Martha Masters Interview
Martha Masters is an internationally renown performer, who has received critical acclaim as both a soloist and a chamber musician with Duo Erato. In 2000, Dr. Masters won the Guitar Foundation of American (GFA) international competition. She is currently on the faculty of Loyola Marymount University, and maintains an active performance schedule. Dr. Masters was kind enough to do an interview for the Classical Guitar Blog. In this half, we talk about how she began guitar, the National Guitar Workshop, and her teaching and recordings.
Classical Guitar Blog: When did you start playing guitar? Classical first? What’s your guitar story?
Martha Masters: I started playing when I was 6 years old. I have an older sister, and she started playing the violin. I really just wanted to be just like her. My first choice instrument was the cello, but my mom said it was too big to take on the school bus, so I should choose another instrument! My uncle really loved the guitar, and suggested that I play it. I was just to shy to say no….and I’m grateful to him for bringing me to the instrument!
CGB: Tell us a bit about your work with the National Guitar Workshop. What sorts of classes or lessons do you run for them?
Martha Masters: I work two weeks for NGW every year. One is here in Los Angeles, I run what they call a seminar. I am the only classical teacher, and we typically have about 10 students that I work with all week. We spent about 6 hours each day together, doing a real variety of things such as technical work, interpretive discussion, masterclass lessons, comparative listening, and ensemble playing. It’s quite an intensive class, and by the end of the week, we all know each other quite well- it’s very personal!
The other week is for what they call the Classical Summit, which takes place at their home base location. For the first twenty-some years of the workshop, that was always in New Milford, CT. This summer, the campus moved to Purchase, NY (SUNY Purchase). Both campuses had great features, and I’m not sure yet where it will be next year, TBA! But the basis of the summit is quite different than than the seminar. It’s primarily masterclass lessons with multiple faculty members. Students rotate classes throughout the day. There are multiple classical concerts throughout the week; the students can sign up to play in a juried student recital one evening; and we all work together on a large guitar orchestra piece throughout the week for performance on the last night. It’s a larger group experience, with more players than what we have in LA – just a different vibe, but both are great!
CGB What do you do with workshoplive.com? How does it work? Can anyone take a lesson with you?
Martha Masters: A few years ago I filmed a series of 20 lessons for WorkshopLive. They are aimed at people who already know how to play, but who want to improve their skills. These lessons are available for anyone who wants to sign up through their website.
CGB: Tell us about the guitar program at Loyola Marymount University. What courses do you teach? Is there a guitar-specific curriculum?
Martha Masters: It is a small program, and it’s a Bachelor of Arts vs. a Bachelor of Music. The students are required to take many more core and elective courses outside of music, aiming for a really well rounded student. This means that they simply don’t have time in their schedules for the full array of music curriculum that you get with a BM. So, there is a general pedagogy class that all music students take for one semester (but because the department is small, it’s not guitar-specific). They all take a department-wide performance class each semester, again not guitar specific. They have to take a run of theory and history. I try to make of for the things that they don’t get in those guitar-specific courses in the course of my private lessons with them. We also meet a couple times per semester for a non-required (but very popular) guitar performance class, with just us. We’re a very tight group, and I’ve got a really wonderful group of students at the moment- couldn’t ask for anything better!
CGB: What are you looking for in a student?
Martha Masters: Good question…I’d say general intelligence, dedication, and passion for music are central to being successful.
CGB: You’ve recorded several CDs now, how do you go about deciding what repertoire is going to go on them?
Martha Masters: Things seem to just unfold based on what captures my interest at the moment. My latest solo CD is all early 20th century Spanish music. This developed from a concert I was asked to play a couple years back in New York as part of a guitar marathon, where they were covering the Spanish guitar throughout history. I was “assigned” the Segovia era, and this CD is an outgrowth of the preparation for that concert.
CGB: Tell us about your experience winning the GFA competition. What sort of preparation went into it? How was the atmosphere at the competition?
Martha Masters: The preparation was really lifelong, I’d say! More immediately, I’d say that the three or four years leading up to that were crucial. I did about one major competition per year leading up to my win in 2000, and I learned so much in each competition. I learned how I responded to pressure situations; I learned what repertoire suited me; I learned what repertoire audiences responded to; and I learned how to prepare on a time schedule. I made adjustments in each of these categories, and it all just sort of came together for GFA 2000. It was a great experience. I always loved the environment at competitions (in general). It was so great to be around so many peers who were so amazing- it was inspiring. I learned a lot from listening to others.
CGB: You’re now an active member of the GFA executive council, what’s going on at the GFA? Any big plans for the coming years?
Martha Masters: Lots is going on! We’re looking forward to a really exciting convention in Austin, June 22-27, 2010. It is being hosted by the Austin Classical Guitar Society, one of the strongest such groups in the US. The facilities are gorgeous, a new performing arts center in downtown Austin. We’re having a strong education component, as well as a Presenters Congress, which should be great for presenters and players alike.
Beyond that, the Board of Trustees has recently placed as a priority that we are working towards creating a network of affiliate organizations. Existing guitar societies and programs (colleges, schools, etc) may elect to join as a GFA affiliate, and we’ll be seeking to provide a greater sense of community and provide support for these organizations. The details are still being ironed out, but we’re hoping to provide regional educational events, scholarship opportunites, etc. We’re hopefully that this will help envigorate local support for the guitar. As things progress, we’ll be making announcements through our newsletter (sign up to receive it at www.guitarfoundation.org).
CGB: So, if I were to join the GFA, could I get involved in all of these projects? How can I become an active participant that does more than come to the convention and receive Soundboard?
Martha Masters: Good questions! We’re really growing tremendously in these areas, and hope to have very good answers for this in the future. For now, we want to encourage everyone to participate in their local guitar organization, and hopefully in the future we’ll be partnering with many of these local organizations to the benefit of all involved. We really want to continue to strengthen our sense of community, which I believe is one of our instrument’s strong points already. As we move forward with these plans, we’ll definitely be looking for volunteers, coordinators, communicators, facilitators, etc. Stay in touch with us! In the mean time, please stop by the forum on our website, which can be a great place to share ideas with other serious classical guitar enthusiasts.
CGB: Any tips for the aspiring guitarist?
Martha Masters: Practice smarter, not harder! It’s not so much the time you put in as the quality of the time. In terms of career-making, I’d say just be fastidious in your efforts. Virtually nothing “makes” a career for you- you have to go get it, and that takes a lot of effort. Don’t give up!
CGB: Any upcoming projects?
Martha Masters: I have written a book with Mel Bay that I believe will be published this fall. It’s called Reaching the Next Level, and it’s aimed at intermediate and advanced level players. It’s a technique and repertoire book, with the goal being to reexamine some technical and musical fundamentals using repertoire that is within your reach. I hope it will be useful for many!