Spring Break in California
(This was written in Spring, 2011)
I just got back in to New York late last night after Juilliard’s spring break. My time, spent in California, was refreshing and I feel like I have enough in me now to make it through the next two months until graduation....
I mostly took it easy in terms of performing (though I did confuse my “century”s and “100”s at this performance at the American Guitar Society (see above), but I did dedicate some time to setting up concerts for next year, when I’ll be back in L.A. A bass-baritone friend of mine was in town, visiting and auditioning for the young artist’s program at L.A. Opera. Being friends with a singer, and non-guitarists generally, has allowed me many new perspectives on the guitar world.
I’m happy with increased standards of technique which the guitar has gone through in the past few decades. Our pedagogy has been put through a virtual time warp, putting guitarists on par with those other instrumentalists whose traditions run much deeper. But I’m unhappy about what’s been lost in this “Technical Revolution.” In fact, I think that the whole process is rather like a pendulum: a generation of guitarists will be known for sometimes excessive forms of musicality: too much rubato, or an affected style. The next generation, in response, will reject what came before and adopt a much more precision-based attitude to the instrument, with a sometimes bare-bones approach to interpretation. The problem is that plenty of guitarists can be awarded several degrees and win many, many competitions without ever listening to anything besides these precision-based players. This kind of immersion leads to an emulation of those guitarists, which creates, in part, the culture of precision-based playing which exists now.
That’s part of the reason why I came out to New York: to get away from that “guitarists-playing-for-other-guitarists” culture. My first year here, I roomed with an oboist. The role the oboe plays in the orchestra is one in which precision is assumed. But within that, what distinguishes an oboist--what they aspire to-- is a high quality of sound and phrasing, of vibrato and expression. I guess the name of the game is to strive for a vocal quality in playing. We guitarists are lucky in that our instrument is capable of such quality-- of vibrato, of portamento, etc. Our instrument is not like the piano, where every pitch is both literally and figuratively black and white: there is no space in between the half steps in which there is so much possibility for expression.
So if it’s too much a strain to immerse yourself in some old Segovia, Barrios, or Llobet recordings because of their mannerisms or lack of precision, why not try out some Heifetz? or Casals? Then again, why not go straight to the source and emulate vocalists? Although I’m still relatively new to this approach, incorporating it has become the most exciting part of my practice and performance.
(This was written in late 2011)
I was asked to write a short essay about my “Desert Island Album”-- the one album I couldn’t live without. Here’ goes:
I had mentioned this assignment in an e-mail to a friend, a man who is best summed up in the wordebullient in the sense not necessarily of cheerfulness but rather the one that tends to characterize boiling water. In his response he brought up the John Cusack vehicle High Fidelity, based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same title, in which the lead character runs a record store and has a habit making impromptu “top five” lists--albums, breakups, whatever. I mention the character of my friend only to pair it with the fact that he often High Fidelity-ized reality, pegging people in his life as a type defined in the film: this person as a “Dick” kind of person, or that one as a “Barry.” Why someone whom I’ve already associated with boiling water would choose to view his world through these glasses, tinged with their turn-of-the-century rom-com hue, is something that I have never really thought about because it so often turned out to be a fine way of coping with the variety of people one meets at music school. The friend had long ago identified me with John Cusack’s character, and so when I tried to come up with my top five albums for him, I was surprised at how un-promptly the list came.