I am in Brownsville, Texas participating in the 11th Annual Brownsville Guitar Festival and Competition with the UT Undergraduate Guitar Quartet. We were lucky enough to receive the Undergraduate Travel Grant from the UT College of Fine Arts, and as part of that grant, we are blogging about our experience at www.4classicalguitar.wordpress.com. Yesterday we competed in and won the collegiate quartet division of the competition. Tonight, the Texas Guitar Quartet will be performing a concert, and tomorrow night the LA Guitar Quartet will perform. Both groups are great, and I’m looking forward to their performances.
Last Wednesday evening I injured the middle finger of my left hand. I was playing Ultimate frisbee and was trying to catch the disc near the ground; my middle finger encountered the ground in such a way that it tore or stretched the flexing tendon of the tip joint of the finger. The condition is called mallet finger or baseball finger, and the consequence is that I will have to keep the tip joint of that finger straight for six to eight weeks which means wearing a splint for that amount of time. My finger should heal, but it will mean reduced guitar playing in the mean time. I say reduced because I can still practice right hand technique, i.e. plucking the guitar, and I can still play most guitar ensemble repertoire with the remaining fingers of my left hand. In fact, I will be traveling to Brownsville, Texas with the guitar quartet I’m in at UT tomorrow to compete in the Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition. It was a little iffy at first whether or not we’d be able to compete, but I’ve found that I can play all the pieces with the exception of a couple of parts which I’ve traded with another member of the quartet.
Yesterday I drove out to Enchanted Rock with my family. Enchanted Rock is an exposed portion of a giant granite batholith which protrudes roughly 400 feet above the surrounding Texas hill-country. Visiting Enchanted Rock is always fun, but this time I had a special purpose in mind. When visiting Enchanted Rock a year ago, I had found a certain place on the rock which I thought could serve as a performance space for playing guitar. This time I brought my guitar to test it out.
The space is about a quarter of the way up the rock on the southwest side facing Little Rock in the southern part of Echo Canyon. Looking up the rock towards the summit, there is a semi-circular wall or stair-step about 10 feet high which creates a natural spacial boundary like a clearing in a forest. On top of the stair step and centered on the arc, there are two large rectilinear boulders. Along the base of the arc, there are small rounded boulders scattered about. After testing out various performance positions I found that the space offers two good ones. The first is sitting on one of the small boulders at the base of the arc. In this position, the performer is a part of the landscape and close to the audience. The sound travels well but is not amplified. The second position is on top of the arc and in front of the two large boulders. This position is picturesque and grand, but the performer is separated from the audience and seems a bit removed. This position would work best if the audience is large and the first position would work best if the audience is small.
It felt good to play on the rock. There is something about playing in nature that makes me drop stylizations and pretensions from my playing and just let the music flow naturally.
As I was playing and testing the space out, I saw people taking pictures of me from afar. I can just imagine them saying, “Look! A guitarist!” as if I were an unusual specimen of wildlife or something. As I was packing up, a family saw me and asked if I would play for them. I obliged and played Leo Brouwer’s “Un Dia de Noviembre.”
I was glad to test out this performance space. Even though it is not the most accessible of performances spaces, it is a great one and has flexibility for two different types of performance. Now the project will be finding an audience.
I am introducing a new feature on this blog called “Tip of the Season” where, every three months, I will post about something I think might be helpful for classical guitarists. Advice will range from technique to musicality and from the practical to the philosophical. While this advice will be directed towards guitarists, my hope is that anyone will be able to glean something from it. I took this “Tip of the Season” idea directly from my favorite classical guitarist, David Russell, who used to have an identical feature on his website. It is because of David Russell’s “Tip of the Season” that I now always carry a hair comb with me in my guitar case. “You never know when you might be asked to play a concert!” I’ve never used the comb, but the comb reminds me of David Russell’s practicality, musicianship, and generosity.
After a highly competitive final round, Chad Ibison, a master’s student at UT, took home first prize. Another Austinite, Vijay Meunier, won first prize in the high school division of the competition. Both are friends of mine, and I am proud of them! That Austin took home two of the three top prizes in this international competition is a testament to the strength of the classical guitar community in this city.
Duo Melis played a wonderful concert last night to close the festival. My favorite piece on the program was Enrique Granados’s Valses Poeticos which the duo played with brilliance and nuance. The best part of the performance, however, was the duo’s impeccable togetherness. Through all the fast scales, lyrical rubato, and complex rhythms, the duo maintained its balance and cohesion. There is nothing more exciting and beautiful than world class chamber music, and this concert was no exception.
I had a great masterclass with Susana Prieto of Duo Melis. I played John Dowland’s “Tremolo” Fantasy, P. 73, and she worked with me on playing the piece with more attention to line and direction. She also suggested an articulation which will highlight some of the syncopations in the music.
Correction: In the last post, I said that two of my fellow guitar students at UT moved to the final round of the competition, but in fact only Chad Ibison did.
I competed in the semifinal round of the competition this morning! I played the second and third movements of John Duarte’s Homage to Lauro and the Allegro movement from J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata in A minor BWV 1003. I did not make the finals, but two of my fellow students at UT, Chad Ibison and Janet Grohovac, did! I will be playing in a masterclass with Duo Melis this evening.