Over on the GSI Blog, Marcelo Kayath wrote an article titled Reflections on Guitar. The article is his version of guitar history, and concludes with what he sees as the problems today. It’s a great article, and worth a read.
Marcelo also presents a list of solutions. A “how to” about fixing all the problems with guitar and its popularity today:
- The original repertoire must continue to expand
- Focus on the quality of the repertoire, without concessions
- Transcriptions, only when they sound better on the guitar
- Small orchestra vs. grand piano [more Segovia like approach to tonal color, etc.]
- The choice of instrument is a crucial decision
- Let’s think more like musicians and not just like guitarists
These are all reasonable suggestions, but I’d like to address a few issues.
Who Gives a Crap About Your Guitar?
The “choice of instrument” suggestion is questionable, I’d say. Never once have I been to a concert and thought to myself, “oh wow, that guitar sounds great.” The guitar does not sound great. The player can sound great, and I don’t really care what instrument they choose to bring out that good sound.
Tonal variation and color can be accomplished on any instrument, and I think that color usage was a big point in Marcelo’s article. So why not say that, instead of talking about instruments?
The Missing Ingredient…
Most undergraduate music majors think this two step process will happen.
- They practice a ton, and get really good. They learn entire concert programs of interesting composition and transcriptions.
- They get a job, because talent alone is enough.
Marcelo’s list, to me, sounds like that of an undergraduate music major. In other words, he seems to believe all of our problems could easily be solved by upping our proverbial game.
I’m going to call bullshit on that one.
You want to know what the real problem is with classical music today? No one knows about it. You know why guitar concerts get filled with guitarists? Because they’re easier and cheaper to reach — after all, guitarists are the ones actively seeking out concerts.
Marcelo’s list is missing the key ingredient that no one likes to talk about: marketing.
The Segovia-Like Classical Guitar Messiah is Not Coming
We live in a fragmented world. There is no real mass culture. Sure there are a famous people, but most of us live our lives in little niches of our interests. We don’t have water cooler discussions any more, but we do participate in online communities where we talk about stuff we like.
The Segovia-figure, a man with huge personality and international stardom, is not coming back. Even pop musicians (aside from the super-famous ones) can’t fill a hall or sell thousands of CDs. It’s just not as easy to reach thousands of people interested in classical music because they don’t all hang out in the same place anymore.
Besides, Is There Really a Problem?
In the past week David Russell and Irina Kulikova have played concerts in Dallas/Fort Worth. Both concerts, while not completely sold out, had sizable attendance with a lot of young folks in the audience.
Down in Austin Matthew Hinsley and the Austin Classical Guitar Society sell out shows all the time. And I suspect their education and outreach programs bring a lot of young people to those audiences.
It seems to me that several extraordinarily successful arts organizations that specialize in guitar present a model for us to follow. They’re all really good at marketing and outreach, and they all bring in extremely high quality artists. Maybe the halls aren’t as big as the used to be, but who cares?
So let me ask you a serious question, Marcelo: is there really a problem? Or are you making one up and looking in all the wrong places for a solution?
An Alternative Solution
Yes, let’s do all the things are Marcelo Kayath’s list: new, quality repetoire, good transcriptions, interesting interpretations, and great sound. But let’s not stop there.
Matt Hinsley and the Austin Guitar Society’s success has nothing to do with the quality of artists they bring it. It does have to do with how good Matt and the rest of the staff is as reaching people. A local organization built a community, and that community comes out to support them when they ask.
Instead of worrying about the next Segovia, why don’t we focus on local. Matt Hinsley and the Austin Guitar Society’s success has nothing to do with the quality of artists they bring in (though they do bring in outstanding guitarists). It does have to do with how good Matt and the rest of the staff is as reaching people. A local organization built a community, and that community comes out to support them when they ask.
That’s the kind of asset anyone can build, and that’s what guitarists need to focus on: building their own local community of people who love the guitar. Such action is going to do more for our instrument than waiting for the next Segovia.