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Guitar ramble

This page is a catch-all for miscellaneous, short thoughts related to the classical guitar that aren't weighty enough for separate pages. Let me say up front that I choke on the term "classical guitar". The instrument is the guitar, right? When the word "classical" is used to modify guitar in this web site, it is only for the sake of facilitating web searches for this instrument.

New thoughts will be added to the beginning of the list below, so revisit every half year or so and stop where things start sounding familiar.

Instead of working up a table of contents, I've highlighted some key words. Take a scroll on through.

Who blows a Fleta?

[The following "ramble" was first published in the Washington Guitar Society newsletter, No. 60, Jun 2002.]

While searching the early issues of a certain, well-known men's magazine for opera references, it occurred to me to dig out references to the guitar (by which I mean "classical guitar".) The magazine was launched in 1953, and it's not surprising that guitar references were very rare, considering that the magazine's main music interest was jazz, and that the guitar's popularity was far below the heights it would reach later in the 1960s.

I count the absolute first, incontestable, bona fide reference to the classical guitar as appearing in the August 1958 issue, page 8. The reference is tiny, and it doesn't even say "guitar", but it names a well-known and important American guitarist: Richard Pick. His name appears in an ad for a Chicago establishment, the Gate of Horn. (The magazine is also Chicago-based.) The ad doesn't bother to say it, but the Gate of Horn was a folk music night club - the first one, actually. Crammed in the small, 2-inch square, ad was a bunch of names of artists who perform there:

Gate of Horn ad.


( )

Find it? Spotting Richard Pick's name gave me particular pleasure. I'll never forget the joy of discovering his compositions back in the early 1970s. He still ranks as one of my all-time favorite guitar composers.

The first guitar mention of substance (as opposed to fleeting) was in the July 1960 issue, page 15. It was a review of a record album by - not Segovia, not Julian Bream - but one Charles Byrd. The album was called Four Suites by Ludovico Roncalli and was released on a local label - Washington Records. (That's Washington, D.C., which is local for me, but not necessarily for you, esteemed visitor from Anywhere, World, Universe.) The logo for the record label incorporates the Washington Monument. The review said:

Guitarist Charlie Byrd, heir to Charlie Christian's jazz throne, is primly known as Charles Byrd in a performance of Four Suites by Ludovoco Roncalli (Washington), an intriguing offering of Seventeenth Century sounds. Byrd is no Segovia, but he plays with obvious skill and spirit. It's comforting to know that there are musicians who can cope with jazz and the classics without debasing either. Byrd lives, it seems, just for that.

Charlie Byrd Roncalli Suites album.

The next substantial classical guitar reference was in the November 1960 issue, page 32, and was also in a review of a Charlie Byrd album. This time it was a jazz record called Charlie Byrd Trio.

Who blows a Fleta?

There are only about ten Fleta guitars made each year in Barcelona, Spain. If the other nine are in as good hands as the one currently held by Charlie Byrd, the 1959 production has been very well distributed. Byrd, who studied with Andres Segovia (he blows a Fleta, too), picked up the guitar during a European swing with the Woody Herman band last year; he's been strumming it impeccably ever since. Joined by bassist Keter Betts and drummer Bertrell Knox - two of Byrd's cohorts in the Washington, D.C., jazz sphere - the guitarist devotes his latest LP, Charlie Byrd Trio (Offbeat), to a dilly of a dozen tunes. Among them are Who Cares, How Long Has This Been Going On, Prelude to a Kiss, Gypsy in My Soul, several blues and a Funky Flamenco. Free of the intruding horns that were present on his previous discs, Byrd zips and sighs in virtuoso fashion.

( )

Debussy and de Falla

[The following "ramble" was first published in the Washington Guitar Society newsletter, No. 60, Jun 2002.]

It's well-known that upon the death of Claude Debussy, Manuel de Falla wrote the "Hommage pour le Tombeau de Debussy" (frequently called Homenaje a Debussy.) This turned out to be Falla's only work for the guitar, and is considered by many to be the first quality work written for the guitar in the 20th century. The piece satisfied two requests made of Falla: a request for a guitar piece from Llobet; and a request for a contribution to an issue of "Revue Musicale" dedicated to the memory of Debussy. It's often pointed out that near the end of the "Homenage" is a quote from a piano piece by Debussy called Soiree dans Grenade. I thought some guitarists might like to see Debussy's original of those 4 measures, so I reproduced them in the local (Washington, D.C.) guitar society newsletter (June 2002). You're not so lucky, since I still don't fool much with graphics on the web, but I managed to work most of the notes into a little guitar transcription, presented below in tablature.

The bit quoted by Falla represents a main theme of the "Soiree", and begins at measure 17. I've supplied the next 2 measures to give a taste of Debussy's "Mouvement de Habanera".

Tune string 6 down to C#. In this sample, when nothing is shown under a rhythm stem, repeat the note or notes just played. (This is a deviation from my guitar tablature standards.) You'll see that the same chord pattern is simply moved up the fingerboard. The small "h" indicates artificial harmonic.

                           La Soiree dans Grenade                         
  Tuning: C# A D G B E                                          Claude Debussy

  ____ _______  _______ ____  ____ _______  _______ ____   ____ ___   ____ ___                  
  |.-| |-|-|-|  |-|-|-| |  |  |.-| |-|-|-|  |-|-|-| |  |   |.-| | |   |.-| | |                  

[It's November 2019, times have changedm and I added an image of the music lined up with the tablature.]

Debussy, La Soiree dans Grenade.

The Mystery of the Fisherman's Song (June 2002)

[The following "ramble" was first published in the Washington Guitar Society newsletter, No. 60, Jun 2002.]

Please bear with me.

I have a guitar album called John Williams Plays Spanish Music. There's a set of 3 transcriptions of pieces by Manuel de Falla on it: Danse du Corregidor, Fisherman's Song and The Miller's Dance. The liner notes identify the pieces as coming from Falla's ballet The Three-Cornered Hat (El Sombrero de Tres Picos). They claim, "The three featured dances of the ballet stand on their own as a short orchestral suite and are often heard in transcriptions for guitar." The same three pieces have been re-issued on a John Williams cd called Spanish Guitar Music, and those liner notes also lead you to believe that the pieces all come from The Three-Cornered Hat.

I have a recording of the complete ballet, performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. (The Three-Cornered Hat also has a vocal part, sung here by Jean Madeira.) I was certain that when I played the album through the first few times that I had heard the music for the 3 pieces John Williams played. Later, when I wanted to note their exact locations in the recording, I easily found the Corregidor and the Miller, but not the Fisherman's Song. At least twice I searched by skipping the needle forward little by little to the end. Then, just to be make sure, I played the whole ballet all the way through again - no luck.

I was baffled. Was I crazy to think I had already heard it in that recording? I also have several records with a suite of 3 dances from The Three-Cornered Hat, the three being The Neighbors, The Miller's Dance and Finale Dance. Again, none of those are The Fisherman's Song, or contain any part of it.

Then I turned to my trusty book of musical themes by Barlow and Morgenstern. It very obligingly listed a big batch of themes under the heading: "3 Dances from El Sombrero de Tres Picos". There was Dance of the Neighbors, Danse du Corregidor (Mayor's Dance) and Miller's Dance. None of the printed themes were related to The Fisherman's Song.

Notice how weird this is - everybody seems to have a different notion of what the so-called "3 dances" from The Three-Cornered Hat are! In the three sets mentioned here - the Williams record, the orchestral suite and the book of themes - only the Miller's Dance is common to all three. (Just to confuse me even more, the book of themes said "3 Dances from El Sombrero...", but then included themes from a 4th - a Jota!) Will the real "3 dances" please stand up!

On the flipside of my album with the Three-Cornered Hat suite is a suite from another Falla ballet called El Amor Brujo (Love the Magician). Part 3 is called The Magic Circle and - guess what? - it's the infamous Fisherman's Song! Crazy... but maybe now we're getting somewhere.

I set out to nail down which ballet the Fisherman's Song is really from, and what it's really called.

Luckily, I have a complete recording of El Amor Brujo. (This ballet also includes a vocal part, which is again sung by Jean Madeira. She also sings Carmen in my collection, and these roles fit her like a glove since Madeira's earthy, gypsy-like mezzo-soprano voice could only be the result of countless generations' worth of pure Hispanic blood gushing through her veins. Actually, she was born Jean Browning in Centralia, Illinois.)

In fact, my recording of El Amor Brujo is on the same record as my complete Three-Cornered Hat. (I didn't mention that detail to make this more of a mystery!) Yes, I had heard the Fisherman's Song on my record with The Three-Cornered Hat, but... I had heard it in El Amor Brujo! (The album clocks in at a full 64 minutes, which should astonish anybody who remembers LPs.)

De Falla - The Fisherman's Song from El Amor Brujo.

The Fisherman's Song occurs shortly before the well-known Ritual Fire Dance in the ballet, separated by a clock striking midnight. As for it's real name, the liner notes on my album were no help. They give the story in brief (with no mention of a fisherman) but not a list of the musical sections within the work. Stranger yet, my book of musical themes supplies the themes to every section of El Amor Brujo - except for the Fisherman's Song! There's a conspiracy going on, I tell you. I decided this was a job for the Library of Congress.

I looked up Falla in the card catalog and found El Amor Brujo. The card itself listed the sections of the piece. One section was titled "El circulo magico; romance del pescador." Bingo! Well, almost. Are those 2 names both applied to the same section of music, or does the Fisherman's Song follow, or form just a part of, The Magic Circle? I called up a piano transcription of El Amor Brujo published by J. and W. Chester (London and Geneva, 1921.) There we finally see that Recit du Pecheur is a subtitle that goes along with Le Cercle Magique. (Flipping between English, Spanish and French doesn't slow us down, does it? Just recognize that the P-words mean "fisherman".)

It doesn't look like anyone's put the El Amor Brujo story up on the web (based on my miserable failures at tracking down good translations of the libretti of even the most well-known operas, I'd've been pretty amazed to find such a thing - could've knocked me over with a feather, in fact), so I still don't know how the fisherman fits in or what a magic circle is.

I should note that my confusion (ignorance?) is not universal to all guitarists. At the Library of Congress I called up a copy of a guitar transcription by Emilio Pujol of Recit du Pecheur. He knew right where he got it: "extrait de L'Amour Sorcier". Here's a translation into tablature of the first 8 measures. A rhythm stem without a fret number below it means to hold the previous notes. A fret number without any rhythm symbol above it is a grace note.

                    Recit du Pecheur (The Fisherman's Song)
                          extrait de L'Amour Sorcier
                                                                 Manuel de Falla  
 E A D G B E                                                 trans. Emilio Pujol
    ____           ____           ____                 ____           ____        
    |  |  |  |     |  |  |  |     |  |  | |  | | |     |  |  |  |     |  |  |  |  

    | |  |  |   |  | |                                                              

Thanks for bearing with me. I could've just said: Hey, ya know that Fisherman's song that the John Williams record says is from The Three-Cornered Hat? Well, it's really from El Amor Brujo. But I thought I'd try to do it up right. As my main story-teller, O. Henry, says, "The art of narrative consists in concealing from your audience everything it wants to know until after you expose your favorite opinions on topics foreign to the subject. A good story is like a bitter pill with the sugar coating inside of it."

So there you have it.

The 2-bit Guitar (February 2002)

[The following "ramble" was first published in a "The Guitar Strikes Again!" column in the Washington Guitar Society newsletter, No. 59, March 2002.]

Hey, get a load of this. The other day I glanced down at some change in my hand - and there was a guitar on the back of a quarter! It's been a quite a while since I've looked at a U.S. coin. In fact, I've made a pointed effort not to ever since McDonald's bought out the U.S. government and started turning our money into Happy Meal prizes. (I can't say I actually remember seeing the news article, but I know this is what must have happened.) There's a toy quarter for each state - collect all 50! I didn't catch which state claims to be our "Guitar State". I know Florida is famous for the "Tallahassee tuning" - all six strings tuned to low E. On the other hand, you'd expect Florida's quarter to have oranges and voting ballots. Who knows...

[Washington, D.C., area guitarist Kevin Vigil responded: I had the pleasure of editing and publishing this issue of the Washington Guitar Society newsletter. After reading Don's article "The Guitar Strikes Again", I felt compelled not to leave you in suspense. The state with the guitar on the quarter is Tennessee... my home state! What else would you expect from the state with the largest recording industry in the world (Nashville, Tenn.) and the home of the King (Memphis, Tenn.)?]

Unbashing Tarrega

Matanya Ophee has an interesting article at his web site called "Who Did What, And With Which, And To Whom?" It addresses the question of who was the real composer of several guitar works.

My two cents is that Ophee is unfair to Francisco Tarrega in this article. A reader new to the discussion might conclude that Tarrega tried to take credit for the Francois de Fossa "campanelas study"; or for "Oremus", an arrangement of a piano piece by Robert Schumann.

Regarding the campanelas study, Ophee wrote in a Soundboard article (November 1981) that major publishers had, in fact, gotten the Fossa credit right (for example, in an old Guitar Review and in an Isaias Savio guitar anthology) and he took pains to blame more recent confusion on "irresponsible disciples."

But in the web article he uses the issue to set up the question, "How much of Tárrega's output is really by Tárrega?"

Regarding Oremus, Ophee rants that it is "perhaps the most flagrant rip-off by Tárrega". Yet there's nothing in Ophee's web page that suggests Tarrega tried to claim authorship. And this time he is silent on irresponsible disciples.

Ophee claims, "[Tarrega's] variations on The Carnival of Venice are clearly derived from other variations on the same theme by Mertz, Zani de Ferranti, Carcassi, Makaroff, and countless others."

I have only the Ferranti and Makaroff variations in my collection (the Makaroff set courtesy of Ophee via Soundboard), but I can't see how a single one of Tarrega's variations is similar to or derived from any of Ferranti's or Makaroff's variations.

Ophee says, "The authorship of Tárrega "masterpieces" such as Jota Aragonesa can be clearly traced to people like Julián Arcas and Tomás Damás."

The Union Musical Espanola edition (1971) of "Fantasia sobre la Jota Aragonesa" clearly credits Julian Arcas as the composer. Below the title is "Arreglo de F. Tarrega" and "Rev. de M. Llobet."

The piece is 12 pages long. About 4 pages-worth of music - all found within the first 6 pages - are lifted directly from Arcas' "Jota Aragonesa", at least as published in Frederick Noad's "Romantic Guitar". I presume the Noad version is complete since he refers to the music being seen "as it was originally published."

If the other 8 pages-worth of music in the UME edition is really by Tarrega (and I'm not in a position to claim this), it would seem that Tarrega's contribution to the work, for which he only gets arrangement credit, is under-acknowledged.

There's a nice, color picture of luthier Miguel Rodriguez tapping a guitar soundboard in his shop in the article "Andalusia", National Geographic, June 1975, page 842.

The caption tells us, "Now three generations of Rodriguezes turn out four or five guitars a month. Each will sell for as much as $800."

The following excerpt is from the introduction to the book We Seven, by "the astronauts themselves" (Simon & Schuster, 1962). The introduction was written by John Dille.

Scott [Carpenter]'s chief interest in life, aside from being a good astronaut, is his handsome and vivacious family... Throughout his training, Scott kept a log in which he recorded his daily activities and sent this on to [his wife] Rene so she would understand exactly what he was up to. An extremely articulate man, Scott filled the log with the same crisp and often poetic imagery which marks his everyday conversation... "I enjoy all this - every minute of it - and wish I could cut my sleeping in half and enjoy it that much more . . . If this comes to a fatal, screaming end for me, I will have three main regrets: I will have lost the chance to contribute to my children's preparation for life on this planet; I will miss the pleasure of making love to you when you are a grandmother, and I will never have learned to play the guitar well."

Speaking of romance, remember the story of the monkey business at the court of Charles II taken from the Memoirs of Count Grammont? (See "The Art And Times Of The Guitar", Frederic Grunfeld, p115.) It involves the rascally Duke of York (the king's brother), Lady Chesterfield ("the object of the Duke's maneuvering" and owner of "the best guitar in England") and Lord Chesterfield.

An extended version of the story is retold as a "Ribald Classic" in a well-known men's magazine (May 1970, page 159.) I found this while doing Beatles research (and if you don't believe me, set your browser on my monster page, "The Beatles in Yobyalp".)

Grunfeld takes us through the scene where a saraband by Francesco Corbetta is played over and over while the Duke of York and Lady Chesterfield make googoo eyes at each other. (In the Ribald Classic version, a character is pruned; and the Duke does the playing himself. Each time, he claims he could play it better - hence all the repetitions.) Lord Chesterfield, "who clearly perceived that he was the person played upon, thought it a most detestable piece."

The Ribald Classic continues with a discussion of the finest legs at court - visiting Muscovite vs. home-team English, in general, and Miss Stuart's (the king's favorite) in particular. After Miss Stuart proudly and immodestly "lifted her skirt right above the knee", the Duke of York rated her leg much too thin and maintained shorter and plumper legs - "clothed in green stocking" - to be superior. Hmmm, doesn't that describe Lady Chesterfield's legs to a tee? Lord Chesterfield was, again, not amused.

Getting back to the guitar, here's the rest of the story. In Robert McNear's retelling, it takes the form of a conversation between Lord Chesterfield and Count Grammont.

"You have not heard all, my friend," continued Lord Chesterfield. "Today, when I arrived home, I found that Lady Chesterfield had the beauties of the court in to practice guitar. Watching were lords Denham and Rochester and Shrewsbury, and that royal rascal, the Duke of York.

"I was standing behind the guitar players, in a position that Lord Denham had just vacated. York was standing behind my wife. I do not know what had become of his hand, but I do know that his arm had disappeared right up to his elbow. Then he turned around and saw me and was so disconcerted by my presence that, in drawing away his hand, he came near to completely undressing Lady Chesterfield."

"A melancholy day," said the Comte de Gramont, "when the king's own brother---"

"I did what I had to do," interrupted Chesterfield.

"You did what, my lord?"

"My honor was in the balance."

"Mon Dieu!" said the Frenchman, convinced that the other had murdered the Duke of York, before whom all knees were bent.

"I did it," repeated Chesterfield.

"How could you?" asked the chevalier, thinking of the monstrous scandal.

"I broke it," said Lord Chesterfield. "I took Lady Chesterfield's damned guitar and smashed it into a thousand pieces."

                                           ( )

For one of the classical guitar's hot hits subjected to a punk rock treatment, listen to the intro to the song "My Part" by the Minutemen. This is track 13 (maybe) out of 16 (yikes) on side B (I think) of The Politics Of Time album (1984). Anyhow, count 4 skinny tracks back from the end of the side with the photo on the label and you should hear the what-were-once-dulcet tones of the Leyenda theme.

Now, not too many people may have use for this brainstorm, but here goes. Even after many attempts at getting used to reading upside-down tablature, it never clicked for me. (You will remember that in my page proposing a standardized tablature notation, I stump for the "right-side up" orientation, which is the way modern tablatures are almost universally done now, anyway.)

Going through Francesco da Milano's Libro Terzo, I discovered that if I turned the page upside-down, I could read the tablature passably well from right to left. It's a slight bummer you have to pick up the rhythm values from below the staff, but overall, the experience is far less exasperating than poking at wrong strings in upside-down tablature. I didn't smash my guitar once.

I have no intention of subjecting the world to every little mistake and anomaly I've found in my guitar music collection, but here's an interesting one.

Alonso Mudarra's well-known vihuela piece "Fantasia que contrahaze la harpe en la manera de Luduvico" (Fantasia which imitates the harp of Ludovico) appears 3 times in my collection in modern transcription for guitar. Each one of them deviates from Mudarra's original in the same spot. So do the performances I have on record of this piece.

These transcriptions all add two extra beats to the next to last descending arpeggio figure before the finale section. The transcription in Fred Noad's Renaissance Guitar anthology is representative. (See page 109, staff 4, measures 3-4.) It's hard to discuss music strictly verbally; a look at the tablature will help.

First is Noad's version, starting with measure 2 of staff 4. Below that is what Mudarra wrote. His shorter measures have been retained, although the rhythms have been halved; his 4ers are shown as 8ths, etc. In both tablatures, string 3 is tuned down a half step for the vihuela tuning.

        _______  _______                   __              __  ___
        | | | |  | | | |  | |  | |  | |  |. |  | |  | |  |. |  | | |
    N  _______________________________________________________________
    o  _3_2_0___________|_________|___0__0___|_________|___________0|_ etc.
    a  _______3__2_0_2_3|_2_______|_________3|_2_______|____0__2_3__|_
    d  _________________|___3_____|__________|___3_____|____________|_
        _______  _______                   __              __  ___
        | | | |  | | | |  | |  |      |  |. |  | |  | |  |. |  | | |
    M  __________________________    _________________________________
    u  _3_2_0__|________|____|___    _0|_0___|____|____|_____|_____0|_ etc.
    d  _______3|_2_0_2_3|_2__|___    __|____3|_2__|____|____0|_2_3__|_
    a  ________|________|___3|___    __|_____|___3|____|_____|______|_
    r  _2______|________|____|_2_    __|_____|____|_2__|_____|______|_
    r  ________|________|____|_0_    __|_____|____|___0|_0___|______|_
    a  ________|________|____|___    __|_____|____|____|_____|______|_

Now I'm no expert, but I think Mudarra wrote what he intended. Not only does it work, but isn't it a refreshing, if not slightly exciting, change of pace? Try Mudarra's original in the context of a much bigger chunk of the piece and then see if taking away the double-stop and adding the two extra "bom bom"s doesn't sound weak.

Follow-up: Since writing the above (it's now March 1999), I have come across two more transcriptions of this piece. John Duarte, in his collection "Alonso Mudarra - seven pieces", also put in the extra beats, but makes it perfectly clear in a footnote what Mudarra's original showed.

R. Sainz de la Maza 1954 transcription - predating all of the above - is, in fact, faithful to Mudarra's music in this little section. But he used a funny key, G. I suppose he had his reasons...

A couple of good laughs - in a field not exactly associated with humor - are served up in Andres Segovia's 1954 Ed Sullivan show appearance. Ed introduced him as, "one of the great names in American music." As Montgomery Burns said in one Simpsons episode, "What could old Ed have been thinking???"

The first piece Segovia played was Villa-Lobos' Etude no. 1. The audience clapped prematurely. How were they supposed to know the fermata in the penultimate measure wasn't the end? Segovia abandoned the piece there and gave a dismissive little wave of his hand to the uncleansed masses.

On the subject of humor and the guitar, one of my all-time favorite anecdotes is Julian Bream getting curious about his silver record and actually playing it - only to hear Paul McCartney's Band On The Run issue from his stereo. Bream tells it really good, too. (A Life On The Road, p28.)

[The following five "rambles" made up the original Guitar Ramble column in the Washington Guitar Society newsletter, No. 32, May 1997.]

In early 1997, the magazine produced by USAir had an article called Guitars With A Past. This was reprinted from Art & Antiques magazine. It discussed the collectibility of vintage guitars, which it defined as "electric and acoustic instruments made in America between about 1920 and 1970." It mentioned a guitar collection in New Jersey - 810 guitars worth $10 million - which "chronicles the history of the guitar from its debut in 1833." Say what?

Does anyone have any idea where they came up with "1833"???

[One theory: In May 1998, Roger Green wrote me, "My guess is that they are referring to Martin Guitars. 1833 is supposedly the date that Martin started manufacturing guitars, but probably not in this country. If you look at the Martin logo it says, "C F Martin & Co. EST. 1833".]

A recent batch of mail brought a flyer for a then-upcoming symposium with Aaron Shearer. It stated, "this forum will explore new directions on the most important role of the instrumental teacher - helping students to study and practice most efficiently, thus more fully realizing their maximum potential."

All well and good, but I would say the most important role for a teacher is to foster an enthusiasm in the student for the instrument and its music. Is there any defensible reason for doing it if it's not fun? And if every now and then a student becomes an excellent musician - that's just icing on the cake.

Fingerstyle Guitar magazine No. 20 has an article on the Los Angeles Quartet. It mentions their 7-string guitar and gives the diameter (.056) of the low string. Nobody listens to me, but string diameter is not a useful measurement; the same diameter string made out of different materials will give different pitches, everything else being equal. Observe that your 3rd string is fatter than your lower-pitched 4th and 5th strings. "Mass per length" is the useful measurement - regardless of composition. (See my web page on this matter.)

C'mon string companies, you can do it!

Dunno about you, but I get a little kick out of seeing my hobby-type interests mentioned in works of fiction. Classical guitar references don't seem to pop up too often. (Rather "thin on the ground," as Julian Bream would say - A Life On The Road, p28) I find more Beatles references - heck, more Scrabble references, even - than classical guitar mentions.

The only classical guitar reference in fiction that comes to mind was in a short story from Twilight Zone magazine (April 1985, p82).

"Then, perhaps, she might sit down with a glass of fresh iced tea, and listen to a record. Not the high, piping voices of Chipmunks or Smurfs, hicupping over the peanut butter jammed in the grooves, but a record of her own, maybe Parkening Plays Bach."

The title is Barter, by Lois McMaster Bujold, and it's the gut-bustin' funny story of how a housewife triumphs over 3 kids, 2 cats and 1 husband (with a little help from her extra- terrestrial friend.)

*** Classical Mechanics (Prelude) ***

One of the nicest guitar surprises was finding a piece of guitar music published in my college (Drexel University) literary magazine, Maya, in 1976. It's a snappy little piece called "Classical Mechanics (Prelude)". (I was a physics major, so I have a double connection to it!)

"Classical Mechanics (Prelude)" by E. Gretz (pdf)

I'm sure the composer would be happy to know his work is still remembered and enjoyed more than 20 years later. [Over forty years now, as I share it with the world.] Notice that it was all drawn free-hand - including the staff lines. Thank you, E. Gretz! wherever you may be now.

In the guitar magazine Soundboard (Summer 1993) a reviewer says of a certain piece, "measures 22 and 23 will be a nightmare to play smoothly." Later he says, "the overall difficulty level is moderate."

I've often wondered about this. Are guitarists are the only musicians who call a piece easy when there are only a few impossible spots?

In the same batch of reviews, a reviewer, bless his heart, gives a good thrashing to a publisher who shows the all-too-common lack of concern for the performer. He says, "Well, the time has arrived for 'Xerox, cut and paste' or 'Page turner not included' [warning labels] in the sheet music world."

Also in the same magazine was another installment of the article "Left-hand movement - a bag full of tricks" by Frank Koonce. Frank encourages us to consider out-of-the-ordinary left-hand configurations to get us through problem spots and gives loads of eye-opening examples. Wouldn't it be nice to have a repository for these clever solutions so that when you hit a problem spot in a piece you could look it up to see how others have dealt with it? Or if you think you've come up with a good one, you could make it available to the guitar world?

Frank suggests, "any technical requirements left unclear by the notation of the printed music should be marked by the performer after his first reading so that the same mistakes aren't made twice." Hear, hear! I've been preaching this for years: play any piece correctly on the second run-through by solving every problem on the first. So far, I haven't had a single convert to this method.

In Guitar Review 75 (Fall 1988), John Bonfield proposed a method similar to that used by Toastmasters for judging guitar competitions. This makes absolute, total sense. I'm sure that the GFA does not use such a method for its competitions, and it bothers me to think that the final decision may be a function of one or several judges' assertiveness. Why should there be any need for deliberation? Just tally up the judges' individual score sheets - and there you have it.

Did you know that guitar music - specifically, 4 measures from Fernando Sor's Op. 11, no. 5 - make up part of the Sharp Corporation's test pattern for its photocopy machines? (This was true, at least, in 1995.)

My all-time favorite guitar-related ad was one in the Fall 1994 Soundboard. Personal Touch Music Publications supplied a jingle that would do Mr. Clean or Datsun proud. It was for classical guitar music. It had lyrics. "Per-son-al Touch Mu-sic Pub-li-ca-tions!" I still can't get the daggone thing out of my head. Here it is in tab. Play it at your own risk!

      _____  ____  ____      ____   ____  ____        
      |. -|  |  |  |  |  |   |  |   |  |  |  |  |                  
     Per-so-nal Touch        Mu-sic Publi-ca-   tions

Opera was enormously popularity in the 19th century, and there were tremendous numbers of arrangements of operatic music for solo and combined instruments. This was certainly the case with the guitar, although not much of it has been reprinted in our time. It seems that it is generally not very highly regarded. Here are some published thoughts on the matter.

In The Classical Guitar anthology (p12), Frederick Noad says, "Arrangements of operatic themes were popular in the period, but are sparsely represented here on the assumption that a large measure of their original success was due to the fact that the tunes were already well-known which is rarely the case today."

In The Romantic Guitar anthology (p13), Noad says, "Music publishing flourished [in Victorian and Edwardian times], and an enormous quantity of trivial music appeared for the guitar, with endless arrangements intended to serve as home reminders of a night at the opera, a function now better served by records."

He also states (p95), "The transcriptions of this period focused mainly on the Grand Opera repertoire, which rarely translates itself satisfactorily to the solo guitar."

Speaking of Francisco Tarrega, Noad says (p12), "Although much criticized for adapting unsuitable works to the guitar, it was the superior ability with which Tarrega handled transcription that elevated his work above the many unskilled operatic fantasies so popular in the nineteenth century."

In the article "The guitar and the keyboard instruments" from Guitar Review 39, Mario Sicca provides a list of pieces for guitar and piano. He says (p18), "Not all of the works are of the same high musical level. Some, in accordance with the taste of the time, are transcriptions of operatic arias - certainly not now deserving the honor of the concert stage."

I would venture that, as in any genre of music for the guitar, there is a wide range of quality in this music. Julian Bream's recording of Mauro Giuliani's "Rossiniane" was an eye-opening experience for many people. People can decide what they like for thmeselves. If it sounds good, what does it matter if we're not familiar with the operatic original? After all, for any given piece of music that you've ever liked, there was a time when you had never heard it before.

(Actually, in spite of the above comments, Frederick Noad may have done more than anyone else to make this music available. He's published numerous operatic arrangements by Giuliani, Carcassi and Carulli, at least.)


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