Tom on Guitar

Stroll back in time to one of America’s great contributions to world culture – home grown jazz and our musical theater (most songs here are of American origin). Many locales in these shows are uniquely American – among them the Mississippi River of Show Boat (Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man), the New York garment district suggested by The Pajama Game (Hey There), the West of Oklahoma! (People Will Say We’re in Love), and of Annie Get Your Gun (They Say It’s Wonderful), and the American South of Porgy and Bess (Summertime).

But the themes – love, sparring of the sexes, race, tradition, injustice – transcend time and place. The greatest songs fuse music of exquisite beauty with lyrics unimaginable other than as written. Oscar Hammerstein, as lyricist, was every bit the equal of Richard Rodgers as songwriter, and Rodgers and Hammerstein will be around as long as there are people who love music.

I was introduced to Broadway as a boy growing up in the 1950s. My mother sang Gershwin tunes from the 1920s, and there were record albums from all the great Broadway shows strewn around the apartment. My father loved to quote lines from his favorite shows, and did so to clients throughout his business career. But as I passed from boyhood to teenhood this music slipped away from me – as 1960s rock took over. (By the way, four songs here – Blue Moon, The Way You Look Tonight, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Frenesi were transformed into rock hits – three of them mega-hits. The Blue Moon of rock ’n’ roll couldn’t be more different from Rodgers and Hart’s original.)

It took decades before this great music again caught my attention, after I saw the film version of Showboat and a Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun. But this time I was hooked for good. It took even longer for great jazz songwriters like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern or performers like Louis Armstrong to invade my consciousness, but invade (and conquer) they did.

This great body of music—Broadway and Jazz together or apart—became my own answer to the question of what it means to be human. (“They say that falling in love is wonderful, wonderful...in every way...so they say” – Track 12.) I hope at least some of this comes out in the interpretations on this album.

To close, heartfelt thanks to my wife Helen Foley Silver for the wonderful art throughout this album, to my engineer Skipp Tullen for making sure that what I wanted to express came out in the sound quality of this recording, and to my arranger – jazz guitarist Eddie Berg – for his many terrific arrangements on this and my other albums.

© 2013 Tom Silver

Like most of the Boomer generation, I grew up with lots of the music on this album. Some of it sounds quaint today – just like the word “album” itself, which originally referred to multiple records housed in what looked like a photo album. Those albums belonged to our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. For us it was mostly 45-rpm singles, with a few long-play records. Later, LP rock albums predominated. In keeping with those days, the physical album in this package has that old vinyl look.

Our generation loved this music – and still does, I hope. It enriched our lives and sharpened our formative experiences of joy, heartbreak, and everything in between. True, few early rock lyrics will make it into anthologies of great 20th Century writing. However, there was that wonderful beat we could dance to, irresistible melodies and fun harmonies. Besides, all this became more sophisticated as our lives progressed. Many later singer-songwriters, some represented here, were no mean poets – and wrote music to match.

Some may wonder why songs of this group or that singer weren’t included. The method I followed was to work on more songs than would end up in the album. Those that did make the final cut comprise what I hope are the best performances – rather than those, which covered the most groups. Still, music here does span the 50s and 90s with lots of different styles represented.

However, why play nearly three-quarters of a rock album on Classical Guitar? – almost an oxymoronic idea. Two answers: first, take a listen and see if it’s such a far out idea after all. Secondly, I always wanted to play this music but never got into electric guitar or playing in a band. Classical Guitar is my instrument so it was Classical Guitar by default.

At age eleven I wrote to record labels asking to record songs like those I heard daily on my bright red transistor radio. Amazingly every one of those labels replied, and in letters with original signatures. Not a single response was the brush-off you’d expect. Instead, they offered solid advice about how to climb that ladder to the stars: work hard at your music, perform for your friends, then at school, then for local organizations. Gain confidence, develop your own style. If you’re good enough you’ll be noticed. Well, it didn’t happen – and for the most prosaic of reasons at the very least: back then I neither played an instrument nor had much of a singing voice.

But kids dream too. And as Rock Mosaic took shape there was this thought: after 50+ years that 11 year old kid is going to realize his dream after all.

I hope you enjoy this album. It was a thrill to do it. – Tom Silver

© 2012 Tom Silver

There are many approaches out there so don't take what follows as the last word on this subject. That said, here's my take. Obviously one major goal is to have your child look forward to the lessons, not to dread them. A related goal is for your child to develop a love for music and for his or her chosen instrument, here the guitar. And of course we want your child to work with a highly competent, experienced teacher – one who will have the child develop his or her innate talent – the technique and musicianship (or “musicality,” as they say today) to go as far in music as the child wants and is capable of so doing.

What we don't necessarily need is an “amazing” razzle and dazzle guitar player. A great player is not necessarily a great teacher, though there is no necessary contradiction between the two. Besides, excellent teachers maybe once were great players but gave up performing because making a living at it is given to very few. When you no longer have the time to devote to practice or performance, your amazingness can dissipate quickly. But if you had the ability to motivate and inspire, and teach the nitty-gritty properly, that never dissipates.

So how do you find such a teacher? In a music store/studio, or at a studio in the teacher's own home (perhaps located via the web)? Could be either, so if at all possible check with someone you know or ask the teacher for references. This may be uncomfortable but a bad teacher can set your child back months or years – or worse, so discourage the kid that he gives up altogether.

You know what I would do? Don't just talk to the references or to your friend whose kid takes lessons. Talk to the child directly. What does the child think? Does he look forward to lessons? What does she think of the teacher? Can she play something for you, and describe how the teacher helped her learn that piece of music? Does she feel she's making progress, and plays better now than months ago? You'll see for yourself if the kid is obviously excited about this teacher.

And do not omit interviewing the teacher, who will respect you for asking – and will know that you're serious about your child's lessons. Some questions to ask, in no particular order: how long does your typical student starting at my child's age stay with the lessons? do you have an annual student recital (a good teacher is proud of her work and wants to show it off, though not all have time or space for a recital); how long have you been teaching, and what's your musical background (both educational and practical – but don't reject out of hand a teacher without formal training – love of teaching is more important); how will you start out with my child, and what teaching materials do you use; how can I judge progress, understanding that each child progresses at her own rate; how far can you take my child before you might suggest another teacher; can (or should) I as parent sit in on the lessons (my wife taught piano for many years using the Suzuki method, which encourages this).

These questions are important for reasons which go beyond specific informational answers. They allow you to draw some initial conclusions about the teacher as a human being and about the likely “chemistry” with your child. Did the teacher resent having to answer these questions; was he open and honest with his answers, or defensive in attitude? Very important to know. Unfortunately, too many people pick a teacher because he's located conveniently; he charges the lowest fee in the area – or you name the reason. Selecting on this kind of basis is Russian roulette. Maybe you luck out; maybe you don't. A lifetime of loving music is too important to leave to chance.

Then there are practical questions like how much do you charge; what happens to the fee if you or I need to cancel a lesson due to illness or whatever else; will you help me pick out a guitar for my child's lessons. In our next post we'll continue the discussion, including which of the many guitar “styles” or genres is your child interested in – rock, jazz, classical, strumming to accompany songs?

© 2014 Tom Silver

A key question is what kind of guitar music your child wants to play. Rock, Classical, Jazz, basic strumming to accompany songs? Or isn't the child sure? My suggestion is for the child to get a basic grounding in the instrument, which means learning to read notes, how to hold the instrument properly, and use of a proper hand position. The kid can branch out from there later to whatever style he wants, and a good foundation can make that a lot easier than lack of a good foundation.

The problem may be that getting a good grounding is a lot less fun than learning to accompany songs right off the bat – if that's what your child has in mind. Only you know how serious your child is about learning to play guitar, and how much stick-to-itiveness is there. (But a good motivating teacher can go a long way to help your child stay with it.)

Talk with your child about what style of guitar music she wants to play. Maybe she can give you examples of well-known players she wants to emulate. One good idea is to expose the child to different kinds of guitar playing. Find YouTube videos of top guitarists representing each guitar style. Google the different styles to find top representative guitarists for each style, if you're unfamiliar with the guitar scene. Or ask friends who do know something about the guitar world. Maybe take the kid to local jazz or classical guitar concerts. She's probably already quite familiar with rock.

By the way, one of the best acoustic/rock guitarists I know of got there not just with sheer talent, but through a great grounding in music theory at a music school. So try to find a teacher who will teach your child music theory as part of the regular lessons. A broad-based musical education is a wonderful asset, and can pay off in many different ways as your child develops technical skill on the guitar. If your child is really serious about guitar – and music generally – make sure the kid is exposed to many different kinds of music, not just guitar music.

Once you've established the kind of guitar music your child wants to play, you need to find a really good teacher who knows that style. The preceding post on this subject covered some ideas on finding a good teacher generally, but you can also ask at local music schools – if there are any such schools in your area. Another idea is to talk to good local performing musicians. Find out if they teach, or if not, do they know of any really good teachers in their style of guitar playing. Maybe ask if you can buy them lunch, and take your child along. That gives you the opportunity to ask lots of questions in a relaxed atmosphere – and I suspect the guitarist will really appreciate the free lunch! Your child can ask questions as well. Talking with a performing musician can be a highly motivating experience for a child about to start lessons. If the musician teaches as well as performs, use the interview questions we covered in the preceding post.

Good luck! No matter how much talent your child may have it needs to be developed by a competent teacher, so it's well worth the trouble of finding one.

© 2014 Tom Silver

In a later post we'll discuss how to select a good guitar teacher for your child. But if you're considering making a gift of a guitar for your child – or for anyone else who will use it for lessons, here are some tips. The last thing you want is an instrument which is so difficult to play that it discourages continuing with lessons.

First, consider getting a nylon string guitar instead of one which uses steel strings. Your budding guitarist may eventually choose to play a steel string guitar, but steel strings are much tougher on the fingers than are nylon strings. The higher pitched steel strings (the guitar's first and second strings) are essentially thin wires which cut into the fingers' fleshy pads until those pads build up calluses. While calluses also are necessary to play a nylon string guitar, the nylon strings are much more forgiving on the fingers to a beginner.

Next, be sure to choose a guitar which has low ‘action’ – or at least action which is capable of being lowered. Action means the ease with which the guitar strings can be pressed down to the fingerboard. When the strings are set high above the fingerboard, that will require much more effort – and frustration for beginner – in holding down the strings, which is necessary to produce most of the notes on a guitar. Inexpensive guitars often have action which is way too high, because manufacturers can't afford ‘fine-tuning’ the instrument while still keeping the price low.

But don't necessarily despair if you find a guitar you really like other than it's having action which is too high. If you're buying directly from the guitar builder or from a guitar specialty shop, they probably will be able to lower the action to an acceptable level – and you should make this a condition of your purchase. Of course if you know nothing about guitars, you may not be in a position to judge action levels. In that case be sure to bring someone along on your shopping trip who does know something about guitars. Obviously, it's inadvisable to buy a guitar online unless you have full right of return.

Next, choose a guitar size which is suitable for the recipient of your gift. A six-year-old may have difficulty holding a full-size guitar. I strongly recommend learning guitar by holding it while in a sitting position – rather than by standing up and using a guitar strap. That can always be done later. Most guitarists find they have a lot more control over the instrument when they hold it in their lap, rather than standing up. So the guitar's size must bear a reasonable relationship to the guitarist’s size!

There are many other considerations when getting a guitar – so we’ve just scratched the surface on this subject. Other factors to consider are buying versus renting, sound quality, and type of woods used in the construction of the instrument. And of course, how much you should pay when getting a first guitar. We will cover all of this in a later post.

© 2013 Tom Silver

In a previous post we talked about some important factors to consider when selecting a guitar for lessons. Here are some more. First, make sure the guitar's neck is not bowed (as in the bow of a bow and arrow). To see if the guitar has a straight neck, hold the instrument up to eye level and look down the neck to see that it is straight. If you want to be extra cautious, wear a pair of eyeglasses while you're doing this. A bowed neck makes the instrument more difficult to play, and affects accuracy of pitch along the fingerboard.

Second, consider the quality of sound produced by the instrument. This will be very hard to ascertain if the guitar is strung with an old set of strings. If you are a serious customer for a particular guitar the seller ought to be willing to restring it with a fresh set of strings. If possible, ask someone in the shop who knows how to play guitar to play it for you so you can hear what it sounds like. If the sound is dull as molasses, your child may be less motivated to practice. If the shop lets you take the guitar home for a few days or if you bought online, have a guitarist you know come over to try it out and offer an opinion. And form your own opinion of the sound quality. One thing about buying online is that you should insist on the right of return if you're unhappy for any reason.

Sound quality is affected not only by the condition of the strings, but also by the quality of wood used in the guitar's construction. The soundboard is the most important part of the instrument because it is essential to production of the guitar's sound. You'll recognize the soundboard because of its circular opening called the sound hole. If the soundboard is a relatively thick piece of wood, maybe with a veneer, the sound will probably be anywhere from unexciting to awful. The best woods for the soundboard are spruce or cedar. Which brings us to the subject of renting versus buying.

Since rented guitars may come back to the shop in worse shape than when they left it, don't expect your rented guitar to be of particularly high quality. Sure, you're not risking a lot of money by renting, but you also may find your child giving up the instrument prematurely because it is so difficult to play or sounds so dull. If you found a good teacher (the subject of a later post) get that teacher involved in selecting your child's guitar. If you haven't found a teacher yet, have a trusted friend or relative who knows something about guitars help out. Guitars are very individual instruments and shouldn't be purchased as a commodity item based on a brand name you research online. That research should be only a starting point.

Sometimes you can really get your money's worth by buying what would otherwise be an expensive instrument which is now selling used. I can't stress enough the importance of getting a trustworthy third-party involved in helping you select the guitar. Otherwise you might base your selection on the most colorful guitar in the shop! If you look hard enough you should be able to find a good starter guitar for under $1000. If you're paying only a couple of hundred dollars and you're not buying a good used guitar from a friend, don't expect the guitar to take your child very far, or to sound that great or to be that easy to play.

Two last points. Be sure to check out the guitar's tuners by twisting the tuning peg for each of the six strings down a bit and then up again. You'll find out if the tuners need some oil or are ready to go. You'll also find out if they're so cheap or in such bad shape that they're about to come apart! Finally, take a good look at the bridge, to which the strings attach at the lower part of the guitar. Be sure it was glued on tightly and is not starting to pry up. Good luck! If your budding student stays with it, the guitar will be a wonderful friend for life.

© 2014 Tom Silver

A well-known guitarist and guitar teacher once commented that it takes 20 years to master an instrument, prodigies excepted, I assume. But that's only important if you're going to make performance your profession. Most people won't and so the all-consuming hours and intensity of commitment necessary to achieve mastery are really nothing to worry about. Enjoyment, sense of achievement, and the opportunity to play music with others are more typical goals.

That said, there's nothing wrong with a serious, structured approach to learning an instrument since you probably want to go as far as you can within the limitations of natural ability and available time. Here are some ideas.

First, figure out how much time you can spend practicing and block out that time for each day. Because scheduling commitments vary, scheduled practice also may have to vary depending on day of the week. The reason this is important is because you want to make practice a habit rather than a haphazard event. If you don't set a specific practice time and try to stick to it, you will find that there is always something more pressing to attend to – and practice ends up going by the wayside.

The amount of time you can devote to practice is important but what's also important is your consistency of practice. One of the things you're doing when you learn an instrument is building up strength in the hands and fingers, and learning to coordinate use of both hands. The strength you build up can dissipate quickly if you don't keep at it. As with taking medicine, you can't skip it for three days and then try to make up for the lapse all in one day! As many beginners soon find out, keeping to a practice regimen can be one of the great challenges in learning an instrument.

One more comment about practice time: your guitar teacher will probably tell you not to overdo it in the beginning because you need time to build up calluses on your fingertips. If you start out at two hours a day, you're almost certainly going to hurt your fingers – which would mean giving up practice for a while and then starting all over again. Your teacher will work closely with you to determine a reasonable amount of practice time at the different stages of your instrumental and musical development.

Next point is not to rush things along. Muscle development and coordination take time. If you force a fast tempo early on in a new piece you'll probably come to regret it, even if it's fun to hear what the piece really sounds like in your hands. You can easily hurt yourself if you ask your muscles and tendons to do things they're not yet ready to do. Imagine a budding athlete trying to do Olympic level moves on day one. And you'll quickly become bored with the piece because if you learn it fast, you won't have had time to get out the kinks.

Also important, one of the things you're trying to do when learning a new piece of music is to get that music from your brain to your central nervous system. That way you can focus on the music, not the notes. Think of a baby first learning to walk compared to that same child taking a walk 10 years later, when there's no effort or thought required. You want to be able to play that music as naturally as walking. Learning a piece slowly and naturally is the best way to accomplish that.

Back to getting the kinks out of a piece of music. A guitarist friend of mine once commented that in his experience 85-90% of most music flows easily and is not too difficult to learn. It's the remaining 10-15% that gave him heartburn. A good teacher is well aware of this point and will see to it that you don't take on music that is beyond your current capacity. Even so, you'll find out sooner or later that even within your current capacity much music has sections which require more time and effort to work out. It's well worth making that effort. If you're going to perform publicly, it's a must.

Your teacher will help you with these sections, maybe by giving you finger exercises specifically designed for the purpose – and probably by focusing on fingering for these problem areas. If you're just starting out you'll soon see what fingering is all about. In a nutshell, "fingering" refers to the choice of which fingers to use to play which notes. On the guitar, it also means deciding which string should be used for playing any given note. Often that's an obvious choice, but not always. Proper fingering helps you play a piece smoothly and musically.

I hope none of this sounds too daunting. If learning guitar is something you really want to do, and you're prepared to put in the time and effort, you'll be richly rewarded.

© 2014 Tom Silver

Here are some tips for keeping your guitar in good shape. These tips are intended to apply to acoustic nylon string and steel string guitars because I am not an expert on electric guitars, though there is some overlap. If you don't have much time to read this post, that's fine because probably 95% of the issue is keeping your guitar at proper humidity and temperature levels, and protecting it from accidental damage when not in use by keeping it in its case. If you stop reading right now, your guitar will probably be in fine shape 20 years from now – if you follow through on those three points.

Acoustic guitars are made mostly of wood, a natural substance very much affected by the elements. Modern housing with its dry forced hot air is deadly for guitars. If you live in a cold, dry winter climate it is essential to keep your guitar humidified in order to prevent the wood from drying out and cracking, which is probably the most common reason for a big drop in a guitar's value. Above all, do not store it right next to a heat source when not in use.

Ideal relative humidity for a guitar is in the 45 to 55% range. Two or three inexpensive cigar-humidor hygrometers will tell you where you are on humidity for any given room. I actually use four at a time and take an average reading, because these cheap devices aren't consistently reliable – especially after the battery starts to wear down. Or, you can purchase a higher-quality hygrometer – preferably one that is portable so you can take it from room to room.

Fortunately, however guitar-unfriendly your home humidity is in winter, there is a very simple, inexpensive solution. Guitar supply shops sell a variety of guitar humidifiers that are easy to use and should do the job – provided you follow the directions. You'll find a couple of online places which I use myself, at "Helpful Info" on this website. (We have no financial interest in suggesting these sites, but have been highly satisfied with their products and service over the years.)

The same kind of problem applies to temperature, although high temperatures are more dangerous than low ones. Glue is an important element in the construction of your guitar, so if you accidentally leave the guitar in your hot car trunk in the middle of July you may find that the glue, which secures the bridge to the soundboard, is starting to loosen. This would not be an inexpensive repair job, even assuming you can find a competent person who will turn the job around quickly.

The best temperature range for a guitar is generally 70 to 76°F. But don't worry if you're temporarily into the low 80s – that should not present a problem. Same thing if you're temporarily in a temperature of 60s or even the high 50s, your guitar should be able to withstand it. Ironically, the less expensive the guitar the more it can withstand what nature (and people) can throw at it. High-end guitars are much more delicate instruments than are mass-produced, factory made ones.

We've all heard about concert violinists who absentmindedly left their Stradivarius violins in a taxicab. But you may not have heard about concert-level classical guitarists who accidentally sit down on and crush a $30,000 guitar lying on a sofa for temporary convenience. I am not making this up! When not using your guitar, put it in its case and lock up the latches so the guitar doesn't fall out if you pick up the case, forgetting that your guitar lies ensconced within.

A Few Other Quick Tips...

Use a dry, non-abrasive, soft cloth to wipe down your guitar after every extended use. Otherwise, you'll find that perspiration, coughing, sneezing or even dandruff will result in an instrument that has lost some of its luster.
Use a sports-type sweat sleeve for your strumming or plucking arm to keep even more perspiration away from the instrument. Or wear a cool, long-sleeve shirt when playing during the summer.

When changing strings be sure to change only one string at a time rather than remove all six first and then replace with six new strings. With six taut strings, there's a lot of tension on your soundboard, and it's best not to release all that tension at once.

Try not to expose your guitar to sudden, substantial changes in temperature or humidity. After bringing the instrument indoors after playing out somewhere on a freezing winter night, leave the guitar in its case to effect a more gradual change in the temperature and humidity acting on the instrument. Delicate wood does not like dramatic change of this type.

If you're going to polish your guitar, don't use an abrasive polish, which will damage the finish or even the wood itself. Hopefully your guitar builder or manufacturer can make a recommendation here. Or check online for recommendations.

If all this seems like more trouble than it's worth, remember that you're on a learning curve. Once you make these protective measures a habit, they're so minor that you won't think twice about them. But you will protect your guitar's beauty and value for the long term.

© 2014 Tom Silver

For anyone who would like to know more about classical guitar, I highly recommend starting out by listening to one of the greatest classical guitarists of all time, Andrés Segovia.

First, some facts. Segovia lived to age 94, dying at his home in Spain in 1987. Almost all of his life was spent playing guitar, and he was still concertizing during his last year. Not only was he a great guitarist, he was also one of the key figures in the history of classical guitar in other respects as well. Segovia was the one most responsible for making the guitar the respected concert level instrument it is today. He did this in three ways. First, through his intensive international concertizing through most of the 20th Century. Second, by performing great classical music transcribed from piano, violin and cello repertoire (using his own transcriptions and those of others). And third by encouraging talented composers, mostly from earlier in the 20th Century, to do original compositions for classical guitar.

These transcriptions and original compositions comprised a major part of the standard classical guitar repertoire for most of the 20th Century, with a younger generation of performers and composers continuing where he left off. While there certainly were other top-level guitarists performing during Segovia's lifetime, no one matched his comprehensive contribution to the classical guitar as we know it today.

But these are just facts. What's really important are his performances, which are widely available today through music albums and on YouTube. Segovia was a great romantic – both personally and musically – and this becomes obvious when you hear his playing. From an academic perspective Segovia was widely criticized for over-romanticizing (schmaltzing up) music of all types, but his playing from the heart draws you into the music and is a wonderful experience. I've known people who had little interest in classical music – until they became familiar with Segovia. After that they broadened their horizons to the larger world of classical music, something which enriched their lives immensely.

If you don't already know him, give Segovia a listen. I'll tell you one thing – he was a major influence in my own life. After attending one of his concerts over 50 years ago I decided to study classical guitar. It's been one of the most rewarding experiences of my lifetime.

© 2014 Tom Silver

The last post on Segovia gave three reasons why he was the most influential classical guitarist of the 20th Century. There's a fourth reason, and that's the many young people he influenced to take up the classical guitar, thus perpetuating his influence into the 21st Century and almost certainly beyond. Some of those young people came into direct contact with Segovia at his master classes, while others were influenced through his many concerts and recordings.

One such guitarist was Julian Bream, himself a member of the 20th Century guitarist pantheon. Bream in turn influenced a great many other young people to take up classical guitar, and followed in Segovia's footsteps by concertizing internationally, recording, and getting a bunch more highly regarded composers to write music for classical guitar. Bream once said that his decision to devote his life to classical guitar was made after listening to a single Segovia recording when he was a boy.

But now let's pivot to another fascinating aspect of Segovia's contribution to music. Many of the most famous composers ever were directly responsible for introducing their music to the world – by performing their own music publicly in one way or another. For J. S. Bach this was largely in an ecclesiastical setting, while Mozart performed what we might now call "house concerts" for the great nobility of Europe. Beethoven, Chopin, Paganini and Franz Liszt are other great examples. With the exception of violinist Paganini, these composers were great keyboard players (harpsichord, piano), as well as great composers. Word of their genius spread early on and rapidly, and they didn't need other performers to carry the word for them.

Not so some of the great composers of Spain and Latin America in the first half of the 20th Century, who are remembered today not so much for the instrument(s) they played, but for the instrument they didn't play – classical guitar! Spanish composers Federico Moreno Tórroba and Joaquín Turina, and Mexican composer Manuel Ponce are remembered around the world mainly because they composed guitar music made famous by Segovia's many decades of international concertizing.

Ever hear of Heitor Villa-Lobos, the great Brazilian composer? For many people he is known mainly for his classical guitar compositions, composed for Segovia (who ignored plenty of them as too "modern" for his taste). Unlike the others though, Villa-Lobos actually did play guitar – but was not responsible for making his own guitar compositions famous. Segovia along with the next generation of guitarists (including Julian Bream) did that.

Here's one more fascinating example of Segovia's influence along these lines. Classical guitar fans will immediately recognize the names Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados – both pianist-composers of late 19th/early 20th Century Spain. For lots of people they are Spanish music, and not unjustifiably so.

You might also say that they are Spanish Romanticism personified – especially when you hear their piano compositions transcribed for classical guitar. Neither wrote a single note for that most Spanish of all instruments – the guitar – and yet I remember a statistic to the effect that concert artists who perform their music are far more likely to be guitarists than pianists. Arguably that was Segovia's doing.

If you haven't heard Albéniz and Granados performed on classical guitar, you're in for a terrific treat! Take a listen to Albéniz's Asturias (sometimes known as Leyenda), his Granada, and his Mallorca. For Granados, try his Spanish Dances #s 2 and 5, and La Maja de Goya. Spanish Dance #2 ("Oriental") is usually performed as a guitar duet, the others usually as guitar solos. All are wonderful masterpieces, whether played on guitar or piano.

One quick and highly embarrassing (to me) personal Segovia story before leaving this subject: in the first Segovia post, I mentioned that Segovia was a great romantic – personally as well as musically. He married three times, the last to a 22-year-old Spanish student of his (guitar) when he was 68 years old. Well, I was just a young kid when I first heard him play at New York's Town Hall, just a few years into this third marriage. After the concert, I joined many others who headed backstage to get Segovia's autograph. Waiting in line, I noticed a young woman standing not far from where Segovia was sitting and signing autographs, and who was dressed beautifully in what I perceived to be traditional Spanish clothing.

There seemed to be some kind of relationship, so I threw caution to the winds and took the opportunity to practice some newly-acquired high school Spanish. I caught her attention, and asked "es su padre?" – which translates to "is he (Segovia) your father"? I don't think I've ever had a putdown like the one I got from her at that moment. She glared at me, and in the coldest, most contemptible tone of voice possible, replied in English, "he..is..my..HUSBAND!" – and stormed off to join Segovia at his table.

Footnote: In 1981, the Queen of Spain elevated Segovia to the title Marqués de Salobreña, and his wife became the Marquesa de Salobreña. Segovia's name is revered in Spain as it is among music lovers throughout the world. Setting the guitar aside, Segovia is considered one of the 20th Century's greatest classical instrumental performers regardless of instrument.

© 2014 Tom Silver

Paul Simon is a globally recognized musician famous for his early work with Art Garfunkel and later for his solo career and collaborations with musicians internationally. The high quality of his acoustic guitar music is matched by the wonderful poetry of his lyrics. Both are characterized by inventive genius with timeless and broad appeal.

History

Paul Simon music is well known for its enormous and varied range, which traces back to Simon’s childhood years. Paul Simon songs like “The Sound of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Mrs. Robinson,” his arrangement of “Scarborough Fair” – all from his early fame in the classic rock era – are universally recognized. When the 1967 movie “The Graduate” made its debut featuring Simon’s songs, it catapulted the Simon and Garfunkel duo to international stardom. Having won numerous Grammy awards and nominations and countless other recognitions over his career, Paul Simon must be considered one of America’s greatest contributors to international popular culture over the last century.

Music

Since shortly after his music first became popular, Paul Simon has been an iconic figure in the world of popular music. His work ranges widely from early pop teenage hits to topical, whimsical, and deeply romantic songs, to international styles – of which “Graceland” is a prime example. All are embedded in the popular culture. What’s special to this writer are his distinctive voice, the Simon and Garfunkel blended sound and wonderful harmonies, the brilliant creativity of Simon’s lyrics, and the guitar accompaniments – which fit his songs hand in glove. Simon’s music has been covered by artists too numerous to mention, which no doubt will continue to be the case.

The Future

Simon’s career traces a path of musical exploration and growth, which undoubtedly will continue. Few musical artists have reinvented themselves so many times and so successfully each time.

© 2012 Tom Silver

Neil Young is a well-known musician whose performances are admired both for his distinctive voice and his guitar accompaniments. He is both a singer and songwriter who hails from Canada, and is highly regarded as one of the most influential musicians of his time.

History

Neil started out and continues to work as a solo artist, but has been a key member of many influential bands throughout rock and roll history. He has played with two top groups over the years, starting with Buffalo Springfield and then Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Despite his success teaming up with other influential artists, Mr. Young is universally known for his solo career, which gave the world his only #1 hit song “Heart of Gold” that I respectfully covered on my album Rock Mosaic. His music has been received with high honors amongst his peers and achieved recognition that has defied labels, genres, and the popular charts. Neil was inducted into the hall of fame twice, both for his solo career and as a band with Buffalo Springfield. He has worked in many different musical fields such as electric and swing, but is most known for his alternative rock. He currently is currently recording and touring with the band Crazy Horse, who has toured with him off and on for many years. Also a movie director under another the name of Bernard Shakey, Young has successfully worked in many artistic mediums over the years.

Advocate for Great Causes

Neil Young is a strong advocate for the environment, people with disabilities, and the welfare of farmers around the world. He helped to found The Bridge School for children with disabilities, and started the Farm Aid musical benefit. Neil Young has always been a strong activist and showed it in his music.

Why He’s so Important to Music

The importance of Neil Young’s music stems from his bridging many gaps in musical styles, because of the message, high quality, and originality of his musical output. He has worked in alternative rock and is known as a godfather of grunge. His music not only has his original fans, but also brings in new fans every year. He has made music at a rapid pace even with a number of personal medical problems that he has not let consume him over the years. He has used his music to openly speak on behalf of his beliefs rather than keep them to himself over the years. A talented man with a long history of creating music, social awareness, and good will toward his fellow man. Neil Young is one of the great creative musical talents transcending generations before, now and yet to come.

© 2012 Tom Silver

Ritchie Valens was a key figure in the history of early, or ‘classic,’ rock music. A Mexican-American singer and guitar player, he started the Chicano music movement in America and was a rock pioneer. Valens’ life was cut short when he died in a plane crash while on a 1959 Winter Rock ‘n’ Roll concert tour. Top rockers Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”) perished in the same plane.

Ritchie’s Life

A musical prodigy, Valens took to music at a very early age. He was exposed to a broad variety of music – both traditional Mexican and Spanish, and decidedly American styles – all of which influenced the music he later would compose. He mastered the guitar on his own, and while in junior high school would bring the instrument with him and play for his friends and teachers. Valens loved to play – either solo or with a band comprised of local musicians. He was well known for making up new verses and riffs to popular songs at his shows, which unfortunately were never captured on his recordings. In 1958, Valens was signed to the Del-Fi label after its President, Bob Keane, heard him play at a local event. The story of his meteoric rise to fame is captured in the wonderful 1987 film, “La Bamba.” Ritchie had a fear of flying dating to a freak airplane collision over his junior high school playground. This fear hindered his early performance schedule, when he refused to fly. Keane, however, convinced him that flying was necessary for the success of his career, and Valens finally relented. The great irony of his life was that it ended in a plane crash, immortalized in Don McLean’s song “American Pie,” with the line, “…the day the music died.”

Why We Love Ritchie Valens’ Music

Valens was an important innovator on the early rock scene. He created a Latin-based rock and roll that has influenced many Hispanic rockers since the late 1950’s. His music is best characterized by its powerful energy and passion. “Donna,” named for his girlfriend at the time, is remembered by Baby Boomers to this day as a paean to teenage romance. Valens is remembered as the father of Spanish rock, and one of the most talented and charismatic performers of his time. Beloved by everyone who knows his music, Ritchie Valens is remembered both as the father of Chicano Rock and as a man who died far too soon.

© 2012 Tom Silver