Happy High Status: on meeting a hero

After Jonathan Leathwood’s outstanding debut at London’s Wigmore Hall earlier this week, I was lucky enough to meet a hero — the guitarist Julian Bream, one of the great figures in the rebirth of the guitar as an instrument taken seriously in the world of classical music.

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Changing the habit of a lifetime

Well, maybe not a lifetime. Nevertheless, one of the joys and challenges of being a musician is changing the way I think about the music I’ve played, in some cases for a very long time. And if you think about a piece differently, you really can’t carry on playing it in the same way.
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A MIDI Guitar for the Masses?

Midi guitar controllers have a chequered history. My big book of guitars has pictures of several, like the Synthaxe, the Stepp DG1, the Yamaha DG10 — space-age visions of cool technology that, somehow, never really took off. Part of this was cost - these things weren’t cheap. Partly it was because playing them rarely felt like playing a guitar. And partly, they didn’t work as well as the makers claimed or players hoped for.
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On Practice

Spurred by the discussion of Kata at QCon London, and reminded by a nice tribute to Pablo Casals in the Guardian this weekend, some thoughts on practice in music and software development. To start with, here’s Casals: when asked why, at the age of 93, he still practiced for three hours each day, he replied:

“I’m beginning to notice some improvement.”

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Fernando Sor - reflections on Op 6 (part 2)

It’s been more than three months since the first installment of this essay on Sor’s Op 6. The occasional series has turned out to be more occasional than planned, due to work, composing, playing and lots of other things to write about. Better late … here are some observations on the third and fourth studies from Sor’s op 6.
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Fernando Sor - reflections on Op 6 (part 1)

Like all musicians, I was subjected to the usual run of studies (or if your teacher is being fancy about it, ‘études’) in my early training as a guitarist. Most of these are, it has to be said, pretty tedious, but the studies of Fernando Sor form an exception. I’ve always used two or three of the more challenging pieces as warm-ups or for specific technical purposes, but more recently I’ve come to appreciate the simpler pieces, for altogether different reasons. This essay and a handful of subsequent ones will explore these reasons, paying particular attention to Sor’s first published set of studies, his Opus 6. It will be part appreciation, part reflection, part performance notes, and might also give some insight into the workings of a musician’s mind (well, at least this musician’s mind).

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Tech detox

So when it all gets too much … what do you do?

After finally solving the problem with SEF links in my Joomla/Mojoblog site yesterday morning, I’d had enough - of PHP, CMS systems, plug-ins, Chunks, Snippets, Rails, the whole lot. So a day and a half off-line has cleared my head.

Staying with Joseph last weekend rekindled my passion for food, so I’ve been cooking (a hat-tip to Joseph for an amazing asparagus and salsiccio pasta recipe). Reading - finished Geoff Dyer’s wonderfully evocative But Beautiful, and almost (so nearly) finished the amazing 2666 by Robert Bolaño - at the point where I really don’t want it to end, I’m so into it. Playing, of course: there’ll be a (rare) musical blog shortly on Sor’s Op.6 studies, and the art of balancing the apparently simple with the intriguingly complex, and achieving perfection in the seemingly ordinary.

A visit to the RA’s impressive exhibition of prints by Kuniyoshi, with my daughter Evelyn and her partner. (Amazing colours, and in the earlier warrior prints in particular an overwhelming sense of movement. These were the original mass-media images, it was interesting to try to rewind my head to the days before screens, TV, video, films, where the only images were static ones).

Having been digging for a while, I found and downloaded a great performance of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, by the group Concerto Italiano. Immediate and vivid, and (unlike many performances) using small choral forces.

Helped of course by the gorgeous weather and a good bottle of wine! Head back in the game tomorrow, but it’s been a good weekend.

That was the year…

A small (and belated) selection of what worked for me in 2008…
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Music, programming and practice

A great post from Steve Freeman on what he learned about programming from his experiences as a musician. I’d reiterate the necessity of practice, and underline the fact that at a certain level, practice moves beyond being a chore and imposition into something of immense absorption and value. One of my favourite expressions of this is Pat Metheny’s 1996 Commencement Address to graduands at Berklee:

…the fundamental reward that I still get the most satisfaction from, is the process of what being a musician is. It is that need and desire to want to go home and practice that’s the coolest thing. The part where you start with nothing, have a musical idea or vision or aspiration, and through discipline and organization and preparation, and especially inspiration, you finally end up with the capacity to do something that you didn’t know you could do.

Composing for guitar and piano

By way of something different, here are some notes I passed to Anne Ku, who with her partner Robert Bekkers are perhaps the only profesional Guitar and Piano duo in the musical world today. It’s surprising that two of the most popular instruments around don’t have more music to play together: Anne and Robert will be playing some of my pieces and arrangements in concerts around the world next year, and are always happy to hear about new music to play (info-at-pianoguitar-dot-com will find them).
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