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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It pays to revisit old pieces sometimes...

I have been struggling with some new skills recently.  The first?  More comprehensive damping of strings - starting with identifying where they need to be damped, figuring out which hand is available to do the damping, and then finally trying to choreograph it while actually playing the notes!  This is still a work in progress.  At least I fondly hope and anticipate there will be some progress at some point...   Tapping your head and rubbing your tummy is child's play by comparison.  (Oh wait, that is child's play 😉).  The second is to shift around the fretboard without adding a whole boatload of tension.  I seem to have failed to grasp the concept that relaxing during the shift is a much better way of shifting than tightening up.  Seems obvious in retrospect doesn't it? Again - working on it.  Don't hold your breath.

While struggling with these apparently immovable obstacles, I've been more than a little frustrated.  Throwing balls for the puppy has become a too-attractive substitute.    However I started to relearn an old piece, the beautiful "Un Dia de Noviembre" by Leo Brouwer.   I've heard that it's difficult to incorporate improved technique into a piece where there is old muscle memory - and indeed if I'm not concentrating - off I go automatically again.    However there are some rewards as well as challenges to applying new technique to old pieces. For instance in the Brouwer second half I could never actually play all the notes with the barre, but now I can - and in that same section the previously- fudged slurs show hope that they will emerge nice and clean.  If pushed, I can now play the piece in time with a metronome rather than adding in technique-related pauses, and my improved knowledge of the fretboard means that reading the notes has not been a major hurdle in itself.  And for the rhythmically challenged (ie me) I was able to check the tricky timing by inputting it into Musescore.  Now just need to practice
I like this version - low key and doesn't rush...
So although the major challenges of the day remain unconquered, there have been small successes... I'll take what I can get, and keep working on it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

OK done! What's next?

When I get focused - everything else goes out the window (metaphorically speaking).  I was determined to get the videos submitted for the certificate, and as the opening date for submissions approached, it seemed I was doing nothing else guitar wise apart from trying to get to a point where I could play all the pieces in a row without too many errors.   It worked - I submitted the videos at the weekend, breathed a big sigh of relief, and ... well  no I haven't got straight onto all those other projects that got put on hold after all.  Instead in the last few days I've indulged myself by learning fragment of a simple but beautiful JS Bach piece (BWV 1056) arranged by Edson Lopes.    Working for the certificate really demonstrated to me the stages a piece goes through in development - there's the initial "learn the notes" stage where you can kinda play it through with the music.  Then there's the memorization stage - where dynamics and phrasing is being added but mostly just trying to get a picture in my head to follow.  Then there is the recapitulation stage after I get some feedback from my GT - this can cycle a number of times - and finally there is the practice performance, where eventually I hope to be able to pick up the guitar and play it through cold - perhaps not at its best but still take a decent shot at it.   So this piece is at the "I just memorized it" stage - it takes multiple attempts to get through it without forgetting the next bit or misplacing a bass note, and as yet there's precious little in the way of organization.  Stay tuned for the "after input' stage! 😂

And when I feel like concentrating again - maybe another Bach piece now I seem to be in that headspace - Prelude #1 is on the list for the next certificate (perhaps be ready next year) so I might start work on that.  Though I suspect it is going to take me quite a long time to get that one under my fingers!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Nearly there...

I've been practicing for a "certificate" with Simon Powis' online Classical Guitar Academy, so haven't had a lot of new stuff to post recently.  Taking a semester off orchestra, not learned any new pieces- this is getting to be a lot like work!  However I am spending more time with the video as I find it very useful to see what I sound like (as opposed to what I think I sound like).  Maybe one day the 2 will sync up!  So although I have a bunch of "so-so" takes of the overall performance, I haven't really got one I'm happy with yet.  However I am getting better at those D# slurs in Adelita, so in celebration I'm posting a practice video of that piece - see below - then the secret will be to actually nail them when it counts!
Oh and here is all the stuff that has been on hold while I have been working at the certificate pieces
Figure out CG arrangement for duet with electric bass:  "fly me to the moon"
Duet with CG partner:     "Sicilienne" - Faure
Figure out accompaniment to my singer songwriter friend's latest song so we can play it at local club
Pagina de Radio - Pujol
Promise - Joanne Bloor
Wild Mountain Thyme - trad arranged by Scott Tennant
And there are others..... 


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Summer Guitar Camps - for adults... compared

I had the distinct pleasure of attending 2 classical guitar "summer camps" this year , and while they    are still fresh in my mind (just finished the Peabody Summer Guitar Intensive yesterday) here's my take on them.  But before I get into the specifics, a short digression on having a hobby in a niche field such as classical guitar.  After all, it's not, say, baseball or bluegrass, where you only need turn the corner to find people who are similarly fascinated.   Access to teachers, orchestras, playing partners and opportunities to socialize with other guitarists are limited, particularly if you don't live in a major metropolitan area with a music school.  On the flip side, as an adult amateur enthusiast, in what other field would you have the opportunity to be taught by truly world class artists??

So to the summer camps - the first was the classical guitar corner (CGC) camp in Massachusetts run by Simon Powis, and the second was the Peabody summer guitar intensive (PBI) run by Zane Forshee.

Both had the core activity of small ensembles and a larger orchestra of all participants.  You work on the pieces all week and give a performance on the last day.  Wow!  I'm used to working on the music for weeks/months so this was quite a challenge, but somehow it works.  The teachers/conductors are truly miracle workers!

The Music 
In CGC we got the music on the first day.   Each ensemble had its own music geared to skill level - and obviously easy enough that you could get it to a performance standard in less than a week.  Because this camp is anchored by an online site where guitarists post videos of their playing, the organizers were able to assess fairly well where most people would be comfortable.  The camp is open to all, and for non-subscribers, self-reporting about repertoire presumably guides the decisions.  However, because we didn't get the music until the first day, it was pretty seamless to switch groups if you found the music too challenging ( or wanted more of a challenge).  The aim being to get involved and have a good time!    On the whole this works quite well, although I will say that it's not a perfect system: in my group we struggled to get the repertoire down in the time available and ended up dropping one piece. However despite some pretty rocky rehearsals, it all came together on the final day!
In PBI, the adults were all in the same ensemble group ... parts and music were sent out the previous week so we had the chance to familiarize ourselves with it beforehand.  Many of the participants in this camp were students of the teaching faculty so it was pretty obvious what we were capable of - otherwise I guess it was self reporting.  In practice the ensemble pieces was well chosen to be easily doable in the time available.  One notable feature of this camp  - there was a lot of friendly  support from conservatory students and teachers, who sat in and backed up us up where necessary (and believe me, it was necessary for the large orchestra piece, which was Ben Verdery's "Ellis Island" taught and conducted by none other than Ben Verdery himself).

The participants
 CGC is big - in its second year there were 50 adult guitarists from all over the world and 6 teachers (Simon Powis, Dave Belcher, Fred Hand, Janet and Raffaele Agostino and Ben Verdery).  Many of the students have "met" and interacted extensively online (or in last year's camp),  so it was like a reunion when we all came together in person.  In fact this was one of the key features of this camp - the friendly camaraderie and chance to get to know people from so many different backgrounds and parts of the world who are truly enthusiastic about learning guitar...  The social aspect was enhanced because everyone was living and eating together on site at the beautiful Endicott college in Beverley MA (though the dorm beds were definitely not for the faint of heart).

PBI in its first year was small - 11 guitarists and 5 teachers (Zane Forshee, Julian Gray, Ben Verdery, Zoe Johnston Stewart and James Keretses)  plus a bunch of conservatory students who sat in, playing beautifully of course, and helped us out when we got stuck. Participants were all local, and split between the junior (8-15) and adult groups in 2 separate programs.  All of us in the adult group knew each other from the local guitar orchestra.  I have to say that it was an extraordinarily friendly and supportive atmosphere and just great to meet and get to know the faculty and some of the conservatory students.

The Schedule
CGC was hectic.   We were on the go from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. The daily schedule included fairly intense small ensemble rehearsals, large orchestra rehearsals, 2 half-hour lesson/masterclasses (during the course of the week),  a lecture/presentation and a concert.   Faculty gave concerts on 3 nights, students had an open mic on one night (very popular!) and the final ensemble/orchestra performances on the last night.  The camp participants and significant others made up the audience for the faculty concerts, and the student concert (though attended primarily by faculty) was streamed live on the CGC facebook page.   Space  in between was filled by eating (cafeteria food was excellent and varied), socializing, practicing for the various performances and masterclasses and watching others who were doing masterclasses. Although I thought twice about performing in the lessons, in the end I was glad I did...  getting feedback from teachers who have different training and perspective was thought provoking.  Together with the new friends made, it was one of the main things I took away from this camp.

The PBI schedule was in some ways the same (ensemble and orchestra rehearsals) and in some ways different.  PBI was much more instruction-based - the day started with an hour and a half on technique (with guitar of course), followed by another hour and a half of masterclass-cum-enrichment session.  These morning sessions were where the camp really stood out - the adult classes were conducted by 3 outstanding, gifted and entertaining teachers (Zane Forshee and Julian Gray from the Peabody Conservatory and Ben Verdery from Yale).   I learned such a lot this week that I will be processing it for a while - how to practice, warm up exercises, how to learn a piece,  how to memorize, what to think about when performing to defeat stage fright... how to shape your nails, (and get a manicure in process :))... the list goes on.  Also being coached by Julian Gray for the ensemble was a huge learning experience - he threw in so much additional information in the course of practicing the pieces (exactly how many ways are there to indicated "go slower" anyway???) Obviously I didn't get to sit in on the junior group, but they had a pretty exciting schedule in addition to their ensemble practice - activities included performing in the Penn train station (garnering $45 for the snack fund!) and a session in the Peabody recording studio.  Oh to be a kid again...! As in CGC there were 3 outstanding faculty performances in the evening plus the student performance night, where everyone performed admirably, with a special mention for the kids!  There was an outside audience for the faculty concerts in the gorgeous Griswold Hall of the conservatory, and friends and family for the student concert in the more casual Byrd Hall.

The location
CGC was at the beautiful Endicott college in Beverley MA.    All participants and teachers lived in the dorm rooms, which were nice by dorm room standards (we had private baths) but not exactly palatial.  I managed to take too few warm clothes (again- it's colder than you would think in June!) and spent several nights sleeping in pretty much ALL my clothes until it warmed up later in the week.  My down sweater is going with me next year.   The food was great, the surroundings were calming and the arrangements ran like clockwork.  Because we were all on site and there was alcohol (!) the evening socials in the dorm rec room were well attended...:)

PBI was in the Peabody conservatory in Mount Vernon downtown Baltimore.   Key features were - learning not to get lost in the maze of buildings (!) and meeting up in the same homeroom with the same people for all activities.  We ate in the onsite cafeteria, where the food was not bad - the staff were helpful (they twice cooked me special meals without gluten) and most days we got to eat outside in the plaza.  If we had had more time for lunch, it would have been nice to explore the local restaurants though.  We were all commuting, so not the same opportunities for socializing outside lunch, but personally I needed the downtime to recover for the next day!

The cost, the takeaway.
The costs for CGC were relatively high - in addition to tuition you had to factor in the costs of travel and paying for accommodation and food.  However getting away for a week made it more like a vacation, and by the standards of a truly excellent vacation it was well worth it.  Major takeaways for me - I got new things to think about from the lessons, I conquered my fear in several "performance" opportunities, and I got an "aha" moment from Simon Powis' lecture on harmonic analysis.   Most importantly I feel like I made new friends and had a complete break from the usual routine.    I'll be back next year!

PBI tuition tuition costs were very reasonable, and apart from parking (under the building) and buying lunch, that was it.  Major takeaways were - wow - I learned so much it's hard to summarize, but perhaps the things that stand out (apart from Julian Gray's amazingly erudite teaching style and Ben Verdery's stories) were the fabulous teaching, the performance opportunities,  the ability to get to know the faculty and fellow students in a small group setting, and the many many things I learned.  I can't wait for next year!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Taking Time

It's funny how we are aware that some things are important when playing guitar, yet fail to implement them until they rise to the top of the priority pile...  this week the need to "take time" was that thing for me.  Of course I didn't realize it was going to be that thing, this week...  Coincidentally I was listening to Matt Palmer's  approach to Torroba's Andante,  and I just had to marvel at his masterful timing resulting in a gloriously unhurried approach.  Not that I thought it had relevance to my personal playing odyssey until I asked my GT why I was repeatedly failing to nail all dynamics I wanted in the De Visee Prelude (not to mention making stupid little mistakes).  I asked the question really hoping that it would be something I could change and instantly fix (could it be my left hand thumb yet again?) Nope - it was all about the timing.  My GT pointed out that I needed to take time: time to phrase it correctly, time to relax, time to avoid rushing to the next phrase (and under no circumstances to  -hateful word -'grab').  Each time I felt the need to rush to the next part I tensed up, making it infinitely more likely I would make a mistake and/or fail to execute the dynamics I could hear in my head.

So this week's practice is to actively work on relaxing into the phrasing...  So here's a question - I wonder if it is possible to meditate while playing the guitar???

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Taking Stock

Endicott College: site of summer school
It's been a long time since my last post, and I have to admit that I haven't felt quite the enthusiasm for posting on my progress recently - mostly because there hasn't been much progress!  Guitar Summer School was a blast - enjoyed the camaraderie, the ensembles, the workshops, the get-togethers - and even the duet with my one-time-a-year duet partner went reasonably well.  However on arriving back home it was really hard to get back into regular practice -  particularly as I brought home our new labradoodle puppy (pictured below) the following day.  She looks like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth but I can assure you just about everything else goes in there and comes out demolished 😧

However now it's time to take stock and get re-oriented.  I am still working towards my goal of submitting a level 3 certificate by the October 1 deadline, so for the last week I've been starting my practice with running through the required technical exercises, with a view to recording them and getting them out of the way.  I thought I nearly had them until I tried to run the whole set all at once - about 20 mins - .... reminds me of when my husband took up the triathlon and blithely commented that he could swim/bike/run the required distances no problem so of course he could do a triathlon.

Sprint Triathlon—750 meter (0.465 mile) swim / 20 kilometer (12.5 mi) bike / 5 km (3.1 mi) run
Standard or Olympic Triathlon—1.5 kilometer (0.93 mile) swim / 40km (25 mi) bike / 10 km (6.2 mi) run

   That was when he found that doing them one after the other was a whole different ball game!   For guitar, keeping concentration on what you are supposed to be doing for that long is hard!  I'm still fighting with the artificial harmonics, but otherwise things are coming along, with the possible exception of the 6-string scales, which I absolutely cannot get up to the required tempo.  Back to slow practice increasing just one click a day...  And I pretty much have 4 of the 5 pieces where I want them when played singly ... the ante- will be upped this week when I try to play them one after the other for my GT.  I had a great lesson with Fred Hand  at summer school on Maria Luisa, and I really like the way it is sounding.   Stay tuned, I'll try to record it and add it to this post later.   Adelita still needs cleaning up and I have to work on the dreaded D# slur, but it's a lot closer than it was.
The only thing I am still really not getting my head around is the improvisation... gotta remember to ask GT how I should approach it - if I have to memorize static scale patterns and shift them on the fly as the chords change,  I might as well give up now 😐

What did I take away from summer school?

  • I need to sit the guitar up straighter and look at my left hand less, so I've been working on that.   My left hand is not at all accurate when I don't watch it, but I'm hoping practice will help, so I've been playing the Prelude,  Sor D major and Carcassi 7 mostly without looking.  I think there are parts I'm still going to have to glance to make sure I'm in the right place, but I do find I can concentrate on the dynamics, tone, and what's coming up next much better when I'm not watching my left hand.  
  • Not looking and better LH positional sense will of course help with sight reading - which is the the other elephantine task I need to work on.  I'm doing a mediocre job of sight reading exercises a couple grades lower than my repertoire pieces at the moment (sadly that's sight reading exercises a couple grades down, not solo pieces).  Still - last year I spent only a few months practicing sight reading , this year I plan to start off every day with sight reading for 15 mins!  We'll see how that goes...😏
  • I felt a lot better about performing the duet this year, so the efforts I've been making to get performance practice have been helping.   I need to get back into it!   Haven't done anything since I got back, but I did play my certificate pieces for my daughter and her boyfriend this week - they were the ideal audience - busy checking out their phones and not really listening lol!!!
And I still have another guitar "camp" to look forward to in my hometown at the end of the month,  where I'll be joining several guitar orchestra colleagues (and a bunch of young adults) at a summer guitar intensive run by the Peabody preparatory.  I have no doubt it will be a different experience (for a start, I'll not be "vacationing" out of town).  I'm hoping to learn a lot from the world-class guitarists and accomplished teachers, including Ben Verdery, Julian Gray, James Kerestes, Zoe Johnstone Stewart, and Zane Forshee.  

Friday, June 8, 2018

Time for Guitar Camp!

I personally have not been counting down the minutes (unlike Roger 😉) until Classical Guitar Corner's adult summer school next week, but as the days approach I'm getting increasingly excited...  it was just so much fun last year.  I really didn't expect it to be so good - after all, the whole thing is anchored by rehearsals - rehearsals for smaller ensembles of 6-12, and for the whole crowd (this year I believe 50 guitarists!)   There was something about everyone being in the same boat (you've never seen this music before and you have to play it in concert in 5 days?  No problem!) and working together towards a common goal...  Not to mention lots of laughter with people who are equally obsessed with learning this instrument that is both impossible and inspiring.    Ben (Verdery) of course took everything just so seriously (not!) and Raffaele's (of duo Agostino) deadpan sense of humor had us in stitches on a regular basis during our small ensemble rehearsals - good job Janet got us all under control for the large orchestra...  Gotta shout out to Dave Belcher, who did everything from coaching to playing in concert and running round organizing.  New this year, Fred Hand will be teaching too - can't wait!  But this come-togetherness for support was everywhere - from the cafeteria to the open mic (when so many people were encouraged to have a go that we all had to sign up in advance this year!) And thanks to Simon (Powis - the organizer of this wonderful event) the impromptu/occasional "extras" (lubricated get togethers in the evening, yoga for guitarists by Evita Powis, BBQ day) have now become fixtures - I wonder what else will be added on an impromptu basis this year? perhaps a jam? Mandatory ocean dip? (kidding).  I will most definitely be reporting on this after my return... but I'm hoping that time s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s out while I'm there.   However I will be able to console myself when it's over - there will still be the very first Peabody Summer Guitar Intensive right on my doorstep to look forward to later in the summer 😊.