Symposium focuses on guitar

Guitar Extravaganza, a Music School event, included seminars and panels on the understanding, playing and teaching of classical guitar.
Guitar Extravaganza, a Music School event, included seminars and panels on the understanding, playing and teaching of classical guitar. Photo by Vivienne Jiao Zhang.

The guitar took center stage at Sprague Hall this weekend.

On Saturday, the School of Music hosted its seventh annual Guitar Extravaganza, gathering guitarists from across the globe to lecture on the intricacies of guitar playing and to perform both original compositions as well as classical arrangements. Entitled “The Guitar: Today and Tomorrow,” the symposium provided technical instruction in addition to discussing the instrument’s evolution and its place in the musical world today.

Drawing Yale students, local high-schoolers and amateur guitarists from around the country, the event featured seminars on the future of classical guitar, improvisational skills and guitar education. Benjamin Verdery, a professor of guitar at the School of Music, hosted the program and moderated many of the panels, which were taught by School of Music faculty members, high school music teachers and world-renowned guitarists.

Jack Vees, director of the Yale Center for Studies in Music Technology, gave a workshop performance titled “Improvising for Large Guitar Ensembles” with Verdery. In this performance, Vees and Verdery split 30 students of various ages and skill levels into two groups, each conducting their ensemble in a pre-selected variety of improvisational techniques.

“We took five or six basic ideas, such as percussive sound and staccato, divided the group, and instructed them on how to listen while improvising in a group,” Vees said. “At the end, we switched and let students take our place. The most fun thing was to be a player in the group and watch what students would do as conductors.”

The acclaimed Italian classical guitar duo SoloDuo, formed by Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli in 2003, closed the symposium with a performance. Other concerts throughout the day included the University of Hartford’s Hartt School Suzuki Guitar Ensemble, the Heritage High School Guitar Ensemble from Leesburg, Va., and the experimental, New York-based Dither Guitar Quartet.

Daniel Corr MUS ’02, a lecturer and the artistic director of the Gateway International Guitar Series at Gateway Community College, who participated in a panel titled “The Future of Classical Guitar Pedagogy,” discussed the evolution of guitar instruction and learning, as well as strategies for learning guitar.

“With downloadable scores and YouTube videos, learning music and guitar has changed,” Corr said, adding that despite the prevalence of self-teaching, technical skills are nonetheless best acquired through a teacher. In his experience as a lecturer, Corr said guitar majors often enter the program without a “sustainable” foundation.

Kevin Vigil MUS ’90, who leads the Heritage High School Guitar Ensemble, said that in the public school districts of Virginia at which he has taught, art and music education programs help engage students in school. Vigil said that in addition to ensuring that music programs receive funding in the first place, it is important that guitar instructors, who are often themselves amateurs, provide a uniform level of technical skills.

The Guitar Extravaganza was sponsored by the D’Addario Foundation for the performing arts, a national nonprofit organization that supports community music education.

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