Dear Teacher, You were my very first formal classical guitar instructor…
Thus begins an open letter I wrote years ago.
The new vistas that surfing the ‘net* opened up in the ’90s prompted me to try contacting my first classical guitar teacher to thank her for the role she played in my development as a musician. I posted a copy of my open letter on both** of the forums I was subscribed to at the time in the hopes it would yield a lead towards finding her. As was common in those days, this inadvertently started a new thread on each of those forums…that of honoring those teachers who most influenced the direction of our lives.
However, it did not bring about the desired outcome.
I have always wanted to thank-you for all you did to nurture my first forays into the world of classical guitar. I think you’d be proud of me. Not because I am anyone famous or great, but because you’d recognize the method of love I use in teaching others about our common bond: the classical guitar...
*a term bandied about along with riding the internet highway in the earlier days of internet development.
A few weeks ago, I finally changed strings on the Prisloe (my classical guitar). After a couple of months trying out another brand, some Augustine Regal/Blue High Tensions as recommended by Segovia himself, I’m back to my standard Blue Pack (Savarez Alliance High Tension 540 J’s).
In addition to his pioneering role in elevating the classical guitar to the concert stage around the turn of the 20th century, Segovia partnered with Augustine Strings in the 1940s to develop a revolutionary (at the time) non-gut string option for classical guitars. For many years since, Augustine Strings were one of very few quality options out there for classical guitarists.
All told, those Augustine’s just didn’t agree with me. My style, my fingers; maybe even my guitar. That’s part of being a working musician, trying different things to see how they enhance or detract from one’s playing. When I know I don’t need to depend upon reliability in sound/tone due to a lack of gigs, or recording dates, I often slap on different strings – brands, tensions, material composition – just to test drive the newest innovations, those recommended by colleagues and/or those with the best reviews by other players.
The Augustine strings offered up a strong rich sound in the basses with less buzzes but were harder to coax out tone colors. Plus, the trebles took several days of consistent playing to settle them into a decent tone – albeit with a plastic-y feel and muddled sound. Yes, they lasted longer and handled my hard-driven playing well, but they just didn’t offer up the variety of subtle tone colors I use in my playing or feel good under my fingers.
They also were harder on my hands. Segovia had huge hands with sausage-like fingers and probably really needed the thicker, plastic-y feeling of the strings to accommodate that physical factor. And as far as the relationship between instrument and strings goes, remember: Segovia played a huge Ramirez with 664 fret scale and larger, 54 mm nut width.
For those of you not in-the-know about the great Segovia, I found a quality, yet un-retouched video of him playing sometime in the 1960s when he was actually in his sixties. I chose this one because it’s representative of his tone/style – his signature technique of finding just the right sweet spot on the fretboard for each note, delivering a rich deep vibrancy – all while showcasing his effortless command of the instrument.
The thing of it is, regardless of the strings used, music is played, compositions are created, techniques are explored, expanded and maintained. For myself as a musician, each time I re-string one of my instruments, there is a sense of expectation. A moment in time where everything seems possible, opening up a wide world of sonic possibilities, hopes, dreams and deep expressions of my (he)art flowing through my fingers into the outer realm.
And when the right strings are strung, those aural rewards inspire and invigorate…
The thing of it is, regardless of the strings used, music is played.
Life is lived.
And when the right strings are strung, life is magical.
I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly. John 10:10b NKJV
For the past few months, it’s been all about the music.
Most of my playing focus has been in rep* upkeep and composing/practicing new pieces for my Swimming with Swans project. Before my back spasms in March, I increased technical practice to two hours a day minimum. Outside the realm of being a student in a rigorous University Music School program where two hours is but a blink, that’s a good amount of time spent on keeping those chops up.
As a working musician, the balance between teaching, playing, practicing, composing, rehearsals, sight reading, learning new rep, collaborations, gigging, performing, recording, and giving presentations is an on-going juggling act. These past few years, I’ve been blessed with a space of time that allows me to choose which balls to juggle and for how long.
Since my NaNoRebellion 2014, I’ve been listing out project to-do’s in the form of my “Where I’m At and Where I’m Going” focus sheets. I’m on the fourth such guide, about to compile yet another for the upcoming month. These allow me to jot down specific areas that need to be addressed, quantify what needs to be done and help me to see progress towards completion in a linear fashion.
In other words, they keep me on task.
Since receiving that new and much needed classical guitar case on Earth Day Continue reading