A nice visit from a pro

Earlier this month I invited Christopher Davis, who writes “The Classical Guitar Blog” at http://classicalguitarblog.net, to have a look at my new blog.

He wrote me a nice private email, with some general suggestions on having a succesful blog. He also made some points where he took issue with statements that I made, so I thought I’d address a couple of them.

No, I don’t dislike classical guitarists! I do find them a bit stuffy and overly formal at times, though. It’s not as bad as it used to be, because most classical guitarists my age or younger came up playing rock (which can’t be stuffy) and then decided to cross over into classical because rock was no longer challenging to them, or they had blown out their ears from all the loud amplification, or other reasons. Now when I was a singer in music college, twenty years ago, I was a classical elitist snob in a school where most of the voice majors were studying jazz, country and pop, so I know what it’s like to be a snob. It took me a long while to come down from that.

You may not know me, but all my life I’ve been the kind of guy who wants to figure out different ways to do things from the standard method. Kinda funny since I’m a pretty conservative, conventional guy otherwise. Since 1987, I’ve set my computer keyboards to type according to the Dvorak keyboard layout, for instance. After mastering the traditional QWERTY keyboard layout and using it for ten years, I decided to start over from scratch and learn a totally different system for typing. And I became a much faster and more accurate typist as a result. Still, all these years later, I find myself constantly having to justify to people what the heck Dvorak is and why I insist on using it.

Sometimes I obsess about how to be unconventional, and spend more time thinking up different ways to do things than I spend on actually getting anything done. Call it attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, if you will.

But that’s why I decided to write this blog. You can get authoritative, conventional advice on playing guitar from a lot of places. I want to offer something different, from my own unique, skewed perspective. I plan on not boring you.

Christopher Davis challenged me by writing “a majority of the classical guitar repertoire is not, ‘music that was written for other instruments and ensembles, ‘transcribed’ to fit onto a guitar.”‘ So obviously I disagree with you on many points,…”

Well, he’s right in one sense. There is of course a considerable repertoire of wonderful music composed expressly for the guitar. But that’s not the kind of music that I’m going to be working on, so I won’t be writing much about it.

I’m working with a group that wants to play weddings and casuals, so we are going to be working on the classic Protestant wedding music (iTunes link provided), moldy old stuff like Pachebel’s Canon in D, which was originally written for a string section and a keyboard continuo. We are going to be working on instrumental arrangements of a lot of music that was originally written for singers. Clearly, though, a lot of what classical guitarists, solo or ensemble, learn to play, is stuff that was not originally written for guitar. Think of Albeniz’ Iberia Suite. It was written for solo piano, but you never heard the original solo piano versions. You hear wonderful, challenging transcriptions for solo or duo classical guitar, like those of John Williams in his classic album Echoes of Spain. And the first classical guitar album I really listened to carefully, when I was only 13, was Christopher Parkening‘s In the Classic Style—Bach, which is all transcriptions, including stuff from Scarlatti, Handel and Couperin, pieces originally written for keyboard. Bach lute suites for guitar, anybody? Bach’s cello suites and violin partitas for classical guitar? Big sellers.

Historically, I believe (take issue with me if you like), the classical guitar was rejected by the larger group of classical musicians and listeners as being a mere folk instrument. Classical guitar gained legitimacy when artists made their own arrangements of well-known classical music written for other instruments. A good deal of the classic Segovia and Julian Bream repertoire is older classical music written for other instruments. This is not to discount the brilliant pioneering work of Sor, Tarrega and Giuliani. And we haven’t even addressed 20th and 21st century guitar music–which, again, is not the sort of repertoire I’ll be working on.

In this blog, I’ll try to write mostly about things that I have direct experience with.