules were correct, making sure the checks were ready, making sure the students knew where the teachers would be, making sure that concert halls were prepared etc. etc. etc. These are not small tasks - one small mistake could mean complete confusion for everyone involved. With their help, everything ran smoothly.

The competition was at a very high level and in the end the prizes were split - one first prize to Mateus De la Fonte of Brazil, and two 2nd prize and two 3rd prize winners. Judging was smooth - no drama or arguments. Mateus had it all - beautiful tone, wonderful musicianship, solid technique, and well balanced program. He will perform next year a full concert at Guitarmania 2010.

Finally, I'll speak of the students. How inspiring to see people so in love with the classical guitar and it's music. There is something incredibly touching to see a person struggling with a new way of thinking, trying it out, experimenting, and the whole time being enthusiastic about new possibilities. Some of the lessons were extra special for me to teach, because I could see that the students were just at the cusp of finding their musical voice - the searching was almost over. I felt like a guide at the bottom of a great mountain giving them an idea of what's ahead now that they've gone this far. It was a great privilege and I feel in the end that we all increased each others lives.

It's good to be back in NYC and to have finally gotten some sleep. I've posted some photos from the festival at Flickr - and included some March 1st snow photos for those who are enjoying the 60 degree weather back in Lisboa....

Guitarmania 2009 photos