I like to write the program notes for concerts I give, and I usually include a brief biography of each of the composers whose pieces are played in the concert. I played a classical guitar concert last Saturday which included works of Tarrega, Mudarra, Sor, Torroba, Turina, Lauro and Albeniz. If you are interested, I have these brief biographies on my website.
As I was inserting Joaquin Turina into my program, I noticed that he died in 1947, the year before I was born. I also noted that one of his best students at the Conservatory in Spain was Celedonio Romero. I found this very interesting because Mr. Romero was the founder of “Los Romeros” a quartet of superb classical guitarists made up of the father, Celedonio, and his three sons, Pepe, Angel, and Celin. When I was at the conservatory studying music theory, and guitar performance, I studied with Pepe and Angel. The “Fandanguillo” by Turina I played in the concert Saturday, was a piece I remember playing for Pepe in a master class many years ago in Houston, Texas.
I found myself lost in a daydream, musing about the direct link I had to Turina, a man I never could have met in person, but had come to know well through studying his compositions. And then to find I had another link to him through the Romeros! It is most wonderful the thought and feeling I have about these connections.
After the concert, there was a reception and a gentleman from Canada came up to me and wanted to visit a bit about guitar and playing. Since I had a nice glass of wine in my hand and was feeling good about the concert, I visited with him. He commented that he had heard many of the pieces before, and that he really liked my interpretation of them. I thanked him for the kind words. Then he told me that he was interested in playing guitar as well, but wanted to learn folk and the “dobro”, and slide guitar. I smiled and said:”long ago I decided to specialize in classical music and study only the Classical Guitar. I do not feel comfortable or competent on any other kind of guitar or music.” To which he responded:”why would anyone spend the thousands of hours necessary to learn classical guitar when everyone knows that the real money is in rock guitar? Surely you cannot be making a lot of money playing classical music. No one listens to it anymore.” This left me feeling a bit shocked and stunned, and fortunately, at that point, I was unable to answer him, for a nice lady interrupted us and said that there was someone I had to meet. I thanked him and moved on to meet this new person and hopefully garner another glass of wine.
But later the next day, I started thinking about “why do I play this instrument and classical music”? The first reasons I came up with were quite obvious, I absolutely love to play classical guitar, and I truly appreciate the music. In fact, I often feel guilty practicing, for it is pure enjoyment to me, even when I am struggling with fingering or interpretation. However, there is more. It all goes back to what I was saying earlier about the link and connection to the composer.
When I get totally involved in learning a piece of music and then performing it, I often get this feeling that I know the composer, know them personally, and want to honor them with an excellent performance of their music that they wrote so long ago. The crossing of the generational gaps of time to connect with the thoughts and feelings of these composers is really a spiritual experience for me. And I am honored to be a part of the chain bringing the music of those long since passed – to a living audience of today.