Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category
I got to play guitar through my schoolfriend Maarten at my twelfth year. We had been co-operating musicians with me on harmonica and him on drums in the preceding years. His drumkit was self-built, out of a selection of toy drums mounted on a little black cabinet with two toy cymbals.
I, on the other hand, had recently got this fully professional Hohner Larry Adler 16 chromatic harmonica from my parents, around my tenth birthday. I had started playing harmonica after I had become fascinated by that instrument when my father played Oh Susanna on a yellow plastic toy harmonica we had lying around. I got a slightly more serious diatonic harmonica at the age of seven, then a Hohner Chromatic 10, that at some point got its E missing, and then the Larry Adler Professional 16. It cost 50 guilders then, which was a substantial amount of money in the early 1970’s, and to my astonishment these things cost somewhere between 200 and 400 euros nowadays.
Soon after, Maarten started playing guitar on this ancient maroon sunburst Spanish guitar that was somehow in his family, and within only a few months, only MONTHS, played Mauro Giuliani’s Arpeggio at a speed that most guitar students at that age never reach.
I recorded it myself several years ago, as a reminder to the guitar piece that got me to play guitar:
I was so impressed, I never knew such a thing was possible on guitar at all. Until then I had thought of guitars as instruments to accompany boring, whiny love songs, sung by long-haired geeks, trying to attract girls with it (which they infuriatingly – unlike me – did).
I can’t play this piece anymore nowadays, due to my focal dystonia in my right hand. Fortunately, there is something called flatpicking though, and when listening to people like Stochelo Rosenberg, expression with ‘just’ a pick is possible on acoustic guitar as well. I won’t be deterred, I’ll make my musical point nevertheless, even though I’d still like my fingers to work again as they used to. Sometimes I have dreams of playing guitar with my right-hand fingers again.
In the early nineties I was looking to make a musical step ahead, I felt I had hit a wall that I couldn’t get around or over by myself. I called Maarten, if he knew a teacher in the vicinity who could help me. He would know, having been a teacher of modern guitar at the prestigious Amsterdam Music College for several years by now. And he did. He got me in contact with Johan Smeets, a student of his who had just graduated at that same college, and was into exactly the kind of music I was into as well then. He had a symphonic rock background and was now into fusion, as I was back then. So now I was going to be taught by someone who himself had been taught by my friend of old.
He caused me to make a major step forward. I had never watched a guitarist of that level close up, and I remember leaving every session thoroughly motivated and inspired. Even if I didn’t do the exercises as dilligently as I should have, the amount I did do still made a big difference. I learned to hear and play more things than before.
I mostly practice by having to record something perfectly, I always had problems just practicing in a vacuum. But still, his lessons moved me ahead in a big way. A very important lesson he taught me is that practicing isn’t fun. You just have to decide “Do I want to be able to to this? If so, put in the necessary amount of unpleasant hours”
Before that, I thought that me not liking practicing was a sign of not really being motivated. I still have problems with practicing, but with recording I will go on forever, because there is that instant gratification for the perfect take. It’s mostly the four-track cassette recorder and hard disk recording that made me the musician I am today. There’s nothing as merciless as a recording of yourself, and you will either stop playing or improve it.
I’ll keep on recording for now.
I’ve found non-musicians frequently thinking of musicians, and especially of musicians like me who have been/still are into kind of complex kinds of music sometimes, that they can only listen in an analyzing way to music, figuring out what the musicians (and in my case especially the guitarist) are doing and how they are doing it, and what the chord progressions are and so on.
Well, here’s news for you: I don’t listen like that at all to music, unless I purposely have to do so (like when I have to figure out a song that I have to play myself in a band or for a recording).
Sometimes, music hits you – and yes, me too – so hard that it hurts. Hurts in a good way, though. It seems to release all these sad or bad things you have been bottling up inside, and then this one song or composition seems to say all that you have been wanting to say for so long but couldn’t. I suppose it was all summarized in that in that famous line by the Beatles: “…take a sad song and make it better”.
So yes, that’s how we musicians, or at least me, listen as well.
This one by Beth Hart hit home, the other day (yes I know, my rant about YouTube, but this one doesn’t have any ads):
So, YouTube is this platform on which originally you were supposed to post your own videos. That’s why it was called YOUtube, it was supposed to be about YOU. However, pretty much instantly this developed into posting other people’s videos, because most people concluded, quite rightly, that their videos weren’t what people were looking for on the internet. Having said that, I applaud everyone who continues to post their own material, succesful or not.
If the creator of the video notices that someone posted his or her video and claims its copyrights, the video gets removed.
But if the creator doesn’t, I notice that nowadays virtually any video involving a well-known person or celebrity has an ad preceding it. Which will pay money to some internet lowlife, and I suppose YouTube/Google, neither of whom accomplished anything related to the video apart from uploading it.
Not agreeing with traditional copyrights and just wanting to share these things is one thing, and something that you might want to discuss. There may be different models for getting paid for what you publish, and partly the free availability of some things actually attracts new customers.
But wanting to make money of other people’s accomplishments effortlessly is wrong however you look at it.
The adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) by Joaquín Rodrigo must be one of the most archetypical guitar concerts there are. If you play the first three guitar notes of the adagio, many people will know they have heard it somewhere, if perhaps not quite sure where. Or at least recognize it as a kind of template for Spanish guitar music.
It’s only three notes, two of which are the same ones by the way, but played with the right timing it immediately sounds very Spanish. Rhythm and timing often define musical styles more so than melody and harmony anyway.
Underneath you’ll find two performances of it. It has been played by scores of classical guitar players, and John Williams is one of the very best of them:
However, this classical Spanish guitar music is so heavily based in flamenco that to me it actually sounds better when played by a real flamenco player.
Like Paco de Lucia.
Mind you, Paco de Lucia didn’t read notes, so he must have figured it out and memorized it by ear:
Paco de Lucia’s tone is sharper, more aggressive. Definitely not your music college polished tone (which in itself has its charms, mind you). And that is the quintessential Spanish guitar tone, I feel. No disrespect meant to John Williams, of course. The man has a musical and technical flexibility matched by only very few, if anyone. But with this particular piece, I prefer the rawness of flamenco to classical refinement.
Still, John Williams sounds brilliant as well, and he, more than many others, does sound and appears like someone who really plays the music, as opposed to be reproducing stuff from music scores.
The first recordings of Andres Segovia I was confronted with were made when he already was in his late seventies. It’s only when you hear him performing at a much younger age (still 56, mind you) that you understand how stunning he must have been in his time, playing all this music on classic guitar that no one ever before played on it:
Today it became known that the famous flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia suddenly died at the age of only 66 years, probably from a heart attack.
I am not an expert on flamenco, but it is a style that has always appealed to me very much, and one of the first flamenco guitarists I ever heard was Paco de Lucia. I didn’t know then that he was also one of the very best flamenco players that ever existed at all.
When I got my fifth degree at music school at my seventeenth (my school used a degrees system that officially ranged from 1 to 6, only they just went to 5 at my particular school) my parents had asked my older brother to go look for a record with some very special guitar playing on it, that I would get for getting this degree.
My brother, not as much into playing guitar as I but always much more the curious listener and researcher for new music, found that famous record ‘Friday Night at San Francisco ’ featuring Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia.
He gave it to me with the words “Just so you don’t go imagining that you’re already really good”. He has always known me very well.
Well, it WAS an eye opener. I never had imagined that guitar playing like this existed in the first place so it set a new – ahem – target.
I mostly preferred the playing of Al Dimeola and Paco de Lucia on that record. Al DiMeola had the clearest tone, but in Paco de Lucia’s playing there was that special Spanish intensity and the specific flamenco melodies and dissonant harmonies that appealed to me.
In hindsight those concerts of course were kind of a tournament in fast guitar playing and not everything in it was musically all that appealing, but to be confronted with something like that at the age of seventeen is hugely impressive.
But hearing Paco de Lucia playing real flamenco is even more impressive. The man could keep up your attention in a ten minute solo piece like this:
Now that’s an immense achievement for any musician.
When listening to Paco de Lucia, you know that he’s someone who captured the very essence of an instrument, that he’s doing what should be done with the instrument. These are the sounds supposed to be coming from it. It all sounds so natural and easy. Until you try it for yourself. Then you discover how much dedication and hours must have gone into this kind of control and creativity. Of course he must have had a great talent, but part of that talent ís the kind of dedication you can put into things as well.
Apart from the great loss this must be for his famlily and friends, there were definitely also many years of musical brilliance that were lost here.
An impressive concert from a longer time ago:
Sometimes you pick up a guitar and right after the first few notes you go “Yes!”. This Taylor 114 was one of those guitars when in 2012 I went to Elderly Instruments in Lansing (a true heaven for guitarists, by the way; I rarely saw such a big choice of top range instruments and you’re allowed, even invited, to play them all).
I live in the Netherlands but my girlfriend lives in Michigan. 2012 was the third summer I was travelling there, and the fees for excess luggage had been going up so steeply that I figured it would be cheaper in the long run – and safer for my guitars – to just buy one in the US and leave it there instead of taking one on the plane every time.
I wanted to buy a second hand one (most of my guitars I bought second hand), and I discovered that Elderly instruments actually had about five second hand ones available. Within minutes it was clear to me that out of five candidates it was going to be this 114 or a slightly more expensive Taylor 210 series. It was this one that sounded the best though.
The 100-series being the cheapest series of Taylor guitars, it still has your typical chrystal clear Taylor sound, but with warm basses as well, and equally typical perfect playability. It’s got laminate sapele back and sides and a solid sitka spruce top.