Koyunbaba vs. Bach

My teacher said something interesting in my lesson yesterday:

“Everybody loves the guitar, but when they hear it played, they hate it.”

He was talking about classical guitar specifically. Everyone really does like the guitar, it such a part of our culture we have whole video games devoted to fake guitar playing. And the shear number of guitar students at music stores and conservatories around the world speaks for itself. But why is classical guitar such a small niche?

Those of us that play it love classical guitar. We like the sounds it makes and we love the music. In fact, we’re all evangelists of the classical guitar cause–we invite people to concerts, we play for family and friends and we buy the CDs put out by great artists. We all want more people to love classical guitar as much as we do, but they don’t.

The title of the post, “Koyunbaba vs. Bach” is really about this. Bach is extremely heavy and intellectual music–but it sounds pretty. However, it’s not the most exciting thing. Koyunbaba is not a work of profound musical substance, but it’s awesome and anyone who listens to it loves it. In the end that leaves those of us that play/perform with a question: Do we play the really heavy music? Or do we play the simpler, attractive pieces that impress people?

I have a hard time not playing the heavy music because I like it. It’s not as if there’s some secret code and I understand it on some sublime level–I don’t–but it’s fun and challenging to interpret and I think it’s important music which should be played. At the same time, my repertoire has to include those showy, attractive pieces because people like them. I’m not very stuck up about things I play or learn, and I appreciate both the complex and simple. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

What do you think?

Posted on in Ask the Readers


  • William

    Hmm. Well, I like Koyunbaba OK, but I find Bach’s music, when played well, to be some of the most passionate and exciting music out there. On the other hand, I think there’s a ton of great music out there that’s been dismissed and ignored because it lacks profundity. Remember that it was not that long ago that people thought the Cello suites were merely bowing exercises, and that people thought that you must make Bach sound boring to be correct… Maybe some day our collective thinking about Carulli, Tarrega, etc will come full circle as well.

    I guess my point is that I don’t see it as being as black and white as your post makes it sound, which I know is not your intention so don’t worry about that. As students we need to work on a variety of music to help round out our technique and out understanding of music, but as artists I think we need to concern ourselves with music that moves us. Wherever throughout the musical spectrum that music lies depends on the individual and I think that’s as it should be.

  • Joey

    You have to balance your repertoire. I’m not a concert guitarist; I just play in restaurants. Folks having dinner could care less if I nail some ridiculous Sérgio Assad piece (not that I can, but if I did). I get more compliments on the old chestnut, Spanish Romance, than anything. Same thing I’ve been playing for 20 years. So I keep Romance and Girl from Ipanema in the repertoire, and intersperse it with things that challenge me that I want to play.

  • Chris

    Sorry but I have to disagree with your comment ” but it’s awesome and anyone who listens to it loves it”. I heard it played at a free concert at a folk festival and while I like it from a guitarists point of view and like to play it, I don’t really like it musically and everyone else asked me afterwards, “why do guitarists always have to play their own compostions that might be fun to play but sound terrible?” Well it was not his own composition but the point is 90% of people hate it.

    I mainly play weddings and I have to agree with Joey that Spanish Romance is what I get requested most often. I also always play Cavatina as people like it, Classical Gas (probably my most popular piece), Canarios (still popular over 400 years after it was written),Pachabells Canon and arrangements I have done of popular tunes like Unchained melody, Beatles etc. Depending on the audience I also play a few spanish pieces.

    I also play Bachs Tocatta and Fugue, people like the Tocatta and Ialso keep their attention for the start of the fugue but I need to figure out how to shorten it as it is too long, unfortunately every section is a bit different and hard to chop a bit out and still flow nicely. I play the tocatta in a bit under 3 minutes but the fugue takes me about 6 to 7 which is too long. To me that also sums up the main issue with Koyunbaba – anything over 3 minutes is really too long to keep people interested and when I play it, it goes for at least 15 minutes. Plus while I like the challenge and different sounds from retuning, Really anything apart from a Drop D is not practical in a situation like a wedding.

    So play Koyunbaba at home, or in front of classical guitar playing friends but don’t bother playing it for audiences who do not play the guitar as all you will do is make more people hate the guitar which is not what we want – especially those of us trying to make a living playing classical guitar at weddings and restuarants