Response to Phaedrus's question from the Pit

I can’t say who the best classical guitartist around is, but I think John Williams (his name is my name too), William Kannengeiser, and Julian Bream are amond the top.; although, I go by my middle name because of him. There are other up and coming guitarists like Manuel Barrueco(SP? I always spell his name wrong) and Pepe Romero.

The initial three guitarists that I listed all have an exceptional tone and musicianship. There are certain things that each of them do slightly better than the others, but overall the difference is miniscule. M.B. and P.R. are both very good. I took a master’s class with M.B. (as well as many other guitarists both flamenco and classical). Those two are wonderful technicians whose musicality is not quite as well developed as the initial three but they should both become every bit as good as my initial three favorites. I am not by any means saying that I play better than them. I know I don’t play that well, but I aspire to play that way eventually.

The other question that you mentioned was who I thought the most famous classical guitarist is. That is very simple, Andres Segovia. He was the person who revolutionized the guitar as a classical concert instrument. Prior to him, the guitar was mostly known as a pop instrument. This is because the piano took over the part that the lute and the guitar originally had. The guitar went into the background. Granted there were a few classical guitarists such as Sor, Carulli, and Carcassi (yes he wrote something else other than his etudes, and in fact was a wonderful performer if one is to believe the common conjecture of the time); however, these guitarists were not nearly as famous as the pianists at a comparable time. Anyway, back to Segovia, he got off his butt and persued contemporary composers (not necessarily guitarists) to write more repertoire for the guitar. Personally, I don’t think Segovia’s talent compares to any of the guitarists I listed above becuase he was known to forget pieces of his music while playing and stop, make up sections if he did not stop completely, and completely leave out sections if he forgot them. I really respect him and don’t want his concepts to leave the guitar community, it is just my opinions that are backed by initial facts. I would not want him to change in any way. I should say that not all of Segovias performances were riddled with memory lapses, in fact many of them were quite inspired, it is just that in the current extremely competitive world of classical guitar memory lapses and such are not tolerated even if the musicianship is superior.


Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

You’re a classical guitarist! Do you have anything recorded? I would love to hear you. I tried classical for a bit and even got as far as transcribing Vivaldi for the guitar (I love tuning down to C#), but it requires constant practice, and I’m already stretched too thin with my Band.

I noticed you did not mention guitarist and fly-fisher extrodinaire, Christopher Parkenings. Why is this?

Hell is Other People.

Hey Sake,
I have some recordings of me playing the lute as the accompanist to some singers and me playing some background music for another local band floating around San Antonio somewhere. Other than that I don’t have anything else recorded professionally. I am currently working up an album of original pieces that I will be recording very early next year.
I did not mention Christopher Parkening eventhough he plays better than me on a technical standpoint for several reasons. First, he is a technician, not a musician. I never hear any type of soul with his playing but constantly hear him play extremely difficult passages very quickly and with a facility that is now the norm in the professional world. The three main guitarists that I mentioned earlier have this same ability plus the ability to interpret the music for an emotional outlet. Christopher Parkening just does not do this for me. I feel his music lacks that depth overall. I still listen to him every once in a while but generally I feel he plays everything too fast which in turn causes the music to lose the potential for its expressiveness. Actually, all of my gripes about Parkening deal with his musicianship rather than his technique. He is really the Yngwe Malmsteen of the classical world, capable of pulling off difficult things, quickly, and with great facility but as stated earlier without the feelings or emotions behind it. He does have some diamonds in the making. For example, his rendition of Simple Gifts (it’s a theme and variation IIRC) is quite wonderful and has some beginnings of expressiveness. I have heard him play this one in person and it really made me appreciate him more although he still played it way too fast.

You mention transcribing Vivaldi for the guitar. At one time I played the entire Four Seasons in a guitar quartet. It was quite fun. We were too lazy to do any transcribing and since I was the only person who could read Alto clef, I ended up playing the viola line. Later on, in a different guitar quartet, I played the first violin part (the lead). It was quite fun. I am currently transcribing the Tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel for guitar quartet. I would really like to play that again. I arranged select movements of it as a duet for two guitars in college, but have not played them since then. I would really like to get back into that. I should probably put out an add saying that I am looking to form a guitar quartet. :slight_smile:


Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Tombeau & Four Seasons - you must be a good guitarist, indeed. I’ve played in one duet for fun but I was so far beneath the lead player that I was practically extraneous. I’m a really good metronome though!

A quartet sounds like fun if you all can get along. Trios are probably the easiest to manage although for ROCK I’ve grown to love the quintet. Two guitarists add so much to my music.

Another question for you - I’d be interested in your opinion: Recently my friend Jason (also a guitarist) and I were debating the merits of the professional classical guitar world. He holds the field and it’s players in the highest esteem (even that shredder, Parkening) while I contend that proficiency and musical prowess is impotent without creativity. I can appreciate interpretation and passion for a piece, but have always thought that it pales in comparison to the actual writing of said piece. Many can mimic, few can create. Therefore, I often see the classical performers as a sort of glorified cover band. Jason disagrees and holds “original” interpretation to be equal to(and sometimes greater than) source material.

Where do you stand on this?

Hell is Other People.

Sharon Isben! And my opinion is only slightly crowded by having a crush on her.

I don’t have anything against Christopher Parkening, but the stuff he picks to play isn’t always that interesting.

First SqrlCub: I completely agree with two of the top three, Bream and Williams. Kannengeiser is someone with whom I am unfamiliar.

Can you suggest an album I might purchase?

I saw Bream a couple of years ago in Cleveland and it was the first time. I love the man for his musicality but that performance from a technical vantage point was a disaster. He read the music off a stand, make so many errors I couldn’t keep count, and was so boring I went to sleep. Don’t get me wrong we all have bad nights but nights like that? Well, I never had one. He was/is a hero to me and I think his interpretation of pieces is the best I’ve EVER heard! I had him on such a high pedestal that I was VERY disappointed.

My own level of playing is moderate. On a very good night I can play Canarios (the transcription of Bream). I love his version.

Williams? For me he has a technical virtuosity that surpasses everyone. I have a saying,“John Williams plays classical guitar the rest of us just try.” One problem though, the man has the musicality of a gnat. I think his interpretations stink. Just a very outspoken opinion but I have thought this for years. I know Williams tried to bring back the flavor of Spain in his version of Canarios but I think he was wrong to do so. I like Bream’s much better. But then again hey, I’m Irish and it sounds very Irish to me. :wink: Also what was that business with “Sky”? That idiotic rock band thing he tried, was he on acid?

As to Segovia, yes, I think you are dead on.

Nice thread and nice post. I would like to hear you play, you sound like you are VERY GOOD!
ps Your idea about Parkening is how I feel about Williams except that I think Parkening’s finger are wooden compared to Williams.

Parkening, ugh, don’t even bring him up…

That quartet thing must have been a blast!!!

Sake: You sound like a very well rounded musician. I am more like you in that respect. I play a variety of instruments but I haven’t been in a band for a long, long time.

I have a recording of me and Phil Keaggy playing at his house 23 years ago, if you know who that is. He is a virtuoso Christian guitarist that has about 30 alblum out.

A comment on what your friend Jason said. I agree with you that creativity is vital when it comes to music. Any kind. Period. Interpretation is good in its place, but without the creation of the music, it has nothing to interpret.

Boris B: Sharon is a cutey, but I think there are many players that are better.
All of the subjective statements are only my opinion though.

Thanks for the great posts guys!

Phaedrus :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

Sake, I hold most professional classical guitarists in very high esteem, but this does not mean that I don’t think of them as a cover band as your friend mentioned. It should be noted that many composers who have written for the guitar (especially in this century) were not able to play the instrument, and if they were able, only to play rudimentary guitar (ie basic chords/bar chords). They saw a potential that they could not actually achieve and wrote to that potential. When I write classical music, I write for all instruments, yet on many of the instruments I only know the rudiments. (For example, I wrote an organ piece but did not really know how the stops worked. I went in with an organist and had her explain them to me while playing excerpts so I could obtain the sound I desired.) In the instance of the classical world, the composer is the inspiration and the writer of the music, but rarely is he also the performer. This is not 100% true, but it occurs often enough to be the primary source of the given pieces performance. I think my interpretation is more equivalent to a semantic argument. It is more moderate than either of yours or your friend’s (Jason) view.

I should mention that one of my primary Music History teacher, Sister Goretti (PHD) holds a similar view to yours. She believes that a composer is the single most important musician with all of the performers being a relatively minor input. Historically speaking this is mostly true. In the history books such as the Groves dictionary (around 20 volumes), Grout, or even LaRousse, they focus primarily on the composers and their music with relatively few performers mentioned. Those performers that are mentioned were one of the following: also a composer (Bach, Mozart, most of the other big names), a virtuoso performer who revolutionized the given instrument (Vladimir Horowitz, piano), and/or had significant impact on other composers (Segovia, guitar,DUH!).

I believe good performers puts in a significant amount of input on most music that puts them above a typical rock cover band, but not nearly as much as the composer. As a person who currently does both, I have to say that composing is significantly more difficult and time consuming than performing a piece. It is also more nerve racking hear a piece being performed the first time rather than simply performing a given piece. I have had my own pieces played and had interpretations up the wazoo that gave my pieces a significantly different sound than originally envisioned. On the guitar effects can be achieved by playing dolce (over the neck) and pizzacatto(closer to the bridge) rather than in the normal position (around the sound hole). If a performer is good and uses judgement, these type of effects can drastically change the demeanor of the piece and even make a mediocre piece quite interesting and challenging.

Phaedrus, First off, if you are looking for Kannengeiser, I would suggest Echoes of the Old World, particularly for the Koyunbaba Suite by Carlo Dominiconi. He is also a member of the LA Guitar Quartet which is quite fabulous as well. He is one of the modern Italian composers and manages to write things that are very interesting. I played this piece as a student (the first two movements) and it was great fun. If you can get over the unusual tuning it is really fairly easy to play. It took a while in the reading to not be disturbed by seeing a different note than was actually played. (It tunes the guitar’s open strings to a c# minor chord (or d minor if you use the alternate tuning).

Gasper Sanz’s Canarios is an interesting piece. I have played a couple versions but the Bream version is also one of my favorites. If you can find the original manuscript, you can actually make your own version. If I remember correctly, it was originally written for the vihuela (a precursor to the modern guitar) and Williams’s interpretation would be more accurate than Bream’s version. A subjective ear, I feel as is always the case with music, makes the Bream version shine more, in my opinion.

I am very surprised that Bream had so many mistakes and flubs in his performance. I should mention that I rarely go to see guitar performances because all my training as a guitarist makes me notice their mistakes more than the actual music. It makes me significantly more critical of the given performers mistakes than I would otherwise be accustomed to make. When I go out to see music, I will probably go to a symphony, a chamber concert (particularly piano or other small ensembles), or to a folk concert. I am still critical of the guitarists ability at folk concerts, but the stories that the musicians tell usually make staying worthwhile.

You mention Williams’s attempt at a rock band. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I suspect that he was trying to have fun with it (not that he needs money anymore). Rock music is significantly easier to play as you are well aware as having played at least a little bit of classical repertoire (I suspect that you play significanly more than you say in your posting). Rock music is something that most trained musicians can pop out and have memorized in about 15-20 minutes; whereas, classical music usually takes several hours to memorize, depending on how long the piece is, and even more time to perfect the interpretation. I once played in a variety of folk, jazz, punk, hard core, and grind core bands. I learned all of the music (either music I wrote myself or music that another member wrote) within twenty minutes and had it performance ready shortly after that. The discrepancy in learning classical music compared to the more pop styled music is very great indeed. I should mention that jazz music usually took longer to interpret, but the memorization depended on what style I played in jazz (ie, if I played the piece as an extended chord solo). The chord solos took longer to memorize than just the chords, but having a melody with words made it even easier since they provided an extremely facile mnemonic device.

Also mentioned was the fact that Bream played from music. In the overall classical world, this is fine. The recent guitar movement has started to get away with this because Aaron Shearer (retired pedagogue last taught at Peabody Conservatory) developed a Solfege method that made memorization easier. I was not trained in this method, unfortunately, but am now teaching myself the method and find that it makes the pieces easier to memorize. In order to begin learning pieces in this manner you need to be able to read music easily in the first position. His original method had “real music” (by past composers) and was more interesting and the current version has music that he has written himself (it really sucks). The first version is out of print, but if you luck out and find it get an extra copy and I will pay you for it. :slight_smile: His methods are published by Mel Bay and should be readily available. To give you an idea of what his current method’s music is like would not begin to describe the monotony of it. It is actually more boring (albeit a little more challenging) than Mel Bay book one. BLECH!

Well, my $0.02

Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Thanks for the name-dropping. I’m going to trek down to the 'ol record store and see if I can locate “Echoes of the Old World”.

It looks like the guitar will be in the spotlight again - Woody Allen/Sean Penn have a new film loosely based on Django’s life. Penn learned to play the guitar for the role - that’s some tough stuff to start with, though. Django’s fingering is suberb, it’ll be interesting to watch how much they edit his playing.

I’ve been trying to get “nuages” down for the last couple of days - very pretty piece. I am in awe of the man’s improv skills. I’m trying to incorporate some gypsy jazz into one of my tunes I’m writing, so this is good practice. I’ve played drums in two jazz bands (including a year with the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble), but learning it on the guitar is a whole new challenge. To tell you the truth, I think jazz drumming is much harder - my only holdups on jazz guitar are efficient fingering and rapid scales.

Your comments about the relative ease of rock music composition and performance are true, but only to a certain extent. The worlds of classical and rock have very different purposes. Classical is a genre with heavy prestige and ties to the past - for the most part it is rather like a museum; cultured & masterful, but often cold and dead. Rock is full of energy, alive and rapidly changing, but is often devoid of musical integrity and skill: rock musicians often pride themselves on their total inability to read music or learn even the rudiments of theory. The passion and sheer energy many rock bands put into their art makes up for the (usual) discrepency in musical talent. Contemporary classical guitarist play better than ever, but have the stage presence of, say, a large glass of warm milk. Besides, they don’t get as much action as we rock stars do!

Several months ago I saw a documentary on a master guitar craftsman in South America (I believe it was Argentina). This man handcrafts the most exquisite flamenco and spanish classical guitars around. He was, of course, backlogged several years and the price tag for each instrument was something like $10,000. It was a good documentary with some great players too, but I’ve forgotten who the craftsman was - do either of you know?

Hell is Other People.

Hey Sake,
I beg to differ with the stage presence issue. Many classical guitarists have a wonderful stage presence, it just is not the same as a rock musicians stage presence. I can actually give a better example of stage presence by crossing over to the folk genre. The best performer I have ever seen play was Arlo Guthrie. His stage presence did not have anything to do with gimmicks like many rock bands like KISS and their original make-up, George Clinton’s UFO and multicolored dreads, etc. He did not have some external working that made his show great, but was just totally captivating as a performer. I don’t know exactly what this thing was except that everything he said seemed to have interest to it, and he told the most wonderful stories. I figured if bards were still commonplace today that they would be something like him. We really lost something when we got away from our story-tellers. Anyway, classical music isn’t dead and lifeless unless you listen to a performer who makes it dead and lifeless. This can actually happen with any style of music not just classical. Personally, I don’t think Arlo sings or plays very well, but his stage presence makes up for it completely and then some. This equation works the other way around too. I have seen singers (usually the easiest instruement to add recognizable expression to) perform pieces that moved me to tears 99 times out of 100 and go away thinking that I did not pay any attention to them. I knew they were good, they performed everything well, and sang out their hearts, but with all of that, they lacked the stage presence to make me feel as if I connected with them. This thought of course is entirely subjective. Other people may have thought that the singer was wonderful, and in many cases they do. Basically I think the argument of stage presence being different in Rock music than it is in classical music is too subjective to make. There are so many other types of presence around that can not be readily categorized that it should not really be thrown in. Oh, before I leave this statement, I should say that I have never been moved to tears or ecstasy by rock music (well at least not while sober), but I have with classical music. Rock music is more energy related and envigorating (even the depressing songs) than classical music.

Anyway, on the topic of Django, I wonder how they will deal with the fact that he lost two of his fingers on his left hand in a fire? Yes, he actually only played with two finger on the fretboard. I have a boundless respect for Django and think that his ability far surpasses most other guitarists even to this day not only because of his handicup but for his facility on the instrument.


PS Sake, it sounds like you are a pretty rounded musician. I would love to hear you play sometime. I live in DC so I could probably get to see you fairly easily.

Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Hey, Sqrl, I was living in College Park (Berwyn Heights, actually) for several years. My band over there played the old 9:30, Black Cat, Bayou and some hole-in-the-wall joints (like the New Vegas Lounge).

In 1998 I got the urge to move and I ended up here, in lovely Portland, Oregon. The music scene’s good, the scenery is unbeatable, the beer is devine, the people are way more laid back, and I’m not getting in trouble with the police any more! Paradise, right?

I’ll tell you what, though - I’ve still got some connections on the east coast and I go back from time to time. The next time I do, I’ll drop you a line in advance. I’m sure you could teach me a thing or two on guitar.

Hell is Other People.

Pardon me for butting in, but where can I find some info on this Django-based movie that was mentioned? My husband is a guitar player (blues), but his influences are many and varied, and he positively worships Django Reinhardt. I had never heard of him until I met my husband, and he played me some of Django’s stuff. The man was a genius, and being able to do what he did with fingers missing is just amazing.

Okay–I’ll leave you to your discussion now! Thanks!

You’re welcome in the discussion, Cristi! I’m afraid I mislead you a bit. The name of the movie is Sweet and Lowdown, the comic tale of a 20’s/30’s jazz guitarist virtuoso with a maladjusted social life - inspired by Django, but not about him per se. Not a serious biography, but what do you expect from Woody Allen?

BTW: Django played with three fingers, really - that thumb was amazing - he’d often “finger” chords with it over the top of the fretboard. What’s my excuse - I’ve got all my digits. . .maybe if I. . .nah.

Hell is Other People.

Sake, my husband has wondered aloud also about whether or not he could play as well with missing fingers. I personally think he could do okay (not to sound like a braggart or anything, but hubby really is good). I’ve even offered to remove a few, but he won’t let me. :wink:

Thanks for the info about the movie! Sounds kinda cool.