Artist Spotlight and Interview with Julia Lange

Young German crossover guitar star, Julia Lange appears equally at ease playing classical, steel string, and funk. Versatile is perhaps an understatement. As a D’Addario sponsored artist, Julia has been seen on stages across Europe and China playing her wonderful arrangements, with her funk band, with other great musicians, and performing standard classical repertoire. With an enviable command of the guitar and guitar styles, her virtuosic technique comes across in a wonderfully relaxed and musical manner. Fortunately, Julia had some time to share a bit about her guitar journey with Six String Journal. Enjoy!

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially? 
I started playing guitar when I was 8 years old. My older brother used to take guitar lessons and he wanted to quit at that time so it was my chance to get his guitar. He gave me the very first lessons but in return I had to give him all my pocket money… soon we started fighting and I went to a proper guitar teacher.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 
I enjoy playing all kinds of music from classical guitar to Fingerstyle and electric guitar with my band mates. 

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
I perform with my “Jakob Lebisch” classical guitar and my “Battiston” Steelstring guitar. I use D’Addario strings.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you? There were many guitarists that influenced me but the ones who also changed my life in a certain aspect were for example Tatyana Ryzhkova, because her wonderful YouTube channel inspired me to start my own YouTube channel that opened so many doors for me. Tommy Emmanuel and Andy McKee were the first artists that inspired me to do my own thing, to make my own arrangements and start a new chapter. Later on I started composing and arranging for classical guitar as well. Last year was again a changing point when I discovered the Funk band Vulfpeck and I totally fell in love with Cory Wong’s awesome rhythm guitar playing and that made me pick up my electric guitar and start a Funk band with friends. 

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd? Right now I just have my YouTube videos but I hope to publish an album soon. But I’m right now working on my Funk band’s first EP that we’ll publish probably at the end of the year.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about? Since the beginning of Covid there are many cancelled concerts and hardly any new concert requests, I hope to be on stage soon again and perform the concerts I was supposed to have in China this year or my prize winners concert for the “Lichtenberger Musikpreis” at Schloss Lichtenberg. The online living-room concert I made for the German TV channel ZDF & ARTE was one of the highlights of the lockdown time.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way? I almost always start with some warming up exercises before I play but I can’t say exactly how much I “practice” per day because it makes a big difference for me whether I arrange something new, improvise or really practice and prepare for concerts but I spend pretty much all my free time with my guitar. 

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
I think I still find myself working and will always find myself working on all kinds of things. No matter how good you are, no matter how much you work there is no end. It could simply always be better. Which might sound terrifying but it’s awesome, because it never gets boring. Where I’d like to put more focus on the next years is improvising and composing music. And of course on electric guitar I still feel like a beginner, it’s a long way to go. 

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I enjoy using the technique of “mental practice” to memorize things better and I think that analysing the piece is a big help for a solid memory.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?  I have some warming-up exercises that I really love and I’m sharing little tutorials about them on my Patreon page, feel free to check it out: https://www.patreon.com/julialange

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
Not really.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
As my nails have to survive not only classical guitar nylon strings but also steel strings, I use a gel layer that I harden with a UV-light lamp. Just the way the ladies are doing it in those fancy nail studios but I make the layer rather thin.

Advice to Younger Players


What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?Set yourself specific goals. For example take part in competitions, get concerts, make videos and work towards a specific aim that motivates you! I found for myself that this is the only way to really get yourself out of your comfort-zone and improve.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why? I think the most important repertoire is the repertoire and the pieces that you really want to play from the bottom of your heart and not the repertoire that someone else tells you to play. What I’d love to see more in conservatories are teachers encouraging their students to write their own tunes based on what they’ve learned for example from the classical pieces they play. Exploring the endless possibilities of making music and the freedom we have in expressing ourselves.

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
“Getting things done” by David Allen is a book that I really highly recommend to all kinds of independently working artists and people.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 
I do some sports, sometimes, could be more if I’m honest but I think I eat quite healthy although my cake consumption is pretty high. I don’t follow any diet and my favorite pre-concert food is bananas.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I love being outside in nature and spending time with family and friends.

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More about Julia:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg2K_7mrkygu0xmCQ6v9Chg

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/julia.lange.guitar/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/julialange

Lessonface: https://www.lessonface.com/instructor/julia-lange

Artist Spotlight and Interview: Michael Kolk

Hailing from Canada, guitarist Michael Kolk has been praised by Liona Boyd as, “…one of the most brilliant and expressive guitarists I have heard in my time.” Known for his musicianship, his technique, and his interpretive abilities, Kolk is one of Canada’s top guitarists. Despite the quiet performance scene at this time, he has just launched a wonderful CD of 20th Century Guitar Sonatas. Fortunately, he had a bit of time to share some of his insights with Six String Journal. Hope this inspires you all.

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What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings? I perform mostly on a Martin Blackwell spruce/cedar double top from 2015. It’s a very rich, full, warm sounding guitar, but with ample tonal variety as well. I have a really nice Roberto de Miranda traditional cedar as well that was my main guitar since 2007, and I still play it, though not much in concert anymore – the Blackwell projects better. I used Savarez New Cristal/Cantiga for years, but I’ve recently switched to Alliance trebles. I had tried them and couldn’t ever get used to them, but recently I warmed up to them and figured out how to make them work for the sounds I want.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you? Julian Bream was the first big influence – he was the guitarist that really excited me when I was a teenager (aside from Jimi Hendrix, but that’s a different story…) There are so many great guitarists these days, but I guess in terms of influence I’d say Fabio Zanon, Roland Dyens, and then two guitarists whom I’m very close with, my former teacher Jeffrey McFadden, and my long time duo partner Drew Henderson. I’ve learned a lot by playing with both of them and just sharing ideas about guitar,

Michael Kolk and Drew Henderson (HK Guitar Duo) playing Ravel

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about? Things are pretty quiet right now – as I’m writing we’re in the middle of the Covid pandemic, so concerts are not happening, and I haven’t pursued online performances. Last year, however, I was really busy with projects. I was playing concerts with the HK Guitar Duo, as well as a couple with a violinist named Laurence Kayaleh, and working on a solo recording of 20th Century Guitar Sonatas which I chose to edit and release myself. Laurence and I also recorded an album of violin/viola and guitar Sonatas by Ferdinand Rebay which was recently released on Naxos. So I’ve been taking a bit of a break from playing classical music and have been exploring creating music by recording rock songs and studying composition. Whether this work ends up seeing the light of day or not, I felt it was important to try writing my own music to develop my creativity, and gain a deeper understanding of music, from a composer’s perspective. I remember Roland Dyens saying in a masterclass that we should all be both performers and composers, and it makes a lot of sense to me. 

Michael playing ‘Round Midnight (Monk/Dyens)

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
These days I practice strategically, mostly. I don’t have as much time as when I was younger, to just sit down and play without a real structure. I usually practice in 30 minute segments. I put on a timer and make sure to get up and walk around a bit when the time is up. If I’m on a roll I’ll sit down right away and do another session, or I might take a break and do something else and come back to the guitar when I’m fresh again. The total amount of time depends on what’s going on in my life. If there are other projects that need attention I may not play much for a couple weeks. When I have performances or recordings coming up I aim for 3 solid hours of practice in a day. If I’m focussed during that whole time, I can’t really handle much more practice. I may play guitar beyond that, but it would be more messing around or playing for fun. 

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Tremolo has always been a struggle for me. It takes a lot of work to get it flowing and it never feels totally secure. I think some players have a very natural tremolo, and others don’t even though they may be good players. I have to train right hand speed in general much more than left hand, but I guess that’s fairly common.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
I’ve recently self published an arrangement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, the 2nd movement Allegretto, for guitar duo. Earlier, Drew Henderson and I had our arrangement of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (selections) published by D’Oz.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
If possible it’s great to have a walk during the day, and a nap. If I can fit those things in I feel pretty good come concert time. Then 15 minutes before the concert I have a banana, and at intermission I have an apple. To keep the blood sugar up.

HK Guitar Duo playing Michael’s Beethoven arrangement


Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Well, I think everyone has to find what works best for themselves when it comes to improving at guitar. And it’s not always about drilling technique and being as efficient as possible. Make time to play for enjoyment to keep your enthusiasm. But when you’re feeling sharp and motivated, practice with deep focus and attention to detail. And try not to build up tension – form good habits of posture and relaxation and they will translate to performances. I guess that’s more than one piece of advice…

Michael playing the 1st movement of Cyril Scott’s Sonatina


What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate?
I think there’s a standard repertoire that classical guitarists should at least be familiar with, even if they don’t learn all of it to a performance level. Bach, of course, the 19th century guitar composers like Sor, Giuliani, Aguado etc…, the Spanish repertoire like Tarrega, Albeniz, Granados, Rodrigo, and the Segovia repertoire like Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Torroba, Turina, etc…, then music from the Americas like Villa-Lobos, Brouwer, Barrios, Lauro. There’s a lot, and it takes time to get through. At the same time, I think students should also play lesser known music and try to expand their repertoire beyond the classics.

Artist Profile and Interview: Mateusz Kowalski

When the words “spectacular” and “breathtaking” pop out in a review by Classical Guitar Magazine, there is something special afoot. It so happened that the review was for Mateusz Kowalski’s brilliant performance among brilliant performers during the EuroStrings Competition in London last year. He took first place. Mateusz’s playing evokes such a wide range of emotions – joy, melancholy, nostalgia, excitement, and I am ashamed to admit it as a fellow guitarist, envy is in there, too. His interpretations are alive with imagination and intuition and it is clear that he possesses absolute control of his fingers. His videos are binge-worthy if you have the time.

Mateusz recently sat down to share some insight with Six String Journal readers about his philosophies and his journey so far. Enjoy.

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Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

I started to play when I was six. My older brother and cousin played the guitar, mainly rock and metal music. I wanted to be like them and play the guitar too. In addition, my mother worked in the office of the local philharmonic, so I had a constant contact with musicians, I could hear them practicing, rehearsing and performing.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing pieces which leave some space for the performer to show their personality through them. For me, it doesn’t matter which period does the piece come from. I find all the musical languages (styles of different epochs) to be interesting, effective and beautiful.

It’s also important for me to make every piece I play personal, I always try to put my feelings, my experiences into the interpretation. My aim is to never play “empty” notes.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I have two guitars I use on regular basis: 2015 Karl-Heinz Roemmich Model Exquisite Spruce Top and 2017 Sakurai Masaki Model Mastro RF Spruce Top. I string them with Savarez Cantiga Premium Basses, 3rd & 2nd Alliance and 1st New Crystal. All Normal Tension.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

Among musicians who have influenced me the most, I find my two guitar teachers to be the most important. Dariusz Schmidt taught me for 12 years and then Ryszard Bałauszko taught me for 5 years after that. They showed my the musical path I should follow and provided me with the principles which I stick to to this day when interpreting music.

When it comes to famous guitarists – I grew up listening to Assad Brothers, Julian Bream, Andres Segovia, and John Williams. Among non-guitarists the most important ones who have influenced me are: Arthur Rubinstein, Maxim Vengerov, Frans Brüggen, Giovanni Antonini (as a conductor), and Il Giardino Armonico (Ensemble).

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd?

So far, I have recorded one CD album “Mateusz Kowalski Classical Guitarist” and, of course, this is the one I’m most proud of. It was premiered in September 2019. The album comprises a collection of pieces important to me, reimagined and interpreted anew. The track list features compositions by Bach, Giuliani, Tárrega, Barrios, Piazzolla, Ponce, Assad and Schubert. The album published by CD Accord is available via Naxos Classics Online store, on Spotify, Amazon Music and iTunes.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

I have just finished my online social media project (FB + IG)  “A week with Guitar Salon International”. I premiered eight videos recorded with them on seven different guitars. I described every guitar from the player’s perspective and wrote a couple of thoughts about the pieces themselves.

The next big project will be recording my second CD for the National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin. It’ll happen this year, in September. The CD will contain Chopin’s Mazurkas op. 6 and 7 transcribed by J. N. Bobrowicz (first ever transcription of these mazurkas) and the most important compositions (a couple of world premiere recordings) of the greatest Polish guitar virtuosos of the nineteenth century  – Jan Nepomucen Bobrowicz, Felix Horetzky, Stanisław Szczepanowski, and Marek Sokołowski. Extremely hard but also extremely beautiful pieces.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

The time is spend on practicing is dependent on many different factors, but it is usually somewhere between two to six hours. Let’s say it’s four hours on average. I try to spend at least an hour to 90 minutes working on my technique every day, which is about playing various exercises, drills, or speeding up fast parts of pieces I play – gradually, with metronome. It’s basically trying to exceed my limits, push my technical boundaries every day.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

It’s making sure, that at all times, it’s the technique which serves the music and not the opposite. I believe that’s an aspect of the guitar every guitarist should be working on, all their lives.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

The fastest way for me to memorize a piece of music is to practice it having the sheet music put somewhere else, in the other room, for example. Then you are forced to remember as many bars as possible, otherwise, you’d have to stand up and walk to the place where the scores are at.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

I have plans to publish my edition of Franz Schubert’s Musical Moment No. 3. Many guitarists ask me to do that, so I will, very soon.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?

I love to warm up with arpeggios from Tarrega’s The Complete Technical Studies.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

A one light meal only, playing through all my program with scores and a lot of coffee.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

I shape them by placing a nail file over my strings, then I imitate how I hit the strings, which always gives me the same, rather round shape, with the length of the nail not exceeding the flesh of my finger (only thumb is exception from that rule).


Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Structure your practicing. Practice technique separately – with scales, drills, exercises, arpeggios. Sight-read a lot – that’s one of the most useful skills.

Remember that the most important thing is to make your interpretation interesting and valuable for the audience. And when I say audience – I don’t mean guitarists, competition jury members, etc., I mean regular people, who look for sincere feelings in music, who want to experience something beautiful during the concerts. Your job is to make their lives better.  Bearing that in mind, you’ll never lose motivation and you’ll always see meaning in what you’re doing.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

I believe that young/conservatory students should play pieces from all the epochs and they do that in most of the cases. In my opinion they miss one very essential skill – being able to realize a figured bass. It takes some time to be fluent at it, but even spending some time on understanding how it works is very beneficial. It makes you understand harmony better, which is strictly connected to better understanding music in general.


Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

Homo Deus, written by Yuval Noah Harari. Favorite author – Bruno Schultz.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?

I ride a mountain bike and exercise regularly. 😊

Do you meditate in any way?

For me listening to the music is  way of meditating, contemplating.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

Eating out with my wife – finding new places with delicious food and coffee.

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Featured Artist and Interview with Thomas Athanaselos

Hailing from Greece,  guitar virtuoso Thomas Athanaselos recently took some time to share his thoughts about his journey with guitar. Equally comfortable playing jazz arrangements, his own evocative compositions, and classical repertoire, Thomas’ playing is musical, fluid, and direct. I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about him here.

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When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I started playing the guitar at the age of 11. My influence was a teacher in primary school who always accompanied the school choir with his guitar and he really seemed to enjoy it. Next year my parents just signed me up for a Music School. As time went by I realized my passion for the guitar and music generally.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I have always loved playing various music styles from different music periods. The last years my repertoire includes music from the 18th-19th Century but also contemporary compositions of mine and other composers.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
Over the last years I’ve performed on a guitar built by Vassilis Sigletos (GR) and I use Knobloch Actives (Carbon) high tension strings.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Throughout the years I have also played the electric and acoustic guitar, so my first influences were guitarists like Steve Vai, George Benson, Robben Ford and Al Di Meola. At the age of 16 when I focused on the classical guitar, guitarists and musicians from 18th to 21th century like J. S. Bach, Augustin Barrios Mangore, Fernardo Sor, Isaac Albeniz, Joaquin Rodrigo and the great Paco de Lucia had a big impact on me. Of course, I can’t dismiss Astor Piazzolla’s music.

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of?
I recorded my first album ‘In Memoriam’ in 2018, which received very good reviews so I could say for sure that this is the recording I am proud of. Recordings are always hard to satisfy you 100% so I hope the next one will be even better.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
Right now due to the situation Covid-19 caused, we are facing a different routine and lifestyle which is something new for everyone. That makes it difficult to arrange concerts so I am focusing on composing and studying new repertoire.

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
I am always careful to keep my mind and my fingers in a good condition. When I have arranged concerts I practice every day 2-3 hours.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I don’t have any specific way to memorize music. Sometimes the harmony and the melodic line of the piece makes it easier to memorize it. In any case I try to be careful and concentrated when I first study a piece. Many repeats and slow playing also helps me to find the details and deeply understand the score.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
Yes, I have published four compositions of mine through Bergmann Editions.
You can find the scores here: Bergmann Editions.publications.jpg

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
For sure, I always try to take some time to relax on my own and not to get in touch with many people. This helps me to stay calm and concentrated on my program. I like to play some scale exercises or some slow tempo parts of the pieces. To me  these are the essentials. The ideal preparing for me is maximum 45 minutes before the concert.

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
I think young players should first start training their brains. They should try to create their own personality in music generally and this will lead them to new paths of playing.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?
As our ancestors used to say ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. So I always try to exercise because it also affects positively my mood and my playing and I have healthy lifestyle in general. I don’t have a specific pre-concert food. A good meal for sure and maybe a bar of chocolate just before the concert!

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
Running, cycling, watching movies, listening to music, and spending some time walking around with my dog!!

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Artist Spotlight and Interview: Katarzyna Smolarek

The brilliant Polish concert guitarist, Katarzyna Smolarek is becoming known for both her breathtaking virtuosity and her magnificent interpretations. In addition to studying at the Mozarteum in Austria and concertizing throughout Europe, Katarzyna has been awarded over 20 international competition prizes over a very short period of time. The silver lining to sheltering in place in Europe is that she was able to find time to sit down and share her experience, philosophies, and wise advise with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!

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Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

I started playing the guitar when I was 8 years old. My parents just signed me up for a music school and I think at the time no one was expecting that I would become a professional musician in the future. With time, I developed a love for playing music and I decided to dedicate my life to it.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing all kinds of repertoire from baroque to contemporary music. I think every style has its own proper charm, and I always seek to discover the beauty in each new piece that I learn.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings?

At the moment I perform on a guitar built by Jacek Łozak from 2010. My favourite strings are Savarez Alliance Premium medium tension. Since last year I’m proud to be a part of the Savarez artists family.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you?

Definitely all of my teachers. Lidia Przyłęcka, Ryszard Bałauszko and Marco Tamayo – they have had a huge influence on my progress, for which I will always be grateful. I consider all of them amazing musicians, dedicated teachers and wonderful people. I was extremely lucky to have them along the way.

What recordings are you most proud of?

I actually haven’t done a lot of recordings in my life (but I’m working on it!). I’m certainly most proud of my recent videos made in Siccas Guitars. They are my most professionally done recordings so far.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

Unfortunately, because of the epidemic of coronavirus a lot of my events have been cancelled. If everything is back to normal soon, I will be able to go to Portugal in June to perform a concert with an orchestra as a part of the International Guitar Festival in Amarante. I am sure I will enjoy it a lot after having such a long break from traveling.

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Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

The duration of my practice varies depending on many factors. I usually practice around four hours per day, but this amount increases before concerts or competitions (or now, because of the quarantine). On the other hand I practice less when I spend time with my family or when traveling. I’m also no stranger to taking days off to relax and reset. I don’t think I structure my routine in some special way.

Usually after I have finished practicing in the evening, I make a plan for the next day so that my practice sessions are balanced and I don’t neglect anything. When I have a whole day for myself I like to break it out into two sessions: morning and afternoon, 2-3 hours each, with a break for lunch and some other activity.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

I think there is always room for progress, so in that sense I can say I’m working on every aspect of the guitar performance. I don’t imagine that I will ever have a feeling that there is nothing else to work on and I think it’s a good thing. The constant pursuit of artistic excellence is what brings innovation and life to art.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

It depends on the piece and the situation. I usually try to learn a piece by memory as soon as possible, so that I can entirely focus on the music. Sometimes the music demands deliberate memorization, and other times the memorization comes naturally after just a few days of playing it. Nevertheless, every now and then I would revise the score, because with time some details might slip away. I also make sure that it’s not only my fingers that remember the piece, but also my brain, in other words that I remember the notes and not only the movements. In order to do that, I play it extremely slowly focusing on every note, or I go through the piece in my mind without touching the guitar at all.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?

I like to play through a couple of slur and scale exercises before I start practicing pieces. However, I’m not a fan of spending a lot of time warming-up, as for me the ultimate goal is to be ready to perform without having to go through a series of technique exercises. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we do not have the possibility to warm up before a concert, and I believe the quality of our performance should not be compromised in those situations.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not at all. Obviously, it’s important to have a good rest and a good meal, but I wouldn’t call it a ritual. Again, I feel like it’s dangerous to have specific pre-concert routines. In situations when we are not able to perform the routines, we might then lose our confidence on stage as a result.

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Solve the problems instead of getting discouraged! I get the impression that a lot of young players don’t really know how to practice. They think that repetition is key and when a passage still doesn’t work after having played it 100 times they start thinking things like, “this piece is too difficult”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I need months/years to play it well”. There is nothing worse than having this sort of approach. Practicing should be all about constructive problem-solving. If something doesn’t work we should be able to exactly tell why and the more precise our answer, the better. We should be extremely conscious of our movements and of our choices. This way we can make progress way faster than by mindlessly repeating.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate?

I wouldn’t say that there are any specific pieces that one really must play during his education, although I think that it is essential for a student to be familiar with the concepts of all the historical styles. The more repertoire we already know, the more tools we have for our next interpretations. I would also say that it is important to play the standard guitar repertoire; such as Villa-Lobos’ studies, suites by Bach, sonatas by Ponce, pieces by Barrios, Tárrega, Rodrigo, Turina and so on and so on. Nowadays we tend to look for unknown pieces, we make our own transcriptions and we commission new music. I find it wonderful, however as students we need to familiarize ourselves with traditional repertoire first. This will properly facilitate our lives as performers and teachers.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

I think all recordings, no matter good or bad, have their value. Exactly what we listen to is not so important; the crucial part is that we are able to develop an informed opinion and discern what is of high quality and what’s not. What I find extremely useful is listening to a lot of recordings of the same piece and focusing on the differences between them. This helps me understand many possible ways of thinking about the same piece of music.

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Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

The last one would be Fahrenheit 451. I love Márquez, Llosa and Murakami for their out-of-this world storytelling.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

I really like learning new languages. Currently I’m working on my Portuguese. Apart from that I enjoy cooking, reading, dancing salsa and just recently I got terribly hooked on the series “Breaking Bad”.

Artist Profile and Interview: An Tran

An Tran

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It is always wonderful to stumble upon a great young artist who seems to be doing everything right. An Tran has been praised for his incredible technique and magical playing enough to have won prizes in many international guitar and music competitions throughout the world. An has recently given recitals for the Bangkok Guitar Society, Austin Classical Guitar, Toronto International Guitar Series. This season 2019-20 will include An’s solo concert at the prestigious Segovia Classical Guitar Series in Chicago, USA in May 2020.

An is also a champion of Vietnamese music and has performed pieces written for him by Vietnamese composers on the international stage. He recently premiered the work, Ru Con (Lullaby), written for An by composer/guitarist Nguyễn Thế An in Toronto in March 2019. And his debut CD of an all-Vietnamese repertoire is to be released in early 2020. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, An took some time from his busy schedule to share some of his experience and journey with Six String Journal. Enjoy!

Personal

SSJ: When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially? 

AT: I was really lucky to have my parents that helped me find my passion. When I was a kid, I was not good at school…so I think my parents saw that and let me try a lot of different things (from drawing to piano to playing tennis!). Our house was always filled with music, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I went to sleep listening to music. Until one day, my cousin started to play the guitar. I thought to myself, at 8 years old, “I need to try that out!”. It was one of the greatest decisions in my life.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

It’s hard to say because I enjoy playing all kinds of music, but I definitely love to play Vietnamese music. The more I grow as an artist, the more I feel the connection to my home country, Vietnam. Now I always include Vietnamese music in my concert program. They can be either arrangements of Vietnamese traditional folk songs, or original compositions from Vietnamese composers. I get to share a little bit of who I am with the audience, everywhere I go.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I perform on Stephen Connor guitars. I currently have 2 of his guitars and they are extremely amazing instruments. Steve made my guitars with so much care and love that it is a joy to play every single time. His uplifting spirit is also contagious and inspiring as well.

For strings, I use D’Addario Carbon, Normal Tension. They sound beautiful on my Connors, and they hold intonation really well. Since I tour with only one guitar most of the time, due to my program with Vietnamese music, I have to change to alternate tuning between pieces. They have never failed.

 Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

I would say all of my teachers made a huge impact on me as a musician and as a human being. I have too many teachers to list them, but if they are reading this, they know who they are 🙂 I can also say that I learned so much from my guitarist friends as well. When I did a few competitions, I learned so much just by listening to my fellow competitors.

My classical guitar heroes are John Williams and David Russell. When I was a kid, I listened to their recordings on repeat almost every day. I also love Nguyen Le, a Vietnamese/French jazz guitarist. He has an amazing ability of blending traditional Vietnamese music with contemporary Jazz. I highly recommend checking him out, if you haven’t heard him yet.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of my upcoming album “Stay, My Beloved”, which features all Vietnamese guitar music. This recording is like my life journey. Some pieces I learned when I was a kid, and some I learned not too long ago. It was a lot of work, but the music on this album stay very close to my heart, that’s why the whole process was so satisfying. It will be released on April 18, 2020.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

I’m excited about the upcoming concerts in the US as well as my European tour in August. This will be my first time playing in Europe, so I am very excited. On top of that, I will premiere 2 works that were dedicated to me by Spanish composer Juan Erena in Cádiz, Spain. I’m also working with a few Vietnamese composers to write more works for the ever-evolving guitar repertoire. Even though my debut album is not even out yet, I’m already thinking about recording the next Vietnamese guitar album.


Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

I always aim to practice for about 4 to 6 hours a day. For me, it is important to practice every day well. I normally divide my practice to 2-3 different shorter sessions. I always try to prioritize practicing first, before doing anything else during the day.

Also, there are apps that could help with your practice schedule. I use this app called “ATracker” on my iPhone. I use its timer to keep track of every piece that I’m working on. This way, I can make sure that I don’t spend too much (or too little) time on 1 piece. By the end of the week, it would give me a graph of how much I practiced each piece. That gives me an idea of what to work on for the following week. I also normally take 1 day off of guitar. I find it helpful to get back to my practice freshly the day after.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

I’m constantly working to improve my listening and musicality skills. For me, playing something musically well is very important and I try to improve on that. I also don’t have the perfect technique, so I do struggle with really hard passages sometimes. However, it is easier to improve on the technical side nowadays because there are so many good resources online and good teachers out there. For me, the metronome is crucial for learning new music and master the hard passages. I also use Tonebase, an online resource for guitarists, whenever I find myself struggling with something (either musically or technically). Nothing will replace a good teacher, but there’s always some good info online to support what you’re learning.

By the way, I am NOT “sponsored” by any apps/websites mentioned above, those are just apps that I personally use.

 

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up? 

Yes! Villa-Lobos’ Etude No. 1 is always a go-to for me as a warmup before a concert. I also use some of Scott Tennant’s exercises from his Pumping Nylon book. So helpful!

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I eat a banana before I play. I find it helpful to get some energy before a concert. I also do some meditation and make sure that I feel grateful for every single opportunity. For people to take their time out of their schedules to come see me perform, that is absolutely incredible! Definitely something to be grateful for!!

 


Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

One of the most important skills that I learned (and still trying to do) is to keep my focus at 100% while practicing. When I was younger, I practiced like a machine. Mindlessly ran my pieces as many times as possible. All I’m doing now is trying to fix all the problems that came from that!! It can create huge problems and bad habits to fix later. Thankfully, I’ve had amazing teachers who patiently sat with me to tell me what I’ve been doing wrong.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

I think the most essential skill for a young musician is to cover all periods of classical music. To be able to teach and find your own “voice” in your playing, it’s important to go through all the essential “classical” guitar repertoire. I also think etudes are super important as well. For me, personally, I loved (and still play) the Giuliani, Villa-Lobos and Brouwer Etudes.


Tangent

What is the last movie that you watched?

Parasite, that was crazy!

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 

Yes absolutely. I’ve been doing yoga lately and it really helps. I’ve had lower back pain in the past, so now I try to do yoga more regularly. Nothing fancy, just iPhone apps and Youtube videos. Also, my chiropractor told me that it is important to get up more often to stretch, and to not sit and practice for hours straight (which was my bad habit). I might have to give him commission for this piece of advice!!!

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

I love to cook. I think cooking is so similar to playing music. Other hobbies are watching movies with my wife, playing FIFA or board games with my family and friends, playing with my puppy Luna. My dad is a former photojournalist, so he taught me a lot about photography. I am now addicted to photography and I enjoy taking pictures of my travels.

Support An by pre-ordering his new CD: Stay, My Beloved

 

 

 

 

Gohar Vardanyan plays Bach

Armenian guitar virtuosa, Gohar Vardanyan, just released a wonderful video playing the Prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Lute Suite Nº3, BWV995. From the rich sound she extracts from her guitar to the precision of her playing, Gohar proves that in addition to playing Spanish music with great passion and elegance, her Bach is crafted on the same level.

Hopefully, she will put up videos of the remaining movements but in the meantime, enjoy. And, if you would like to support her recording project, visit her indiegogo page: Grand Solos.

Also, check out an interview with Gohar here: Artist Profile and Interview – Gohar Vardanyan..

Artist Spotlight – Rafael Aguirre Interview

Spanish guitar phenomenon, Rafael Aguirre, is likely the most acclaimed guitarist of his generation. With an incredible tally of 1st prizes from the most important international competitions to collaborations with conductors and musicians across the globe, Rafael’s guitar playing speaks for itself – technically perfect, captivating, dazzling, and full of fantasy and introspection. Fortunately for Six String Journal readers, Rafael found a bit of time between concerts and practicing to share some of his thoughts and philosophies with us. Enjoy!

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Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

I started to play when I was 8 years old. Basically I could choose between piano and guitar and my older brother started the piano earlier so I didn’t want to fight with him sharing the piano like we did with video games. I wanted to finally have a tool only for me and I didn’t know it was an important decision. Probably the music education by my mother was crucial since we used to listen to “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiev before we went to school every morning and it was then that I started to have a connection with classical music and felt it was beautiful. My mother probably noticed or knew I had a musical ear. I should ask her… ; ) Nice memories…

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I think every repertoire could be enjoyed if you feel completely free from technique barriers, because it is like every person in life. Every person has its uniqueness that you can enjoy. But probably Spanish music, transcriptions and Latin American music is what I enjoy a lot if I analyze my youtube videos for instance. But what I really enjoy is to sight read music from Dowland and Da Milano to Berio and Ianarelli, and even pop songs or cinema music. I like to “eat” music and nourish my soul through sight reading. So in the end I choose very carefully what I play on stage after having played a lot of music. You should see my library and the room where I practice. I have all kinds of music from the most intellectual to the most banal, but for me not only is it important the quality of the music but also if you like it for a reason. I like Gran Jota even if it has not the richness of Mahler’s 6th Symphony, but I feel a strong connection with the piece, an attraction. So sometimes I play a piece because I realize it’s a masterwork and other times just because of that. In the end, we are all humans and musical attraction also exists. ; )

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

Currently I perform on guitars built by my father. I am performing already on a fourth one. They are built in Málaga, Spain following my advice and taste and I am very happy with the result. Sometimes I still play on my Gnatek from Australia. I always use D’addario hard tension strings since I am a proud  D’addario artist and still find them irresistible.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

Early on, Narciso Yepes and John Williams. And later, musicians like Daniel Barenboim, Karajan, Krystian Zimerman, Anne Sophie Mutter, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Carlos Kleiber, Leonard Bernstein, Placido Domingo, Pavarotti, Radu Lupu. My favorite guitarist nowadays is Paco de Lucía. Also Chucho Valdés, Paquito d’Rivera, Diego el Cigala, Caetano Veloso, Yamandu Costa or fado singers like Ana Moura influence me a lot when I listen to them.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

I have difficulties listening to my own playing because you would like to change things that are impossible to change and it is very frustrating, but sometimes I listen to them. I guess it is a problem when you know yourself. I also prefer much more the concert stage than the recording studio. But I would say I like my first Naxos Recording in 2008 (Rautavaara, Ibert) and the “La vida breve” Cd with Nadège Rochat, cello. But also the “Classica brasiliana” Cd for Dabringhaus Grimm label, where I was a guest artist. The “Transcriptions” cd I am very proud because of the music selection, but I would play it differently today probably. Very challenging music on the guitar.

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?

Listen to Koen Claeys “Paint me blue” cd [Koen Clays Six String Interview]. I love that sound! Loud and clear! The problem of classical guitar recordings is that they don’t sound loud enough and when you listen to them in a car you can’t recognize anything. They only work with a very high stereo sound system at home. So I rather enjoy recordings by Yamandu Costa or even flamenco players because of that reason. I think we have to think about this. We are afraid of getting noises from the strings and we put the microphones too far (they also did on my recordings) and the guitar sounds from far away, and that doesn’t go with the status quo of a very penetrating sound in today’s recording industry where people listen with their iphones and tablets. The great thing about the guitar is when you listen to it as a player and the guitar sounds like you are in a cave in el Sacromonte in Granada, this is magic! Unfortunately because the lack of projection of the instrument we cannot get this magic putting the microphones far away. Now I would record with the mics very close. Listen to my video of Cinema Paradiso with bandoneon. I started to experiment there and I am very happy with the result. 

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

There is a famous opera singer that I admire that invited me to record with her on her debut album for Warner Classics some songs. Very excited about this! Also about my debut at the “Auditorio nacional” in Madrid next year. Also my Japanese debuts with orchestra in Kyushu and Tokyo (Tokyo Symphony). In general I want to show the guitar to new audiences or to audiences accustomed to Segovia and they stopped since he died. Also to continue to play for guitar audiences where I can share my latest discoveries for a more comprehensive reception since they know what I do better. But I am still excited to have joined one of the best agencies in the world in London last September, Intermusica. All the projects that will follow from our collaboration already excite me. Imagine, they just signed pianist Yuja Wang who is one of the superstars of the circuit of classical music. Representing the guitar in such an agency is a blessing and I only can give my best.


Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

Something between 3 and 6 hours maximum a day. I like to sight read a bit, practice a bit of flamenco for my technique and fun and I have a list with my upcoming repertoire and I write down every time I practice it complete or in sections or difficult parts in order to have like a diary and control it. But I can be also a mess and just play for fun instead of practice but always very focused on playing as perfect as I can.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

Yes. Some flamenco techniques and in general the way I practice is always different because my goal is to play with the brain and completely free of effort. So I am working a lot on that right now. Controlling everything from the brain like a Macintosh computer in order to enjoy. It is a lot of work particularly for the right hand but it is showing some results which excite me already!

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

I have to repeat a piece a lot of times. Also I have to be able to play the piece a tempo. I have tried many things and techniques from famous musicians, but in the end I do it very instinctively. I also record myself to understand why I fail on the same spots and what has to be worked out. And it works! Also being patient and going for a walk or a good restaurant to rest the brain and give a little bit of time to absorb the piece works well.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

To be honest I am a very lazy person writing music down and I cannot use any computer program to write music. I am very ashamed of that, but one day I hope all my arrangements will be written and I will be more modern. Let’s do another interview in 25 years, hahaha.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?

Yes. Being conscious of every note I play with the right hand and so I warm up my brain. I don’t believe in warming up your hands, because you can warm up your hands also playing baseball, and anyway if you are nervous on stage it doesn’t help a lot. I believe in brain warm up. Your brain works every minute faster because you are aware of all the movements and notes you play. Paco de Lucía said “The scales are in your brain” this is something that is difficult to explain on an interview without the guitar.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Sleeping and eating something. I hate playing hungry. I read yesterday that Federer likes to eat two hours before every match. I totally understand him. Sometimes I like to do a bit of meditation and basically play a little bit and do my brain warm up with the guitar.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

I put on some lacquer. It is a nail hardener. I shape them with the half moon form.


Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Never practice faster that you can think. Also practice playing softly and in a relaxed manner, until you feel you can increase the volume.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

Brouwer, Sor and Villa Lobos Studies. These are the basis of our technique. Also I would encourage students to learn a few flamenco pieces to extend the fingers “out”. We only do inside or flexing movements as classical guitarists.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

Is nice to listen to guitar, but you pay attention to the “guitaristic” things. I would recommend listening to old guitarists like Segovia, Alirio Diaz, Lagoya, Barrios, Yupanqui, until Barrueco or Gallén and the young players but try to listen to Mahler Symphonies, Schubert Lieder and Juanita Reina (for Spanish music). There you pay more attention to the musical aspect, and we need to cultivate our fantasy as musicians. A guitarist without fantasy is missing all the possibilities and magic of our instrument, It is more complex than it appears.


Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

Right now I am reading Plato’s Dialogues. I don’t have favorite authors since I am always changing the writer and I haven’t read yet five or more books of the same author to have this opinion.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?

Oh yes,  swimming, biking on the gym. I work with a nutritionist and try to divide the food during the day in particular order, but since I love eating and going to restaurants, I eat everything I like. Favorite pre-concert food is a good meat or fish.

Do you meditate in any way?

I do Vipassana meditation at the moment. I love it and recommend it everyone!

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

Traveling, walking, trying restaurants and nice cafés, spending time with family and friends, reading, movies, going to concerts exhibitions (sounds like the typical answer of somebody trying to be cool but is truth).

Any things else you’d like to add?

Remember that music is more important than the guitar and think outside the box.

Connect with Rafael Aguirre

https://www.rafael-aguirre.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Rafael-Aguirre-126632647534649/

https://twitter.com/aguirreguitar

https://www.instagram.com/rafael_aguirre_guitar/?hl=es

Young Artist Interview: Leonora Spangenberger

Winner of the Youth Division of the Guitar Foundation of America’s 2017 International Competition, Leonora Spangenberger has started to grace more and more stages with her talent. A few months ago I posted some videos of this exceptionally talented wunderkind performing three of twelve etudes by Heitor Villa-Lobos. To follow up that post, Leonora took some moments from her busy schedule to share some details about her life with guitar so far. From swimming as a hobby to preparing what sounds like a monumental program for an upcoming concert in Vienna, Leonora seems to have a wonderful world of music making in front of her.

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

At the age of six, my older sister and I met a Spanish lady in our
neighborhood once a week. We sang Spanish songs and had a lot of fun
learning some Spanish words and expressions with her. One day I found a
guitar at her house and was curious about how to play it, although I
hadn’t listened to a guitar before at all. I started lessons and that’s
how everything began.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I really love to perform pieces written in the Baroque period. Most of
the time and especially at the moment I play works by Bach. Besides, I‘m
also interested in finding new contemporary pieces like ‘Four Images of
Japan’ by Jana Obrovská and Serenade and Toccata by Sofia Gubaidulina.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on?

For about two years now I’ve been very happy with my Robert Ruck guitar
that was previously played by Tilman Hoppstock. It’s a brilliant
instrument and I’ve been discovering new colors almost every day.

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?

The Pepe Romero version of the Aranjuez concerto is the most inspiring
recording to me.

What are some up and coming projects that excite you?

I’m very honored to have the opportunity to perform in the Konzerhaus
in Vienna in April 2019. There I’m going to play the first and sixth
keyboard partita by J.S. Bach and also contemporary works. I’m very much
looking forward to giving this concert and I’m already really excited.

Do you have a favorite drill or exercises you use to warm up?

Probably like everybody: scales, slides, slurs, trills, etc.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not really. To me it’s important to have enough sleep before the concert
in the evening. I like a rich meal in the morning and snacks during the
day. And of course warming up is part of my pre-concert preparation.

Could you offer any advice to other young players?

Have fun. 😉

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?

I think doing sports is the best way to stay healthy. There are lots of
kinds of sport you could do and to me swimming is a great chance to
relax from daily stress and to keep my body healthy.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

Swimming, as I mentioned before, and meeting friends.



Special thanks to Stefan Schmidt for facilitating the interview and to Siccas Guitars for the video of Henze’s Drei Tentos.

Artist Spotlight and Interview with Colin Davin

Praised for his deeply expressive musicianship, his musical intelligence, and virtuosic technique, Colin Davin seems to have it all. Colin is an active international soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and teacher, with projects and performances from Aspen to Afghanistan to the Alhambra.

Colin took some time recently to sit down and share some of his insight, philosophies, and advice with Six String Journal. Hope it inspires you all.

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

My study of the guitar began fairly early – I was 7 years old, and my father, himself an amateur guitarist, signed me up for lessons. In a way, it was not so different than the many other things I was doing as a kid, like little league or cub scouts. Taking advice from an interview with the folk-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, it was determined that classical guitar would give me the best chance at being able to play a wide range of styles. And while I’ve since branched out from time to time, at that early age, classical struck a chord with me, and I’ve never lost that enthusiasm.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play a guitar by Andrea Tacchi, from Florence, Italy, his model “Coclea Thucea”, made in 2004. For those who don’t know Andrea’s instruments, they are both of the highest quality in sound and craftsmanship, and a bit unusual. The name Coclea Thucea refers to the inner ear (coclea), both for its obvious connection to hearing music, and for its spiral design, in the ratio of a Fibonacci sequence. Andrea incorporates aspects of “sacred geometry” connected to this ratio in his design and construction. And the “thucea” is a portmanteau of the Latin names for spruce and cedar, as the top is a three-piece construction using both materials (two outer panels of cedar with a central panel of spruce). For years I’ve played Hannabach Silver 900/200 trebles, med-high tension…a perfect balance of warmth, color, and clarity, in my opinion. I have less devotion when it comes to basses, but most often settle on high tension Augustine or D’Addario.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

My influences have been pretty wide ranging over the years, but early guitar heroes of mine were Julian Bream, John Williams, Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King, and Django Reinhardt. When I was 10, I heard Jason Vieaux play for the first time, and that pretty much cemented my desire to make music my life. A few years later, I was Jason’s student, and now I’m his colleague on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music!

What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

I play in a duo with the brilliant harpist Emily Levin, and we’re planning a live-concert recording in New York this February. The combination of guitar and harp is absolute magic, and deeply under-explored (they might be the two most intimidating instruments for composers, which explains the lack of repertoire). We’ll be recording transcriptions of ours of de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” in its entirety, Ravel’s “Ma Mère l’Oye” (Mother Goose) and Philip Glass’s “Etude no. 6”, originally for piano. In addition, we’ll feature world premiere recordings of works we commissioned, by Dylan Mattingly and Will Stackpole.

Practicing and Performing

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

Practice hours are variable day to day, and week to week. Such is the nature of a performing and teaching musician – the lack of a consistent schedule presents unique challenges to getting in the hours. I’d say I reliably get in 20-25 hours a week, possibly in a steady stream of 3-4 hours a day, possibly in a disjointed alternation of heavy days and light days. Because of this irregularity, it has become very important for me to structure my practice with specific goals in mind. I always start with some light warmups, then slurs, arpeggios (often selections from the Giuliani 120, or Villa-Lobos’ Etude no. 1), tremolo, and scales. I always have an eye on what projects are coming up, and try to balance my repertoire practice so that I stay on top of the varied things I have coming up at any given point in a season.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

The way I approach learning a piece, with an extremely deliberate approach using metronome charts and lots of repetitions, often results in memorization by default. That said, I do sometimes get hung up on a passage, or even an entire section….typically in music that is either very rhythmically complex (and thus requires a different approach than the typical metronome work), or music that is rather easy that I end up learning a bit too fast! For the former, I often break the piece down into digestible sections, trying to memorize, say, one line of music in a day. The next day, I’ll work on the next line, reviewing the previous day’s memory work, and seeing if I can string the two together…and so on. For an easier piece, I use some off-guitar techniques like visualization, singing/solfège, as well as forcing myself into practicing the piece in small- to medium-sized sections, more than I might think I need in order to successfully execute the piece.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

On concert days, I do try to keep a certain routine. The night before, I actually try to get a little less sleep than usual – for some reason, being just a little tired works for me, combining with natural performance adrenaline (what some might call “nerves”) to bring me to a nice level of focus and calm. Late morning or early afternoon, I tend to go for a walk; easier to do in certain locations and certain times of year than others! And I general try to eat light throughout the day. I arrive at the hall a little over an hour before showtime, play on stage for about 10 minutes, then head to the dressing room where I’ll intersperse light practicing/warmups with a snack (usually a banana) and some herbal tea (usually turmeric). I think everyone should establish some kind of consistent practice on concert days, whatever might work for a given individual; it really helps put your mind and body into the right space, focusing the energy toward inhabiting the performance space.

Advice to Young Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Be patient, and be thorough. The easiest way to practice is to run through pieces in their entirety, as best you can, flubbing through the hard parts, but kind of getting through it. But this merely reinforces bad habits, and gets you nothing but extra repetitions of mistake-filled playing. More repetitions will bake in those problems, the same way that repetitions of clean, musical playing will bake that in! So, take your time when learning a piece, don’t rush through the process; be deliberate, thoughtful, and careful. When all that early work happens, the final product will be far superior, easier and more enjoyable to play, and far more satisfying for your audience.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

There’s a whole library of Julian Bream recordings everyone should know. “Popular Classics for Spanish Guitar”, and “Twentieth Century Guitar I (from the Julian Bream Edition)” are two favorites of mine. Beyond that – I always tell students to listen well beyond the realm of the guitar. Some of my best musical lessons have come from listening to non-guitarists, classical or otherwise. A random assortment of influential artists: Toumani Diabate, Punch Brothers, Rachel Podger, Hilary Hahn, Mitsuko Uchida, Alfred Brendel, Joanna Newsom, Leonard Cohen, Roomful of Teeth.

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

I tend to read a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Probably my favorite author is the late Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago. His “Death with Interruptions” is among my favorite books; a fable that is funny, sad, and sweepingly beautiful. I’m also a devoted reader of the New Yorker magazine, especially the long-form investigative pieces, profiles, short stories, and arts writing. And of course, the cartoons.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

When I’m not in the midst of working on music, I honestly just enjoy “being” wherever I am. Hiking is among my favorite activities (though the elevation changes in Northeast Ohio are a bit mild to qualify anything here as “hiking”); and it’s the ultimate in doing something that is very nearly doing nothing: walk, climb, look, smell, listen. Beyond that, I enjoy cooking, coffee, and the occasional night out with a good game to play; lately, I’ve been working on my pool game, though I have a long way to go before anyone would accuse me of actually being good!

***

For more information on Colin Davin visit his website: www.colindavin.com