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Some Ramblings on My Classical Guitar
Up until the summer of my
Sophomore year in college, the extent of my guitar knowledge was the C and G
cord taught to me by my uncle Warren Pierson.
When he passed away he left behind a steel strung “Patrician” guitar
with a crack in it and tight high-action strings. As fate would have it, I had become a huge
fan of Led Zeppelin by this time and thought that it would be a great idea to
learn how to play some of their songs.
No, I didn’t expect to become another Jimmy Page, but I also knew that I
didn’t want to be one of those people who could “strum anything as long as it
was in the key of G.” So, of course, I
spent the summer of 1976 learning Stairway to Heaven, Over the Hills and Far
Away, and The Rain Song, and writhing in agony avery time I would accidentally
rap the tips of my left hand fingers against any hard surface . To all of those roommates who suffered
through this process, my sincere apologies.
Having zero understanding of
classical music at the time and only a rudimentary understanding of how to read
music (as a result of piano lessons taken for a few months in my early years
from a woman whom I know only as “Mrs. Berry”), I of course decided to check
out some classical guitar sheet music from UCSD’s Central Library and learn to
play it. The pieces that I stumbled
across were the études of Fernando Sor (a separate
collection from the famous 20 études edited by Segovia, but with considerable overlap). I worked on these for several months, not
knowing at the time how valuable they were.
Later, I came across the recording of 20 Sor études by John
Williams. Imagine my surprise when I
discovered that the songs I was playing, while they might have been attractive
and interesting, were certainly not the works of Fernando Sor. Nonetheless, I began paying more attention to
the instructions on the music and pressed on.
I got better, and when I got into graduate school at UCSD I eventually
gave two concerts with some fellow graduate students at the Athenaeum
in La Jolla, mostly as a result of leg work by
Alan Sussman who played piano. One of my
fondest memories of this time, however, was being allowed to “front” for Some Philharmonic
during one of their concerts at UCSD. I
played a piece called “Circus Music” that I wrote along with a version of
“Shortnin’ Bread.” These tunes appeared
in my repertoire through a fondness for folk music and for Blues, brought about
mostly through an association with Dave Adelson. While Some Philharmonic has since been
disbanded, it lives on in its artists, Brian Woodbury and Elma Mayer (among
others) and as a record label.
I thought it might be a good
idea, 15 years after I started playing, to take some guitar lessons, so I had
the good fortune to wander into the studio of George Petsch at what is now Maple
Street Guitars in Atlanta. I learned many things from Georgi, including
how to sit, a skill that I thought I had mastered some time back in 1956, and
how to hold the guitar in such a way that playing became a cooperative effort
between the instrument and myself, rather than an epic battle. After I moved to Baltimore in 1993, I was fortunate to have
the opportunity to take more lessons from Ron Pearl of the Pearl/Grey duo. More than anything else, Ron taught me the
difference between playing the notes on the page and playing the music. He also taught me that one of my fingernails
is warped, a handicap that had never seemed a problem until then, but which
will now plague me for the rest of my life.
Living in Baltimore
also gave me the chance to participate in the Baltimore Classical Guitar
Society, and play in their open recitals. When I moved to Ruston, I was again given the opportunity to
study under an excellent guitarist, Dr. Alan
Goldspiel of the Goldspiel/Provost duo.