Guitar Quebec 1983

Master Classes

Some world-class Artists shared their knowledge



Lotsa Good Stuff!

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx




The 1983 Annual Conference held by the Guitar Foundation of America

Master Classes at Guitar Quebec

“Many students attend master classes hoping that by touching the hem of the robe of a master they will benefit—this is just not true. The best one can hope for is know­ledge.”

John Duarte’s introductory comments at his Tuesday morning master class summed up the attitude of all the performers giving master classes during this festival. None of these world—class performers tried to mold their concepts or interpretations of the music into the students or remake them in their own images. What did take place was a sharing of the techniques the student needed to more fully express his or her musical intent.

This was refreshing for us, as I’'ve audited some classes during which the student would be told, “No, that’s not the way to play it”, "You play like a pig”, and a friend of mine was once told. Happily, we never heard “pig” or even “blowfish” — just helpful hints and encouragement.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of what was told to each and every student, I think it would be more advantageous if I briefly describe the technical and philosphical hints the various guitarists gave.

David Russell

On warming up:

Mr. Russell begins his daily practice with slow chromatic exercises played with a slow vibrato. He feels this limbers all the muscles of the left hand gently and evenly, unlike simply jumping into a piece cold. For the right hand, Mr. Russell plays scales with one finger. He then plants his right hand fingers (p, i, and m, for instance) and plucks with one finger (a). This is intended to develop independence. Throughout these exercise he is constantly aiming for the quality of tone be likes. Mr. Russell then plays Recuerdos De La Alhambra with a two-finger tremolo: p i m i, p m i m, p i a i, p a i a, p m a m. Three—finger scales, slurred and non—slurred ornamental figures complete the warm-up. [Picture at right, above: Harry Pellegrin attempts to leach talent from David Russell.]

On performance:

Mr. Russell suggests that one not mix cross—string trills and single—string trills in the same piece unless it is absolutely unavoidable. This is advisable as these two trifle have very different qualities (as we all know) and these sonic differences can confuse the intent of the piece by drawing the ear towards one or the other, when things should be equal.

Slurs shouldn’t be used as a technical crutch. They should only be used for accent. Mr. Russell hardly ever uses slurs when he performs — my own observation from second row, center at his recital Wednesday evening.

Benjamin Verdery

On learning new pieces:

When learning a new piece, one should play each voice in the piece separately. In this way, the player knows which voices should be accented, brought out, and where the voices go. This gives the player a better understanding of the piece musically and may prove helpful in case of memory slips.

Mr. Verdery suggests that one should practice with the printed music even after the piece has been memorized. Many times mistakes will be incorporated into the memorization of the piece. By practicing with the music, one is afforded the opportunity to catch and correct these mistakes before they are committed to memory. [Picture right and above, Chris Hnottavange, Ben Verdery and Harry Pellegrin, once again trying to leach ability from a master.]

On relaxation:

Proper posture is a must. Mr. Verdery is an advocate of the guitar cushion, a device which straps to one’s left leg, supporting the guitar at the proper playing height and angle while allowing both feet to remain on the floor.

There would be no tension in the player’s arms. Tension wastes the muscle—power of the arm. The player should also remember to breath. Holding one’s breath makes one rush through the phrase.

On etiquette:

One should always acknowledge the applause positively no matter how bad you feel your performance went. Why should a paid the entertainer wish to spoil it things for the paying audience by storming off stage or simply sitting and frowning at them?

Costas Cotsiolis

Mr. Cotsiolis had. a run of bad luck as far as performers in his class. The beet performer in this class (and one of the better performers of any of the classes) played Sevilla on a steel—string guitar with a pick.  Another guitarist came up to play with a piece of music he must have just started to read through that morning. Mr. Cotsiolis bad to spend most of his time with this student correcting wrong notes and mistakes in the rhythm.

Mr. Cotsiolis recommended two things in class. First, dealing with actual playing, he suggests that the player develop a great sense of security with his right band. For this be recommends practicing scales (or any exercise in which the left band repeats patterns) slowly and forte, gradually increasing speed as confidence increases. Second, Mr. Cotsiolis highly recommends a product known as NAILOID Nail Repair (Richards & Appleby Ltd. 50 Jermyn St., London) Be related a story in which he broke a nail hours before a recital, used NAILOID, and played not just that recital but the next six recitals in his schedule without incident.

After the class had ended, a friend of mine and I sat down and bad a chat with Costas in which we managed to pry some real information out of him. (That’s a joke, anyone at the festival knows how Costas will tell all his “trade secrets” gladly!) For rapid scale passages, Costas uses a right hand fingering of i a i a etc. ascending. Descending, he uses the same fingering but uses the same finger when crossing strings. If you were at his recital, you know how well this works for him!  Another wry he speeds up his scales is by using left hand fingerings that minimize left hand motion — the fingerings Look more like chords than scales. [Picture right and above: Chris Hnottavange, Costas Cotsiolis and Harry Pellegrin. This time Chris and Harry are both trying to leach...]

John Duarte

On right—hand technique:

Mr. Duarte recommends that the student rest the right hand thumb on the bass strings while playing free stroke scales. By doing this, the right hand has support, plus the bass strings don’t keep ringing or begin to ring sympathetically.

Optimum nail shape is as individual as one’s right hand technique. The most important consideration one need make is to ‘be sure that the path across the nail which the string takes when plucked by the finger is as smooth as possible, with no bumps. Think of the nail as the launching ramp for the string.

When plucking the string, always be sure to keep in mind that the string produces the most volume and best tone when pushed in towards the top of the guitar before it is released. Plucking the string with a motion parallel to the top creates a thin tone without any real volume. This piece of advice was given in all the classes during the festival — a very common problem among the students.

All in all, the master classes conducted during this festival were informative and enjoyable. I wish I could have been in two or three places at once as there were other classes offered that I would have liked to have covered.

Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in organizing this truly outstanding festival. Only by having actually been there can one really comprehend the amount of time and energy as well as blood, sweat and tears that must have gone into the planning and arrangements. This past week will always live in my memories as a time for making new friends as well as friendships renewed. We learned a lot and shared a lot, and then, of course, there was the music!

Harry Pellegrin

Soundboard Magazine Winter 1984