American virtuoso and 1989 Guitar Foundation of America Winner, Marc Teicholz has been heralded by the Los Angeles Times as, “technically gifted and musical to the core.” An active performer, recording artist, chamber musician, and teacher, Marc seems to have done it all. He’s collaborated with some of the world’s greatest musicians, premiered countless new works for guitar, and given masterclasses all over the world. He teaches at Cal State University at East Bay and is also part of the esteemed faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and has taught there for many decades.
On a personal note, the first time I heard Marc play was on his GFA tour where he received both a standing ovation and my instant admiration. Years after that, when I moved to Oakland, Benjamin Verdery insisted that I look Marc up. We’ve been great friends ever since. Over the years that I’ve gotten to know him, besides being the great guitarist who seems to learn massive amounts of repertoire from one day to the next, I’ve been the fortunate recipient of both his guidance and his friendship. It’s a treat to finally feature him here where he shares insight and some advice with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I was drawn to the guitar through American folk music and singing songs around the campfire. My first musical heroes were Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. I found a local music store in Berkeley, CA (where I grew up) that offered guitar lessons. The teacher was primarily a classical guitar teacher who told me that learning classical guitar would prepare me for any kind of music that I might want to learn later (totally untrue, by the way!). But when she played for me a few bars of Villa-Lobos (I later learned), I was instantly hooked.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I don’t want to specialize. I enjoy playing a variety of music. I think my tastes are usually a bit old-fashioned although I can think of a few times where I have gotten involved in some contemporary chamber music projects that I really enjoyed even though they involved playing music that I wasn’t initially attracted to. So I think it is important for me to occasionally try music that is outside of my comfort zone.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
I am ashamed to say that I currently own eight guitars. But I try to be loyal to each of them! I usually perform on either my cedar top Stephan Connor or my Spruce/Cedar double top Glenn Canin, especially when I am concerned about issues of projection and volume. But I have performed on all of my guitars. I get emotionally attached to them which makes them hard to sell even though I obviously don’t need that many. I usually play on hard tension D’addario strings although some guitars sound better with other strings.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Some of the many players that I have listened to obsessively include: Pete Seeger, Glenn Gould, Julian Bream, the Assads, Yo Yo Ma, Vladimir Horowitz, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Itzhak Perlman. And although he is not as famous as the others, violinist Ian Swensen has also made a big impact on me. But it would be presumptuous of me to say that these players have influenced me other than to say that they have put me in my place.
What recording/s are you most proud of?
I am not proud of any of them but recording “Valseana” was very exciting because I was exposed to so many amazing guitars and it was a lot of fun to choose the “right” guitar for each piece.
Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
The two records that come to my mind are Bream’s Granados and Albeniz album and his 1st duo album with Williams. The 1st pieces on each record (the Granados Dedicatoria and the Lawes duo) sounded so creamy and lush that they sent a shiver down my back.
What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
I am currently involved in recording some videos for a new website called “Guitar by Masters” which allows guitarists to study the pieces in an interactive way. I have so far recorded 3 pieces by Sergio Assad (Imbricatta, Phyllis’ Portrait, and Seis Brevidades.) I am glad I have had this opportunity to promote these great pieces.
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
I try to practice a lot and irregularly. I usually tailor my practice to whatever performing obligations I have in front of me. But in these last few pandemic years I just starting to go down my wish list of pieces that I have wanted to learn. As far as practice methods are concerned, I usually go back and forth between playing pieces through and practicing in tiny little pieces. There are endlessly different ways to practice. I think each way has their advantages and disadvantages.
Are there aspects of guitar technique or performance that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
I struggle with everything! Every area of my technique could be so much better.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I have tried different methods but I don’t have a magic bullet and still struggle with memory slips. I would say the one that probably works best for me is to learn the music in little bite-size bits. Thomas Viloteau wrote in his technique book that we can only focus on seven little things at a time. I think that sounds about right.
Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
I have published a book of my fingerings of some of Sor’s greatest “hits” and a book of my fingerings of Sergio Assad’s arrangements of Ernesto Nazareth. I have made a lot of transcriptions. Perhaps I will try to publish some of those.
Do you have a favorite drill or set of exercises you use to warm up?
I like to sight-read new music to warm up. I also like to play very slowly at first.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I like to take a nap in the afternoon. But I enjoy naps anytime! I used to make funny faces in front of a mirror backstage in order to loosen up but I haven’t done that for a while. But I probably should because I think it helped.
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger aspiring players?
I think practicing should be fun and interesting because most of us have to do a lot of it. I try to feel like I am learning something new about the music or my technique each time I practice.
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
I think students should listen to as much music as they can (as long as it doesn’t become a burdensome chore.) They should be able to recognize all the main pieces in our repertoire. Most of the music they play should be pieces that they are excited to play but I think they should also try some music that is outside of their immediate interests in order to experience the feeling of broadening one’s taste. It is also helpful to learn pieces that develop their technique.
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
That is probably an outdated question. I listened to all the Segovia, Bream, Williams and Parkening recordings when I grew up (to name just a few) but that is not how people listen to music these days. But all of the professional musicians I know have a passionate relationship to the music (and not just guitar music) they listened to when they were young. I think that is the most important thing.
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
RIght now, I am reading a book by Walter Isaacson called “The Code Breaker” which is a biography of Jennifer Doudna. She helped pioneer the technique of CRISPR which is form of genetic engineering that has many amazing and terrifying implications for the future. But I like to read almost anything. I loved the book that you once recommended to me about searching for buried treasure under the sea (“Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea”.)
Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Have a favorite pre-concert food?
I like to walk. And listening to you tell me about your long runs makes me sweat. I don’t have a favorite pre-concert food but I always enjoy cookies!
Do you meditate in any way?
I have tried some breathing exercises. I think they are a good idea but I am not disciplined about it.
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I like to walk and read. I started doing jigsaw puzzles during Covid and they are addictive. Netflix gets too much attention. I like annoying my daughter. I like playing duos with you!
Any thing else you’d like to add?
I am just very grateful that I have had the guitar in my life. Although there have been many times when I have been frustrated with my limitations, its struggles and pleasures have given meaning to my life. It has allowed me to meet many wonderful people, it is special to have an activity that combines all together the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of life, and I like feeling that there is always so much more to learn.
Website: Marc Teicholz
San Francisco Conservatory of Music: Marc