An Interview with Kevin Callahan, part 2

Kevin Callahan: [website][part 1]


Any other big composition projects in the works?

My wife is still waiting for her piece 🙂 And several players have asked that I write something for them (soon). Gotta roll up my sleeves and get to work! I’d like to write more for other instruments as well. I’ve studied orchestration and I’ve done some writing in that area. It’s an art form I’d like to pursue more seriously given the opportunity (and time).
You’ve had your music published by some major companies, what’s the process like?  How does a composer get their music published?

Once you get a piece accepted for publishing, the process can then turn a bit tedious as there’s a fair amount of back-and-forth checking of the scores for every detail you can imagine. Yet, mistakes can and still do happen. I know I’ve overlooked or missed things and wondered how. It seems to take six months to a year for the score to make it out the door. Today, it’s not that hard to publish your own scores, but it is nice to have a publisher like Henry Lemoine Editions working with you. They put out a quality product and are great people.

As a teacher you’ve worked with competition winners and other successful guitarists, have any tips for aspiring musicians?

The wider the foundation, the higher the peak. Make sure you develop your basic musicianship and lay the groundwork (which you can continue to refine throughout your career) but at the same time, don’t be afraid to check out the stuff you think is beyond your reach. Instead of telling yourself things are hard, tell yourself just the opposite: “music is easy” – then listen and play the music. I like to remind myself that all I have to do is put fingers on the fretboard in a sequence while I generate sound by and large with the right hand. Mechanically, our bodies learn what needs to happen to make music, provided we have a concept of what it is we’re looking to achieve and provided the foundation is stable. Here, I’m reminded of “The Inner Game of Tennis”. I don’t recommend tackling monster pieces on no foundation, however.

A lot of our problems arise out of misconceptions or lack of awareness with respect to what it is we’re actually trying to create *musically*. Learn to be the detective and figure out what’s keeping you from realizing the musical idea, the passage, the phrase, or even the larger scope of a piece. Always start from the musical idea if you can. Get the musical concept of the passage or piece first. Creatively visualize and hear the music in your mind. How does the music talk to you? What emotions are evoked? Feelings? Sensations? What’s the story being told? Sometimes we need help with that part and an experienced teacher or coach, another musician, or perhaps a great recording, can help you explore the possibilities that might not be readily apparent.

Of course, we run into a bit of problem when we’re looking at a brand new piece of music that we’ve never heard before. Looking for the music in a new score can be like searching for oil! In this situation, we often have to play through the score and trust the music will begin to reveal itself. With good technique and imagination, you can experiment quickly with various ways to finger and interpret a given passage as you bring the piece as a whole into shape. Fingering, I believe, is an expression of one’s personality and it has a lot to do with how a piece actually sounds.

Create the mechanical solutions that allow your musical ideas to be born. At slow and very slow tempos, try to execute the nuances you’ve conceptualized. Virtuosity is in nuance. If your basic foundation is good, you’re likely to be quicker to the results you are looking for. That said, don’t always play a passage the same way. Try unfamiliar things, surprise yourself with a different dynamic or accent or rhythmic detail and listen for the music it might suggest. Don’t be stuck on fingerings too early when learning a new piece. Fresh ideas may emerge. This will give you more skill and opportunity to play in the moment when performing. The worst thing is to have one and only one way of playing something – then when you are performing and you don’t do it exactly as you had planned or practiced, you start that inner dialogue and all hell breaks loose. While sticking to written notes, there can and perhaps should be an element of improvisation in the performance.

I think the most important thing is to play what you like and love what you play. Only you can know what that is. If you go that way, your music will be honest and people will get it. Not only that, music becomes a lot more fun and you’ll undoubtedly play better.

You play quite a few styles of music, correct? Do you feel that it’s important for every guitarist to be fluent in multiple styles? What genre or style do you spend the most time performing in? How do you think all these styles factor into your playing as a whole?

I do play quite a few styles of music, some better than others, and they often merge when improvising. I can’t say it’s necessary for every guitarist to be fluent in multiple styles. Important? maybe. To play a style well, you have to have an affinity for the style, of course, because if you force it, it won’t sound authentic.

Most masterful musicians are dedicated to one and only one style, be it classical, jazz, rock, pop, blues, flamenco… And while they may often enjoy numerous genres, they dedicate themselves to mastering that one style. Playing multiple styles can be a double-edged sword: while it may help your overall musicianship as you explore a broader range of musical ideas and have to develop specific skills necessary to execute those ideas, the downside is that there’s only so much time in the day to excel at any one of them. So, there’s a matter of practicality to consider. It’s time consuming enough to be at the top of your game in one style. If you take on too much, you could find yourself compromising on the things you love most. If you are interested in numerous genres, you’ll need to establish your musical goals and objectives. Those may change over time, of course.

I normally have my Millennium by Thomas Humphrey on my lap for most any kind of music I might be playing. The nylon string just seems organic. But, if I need to shake the room, I grab my ’61 Strat!

Any other thoughts?

Everyone can learn to play music and play quite well, and no doubt we can all learn from each other. I’m learning a lot from my students now and in ways that never would have occurred to me. Keep an open mind, and don’t forget that making music is fun!

Posted on in Interviews with Classical Guitarists