Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Dinner with Denis Azabagic, Jason Vieaux, and Pam Kimmel

As the heaps of authentic Greek dishes piled up on out table Jason exhaled, "Wow, this all looks so good. Wow look at that one! Wow!!" Jason is a very nice fellow, open and fun to be around. As I sipped my beer and looked around the table, I realized I was a sitting with three excellent classical guitar role models, two of whom are pushing the boundaries of the guitar world today.

Recently, I had the very great privilege to have this dinner with Pam Kimmel, Denis Azabagic, and Jason Vieaux. It was immediately following a concert of Jason's at Roosevelt University (my alma mater) set up by the persistence and good taste of Pam Kimmel (be sure to read my interview with her, she if fabulous). Jason's playing is, in a word, incredible. His Bach was flawless, his Albeniz was thunderous, his Metheny mysterious, and his Merlin dynamic. If you ever have a chance to see him, take it, it is well worth it...

Following the concert I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner by Denis. Just sitting at the table with the three of them was really a great experience. It reminded me of the time I beat Stanley Yates and Stephen Aaron in pool. Just hanging out with these champions of the guitar was great. Moreover, I got to hear some excellent stories.

For example, I coaxed Jason into telling story of his GFA win. He famously broke his fourth string in the middle of the finals. As he said it, a collective intake of breath was clearly audible by the audience. Instantly he began to panic. However, Stephen Aaron calmly said something like, "Jason, you have plenty of time in the round left to change strings." So Jason flees backstage and realizes he has used all of his strings up.... Can you imagine? However, Andrew Zohn was warming up and altruistically gave Jason a string to use... The rest is history, Jason won the GFA. After that story he told Andrew's version of it. Oh and by the way, Jason does a great impression of him. Apparently Andrew tells the story that he found the, "Greenest, dullest, most used up string left in his case..." Believe me it was hilarious...

We talked and ate for an hour or so and just had a wonderful time. I got to learn a bit about the guitar world's inner, political workings. Like the GFA Advisory Council (VOTE FOR PAM KIMMEL) and the management style of Martha Masters. Some players I have met, and some I have heard about have the reputation of being arrogant or stuck up. Not these three, all are just very nice, down to earth people. If any of you ever get a chance to study with them or just meet them take the time to have a conversation. You will be treated with respect and patience...

Well, that's all for now, more coming soon.....

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

WGN Morning News Show Appearence

Hello guitarists!!

Tomorrow morning Wednesday April 11th I will be appearing on WGN Morning News around 7am. I will be playing a Tango with a dance group... I just learned of this last night and do not have the details right now.. However, I will update the post as soon as I know more information... Check it out the show tomorrow morning WGN Morning news between 6:30am and 7am...


Friday, March 30, 2007

Rantucci International Guitar Festival and Competition Coverage

Well, this year’s Rantucci International Guitar Festival and Competition was a huge success. Four days of master classes, lectures, competitions in two divisions, excellent vendors, as well as some absolutely fantastic concerts. All things considered a wonderful event. Here are some details.

First, the level of player at the Competition was very high, both in the senior and youth levels. The judges included well known performers and teachers from across the US. They were Stephen Aron, James Boyce, Douglas James, Petar Kodzas, Lynn McGrath, Douglas Rubio, Adam Sarata, John Sawers, Mathew Slotkin, Robert Trent, Stanley Yates, and William Yelverton.

Let me tell you, playing in front of such distinguished judges was a humbling, rewarding, and nerve wracking experience. I did have the pleasure of playing in master classes with Robert Trent and Douglas James. Both had excellent advice. As I wrote a few months ago I played Libertango by Piazolla and Instinct by Kirsten Vollnes in the competition itself. Unfortunately, I did not play very well and did not advance to the next round. Stephen Aron told me afterward that I should have played pieces that contrasted more. Oh well, next year.

On the other hand, networking opportunities abound and festivals of this event. I am lucky enough to be friends with Mir Ali, the artistic director of the Rantucci International Festival and Competition. Not only did he find me a place to stay for free, always a good way to keep costs down, I was invited to several after hour’s parties with judges and performers. I even had the unbridled pleasure of defeating Stanley Yates and Stephen Aron at pool at one of these events. Not as good as making it to the second round, but I'll take it. Also, I had breakfast with Mir and conducted an interview with him. I was also very pleased to be asked by him to take part in an internship at the next Rantucci. A networking and learning opportunity I will surely take advantage of.

I also had the great chance to hear Douglas James, Paul Galbraith, William Yelverton, Duo Firense, Mir Ali, and Stanley Yates perform. All were excellent. Paul Galbraith stunned the crowd with his Bach and Mozart. Mir played his patented, fiery Flamenco. Douglas James played a 10 string 1850's guitar. He performed all period pieces including Regondi, Mertz, and Giulliani. William Yelverton performed Renaissance pieces on a lute as well as some flamenco on the guitar. To me, the most impressive performance was given by Stanley Yates. He played some Sor, Rak, and Ginastera, truly a wonderful player.

Not only were the concerts great, but the masterclasses were wonderful as well. Douglas James had wonderful advice for my Barber of Baghdad. Robert Trent's master class was refined and intense. Both are excellent teachers as well as nice guys.

The competitors at this year's Rantucci Festival were all very talented. All deserve to be congratulated. The winner of the youth competition was a skilled young guitarist, another student of Denis Azabagic, named Chaccone Klaverenga. She played Leyenda, Bach lute Prelude BWV 999, and Villa-Lobos Prelude #1. I have to tell you, I was floored. What a wonderful young player, better than many undergraduate students, and some graduate students as well.

The winner of the senior competition was a student of Jason Vieux named Jeremy Collins. I spoke with him briefly, and he is a soft spoken guy. When we talked he was very down on his playing so I was surprised to see him in the finals. However, when I heard him play I was amazed. He knocked my socks off. At first I discounted him as a winner because he played one of his own compositions in the final called Raise up Your Eyes (I think this was the title). He followed this up with Caprichio Arabe by Tarrega, a Fantasia by Dowland, and one more piece that I cannot remember.

All in all the Rantucci International Guitar Competition and Festival was a great experience. I learned a great deal and will come back next time stronger and better prepared. In the coming weeks I will be posting more about this event. Also, soon to come is an interview with Mir Ali. You don't want to miss this one.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tips to retaining young students.

Sometimes retaining students can be a difficult thing. As we all know, retaining students for years is our goal. Not only does it benefit us, but it also benefits the students as well. Here are a few ideas that I employ.

1. Make it fun. If a student dreads coming in for a lesson, it is difficult to retain them. Therefore, with youngsters, include little games and physical activities. A couple of simple ideas are, Guitar Tic Tack Toe, Guitar Simon Says, and Guitar Races. These are simple variations on the games we all know, but if you play guitar Simon Says the student will end up repeating several pieces many times. Moreover, they will not even realize that they are actually practicing.

2. Progress is essential. If all you do is play silly games and if the games are not didactic enough, the student will not advance quickly. If this happens, they may feel frustrated or the parents may get frustrated. Therefore, during some lessons you should have more work, and less fun. Conversely you need some days to be more fun and less work. A good balance is essential.

3. A good relationship with parents is very important. If you can establish an open, honest, and forthright relationship then you may retain the student even if they do not enjoy the lessons at first. To do this you first have to be a good teacher, however without a good relationship with the parents, even good teachers will lose more young students.

4. Love your job. Become invested in your students and their best interests. I am very lucky because I love my job. I love working with students of all ages, but young students are a special joy. Seeing the look on their faces when they realize, "I can do it!!" It is a magical feeling. Even if my performing career were to take off, I would still teach no matter what. Sometimes I count my lucky stars that I do what I do. If you love it, really love it, the student and the parents will see your passion and it will spread.

5. Go the extra mile. Do make-up lessons. Go to their house if necessary. Be at their performances. Congratulate them; make them feel special, because they ARE. After a performance, it is a good idea to pass out congratulation cards or certificates to your students. This will also help.

These are a few ideas that I follow. I know many teachers who are excellent in the above mentioned areas, and they are also successful because of it. Really the most important thing I can think of is to LOVE your work. This will lead to all of the above points...

Michel Chatara-Morse

Monday, March 12, 2007

Interview with Argentinean Guitarist Victor Villadangos.

Victor Villadangos is an Argentinean guitarist living and working in Buenos Aires. He is an excellent player with an extensive career having toured and played in many cities throughout South American, Europe, and North America. He is the professor of guitar at the Conservatorio Juan Jose Castro and Conservatorio Manuel de Falla de Buenos Aires. He also has an extensive discography having recorded five albums in his native Argentina. He has also, in the last few years, made three fantastic recordings for Naxos. These are Tango Argentino, Guitar Music of Argentina Volume 1, and Guitar Music of Argentina Volume 2.
Personally, I purchased Tango Argentio two years ago and was floored. I knew, as soon as I heard it, that I MUST play this music. I had never heard tango music like this played on the guitar and it was just amazing. Since then I have been in regular contact with Victor and have been lucky enough to receive several of his arrangements. I also searched the guitar world for other tango arrangements but none are nearly as good. Here is a Victor's website http://www.villadangos.com.ar/. You can also click on his link on the left hand side of the page. The following is an interview I conducted with Victor via email.

MCM: Could you give us a brief history of your start as a guitarist? Just hit the main areas, how you started who your first teacher was, stuff like this through your career and how you ended up in Buenos Aires.

VV: I started with private lessons at the age of 5, in Buenos Aires.
From 12 till 17 I was an electric guitar player and I performed in several bands.
After 17 I felt that I could become a classical guitar player. I entered the Conservatory “Juan José Castro” at that point.
María Herminia de Gomez Crespo was my teacher for 8 years.

MCM: So as a classical guitar teacher, could you talk a little more in depth about your early teaching experiences? Did you feel like you knew what you were doing when you first started? Did you have trouble keeping students? Did you lose students or gain them?

VV: I began teaching at a young age teaching popular music, so it was very natural for me. When I became a classical guitar teacher it was the same for me. I always had many students but I know pupils come and go….

MCM: What were some places like that you worked at?
I always worked at conservatories. First in my city of Buenos Aires, and then in other states such as Corrientes and Rio Negro. These are close to the desert area in Patagonia.

VV: So what was the straw that broke the camels back? When did you really feel that you had “made it?”
I never think, “I have made it.” I really feel it is the best I can do now, and I try to enjoy it because I love to be a musician.

MCM: During these early years were you able to perform as well? What were some factors that helped you find performances during your early career?
At the beginning, my teacher and the Conservatory helped me to find concerts.
Normally I performed at the conservatory hall, in churches, little halls, culture centers, etc.

MCM: Do you feel you benefited as a player through your teaching experience? How?

VV:No, I think the opposite. The fact of being a player gives me the exact points of trouble about the music I play. So then I think I can transmit the little secrets better to students.

MCM: If you could give young guitarists one or two tips on becoming a classical guitar teacher what would it be?

VV: First of all: go slowly. Each student has his own time.
The repertory has to be chosen correctly. It is very important for the students to play pieces in the correct level for them.

MCM: OK let’s talk a little about the politics of the classical guitar industry? Could you talk about the guitar world in Argentina?

VV: Each year we have less people interested in guitar concerts but more people who study the guitar.
It is very difficult for young people to insert themselves in the guitar circle.

MCM: I know that you are Professor of guitar at the Conservatorio Juan Jose Castro and Conservatorio Manuel De Falla de Buenos Aires how did you achieve these positions?

VV: I was a student at the conservatory Juan José Castro.
Just at the time that I graduated, the old teachers retired so the director of the conservatory chose the best students to replace them.
So then I begun to work as a teacher and later I won a contest which helped add stability to my positions.

MCM: As a professor you have had many students. From your position do you actively help former students and graduates to further your career?

VV: Yes. Sometimes I recommend them for teaching work and concerts and I try to connect them with people who organize concerts.

MCM: Do students ever just disappear of the map?

VV: Yes, is common the students works hard for a few years and the sometimes they disappear.

MCM: How do you feel when a young guitarist comes up to you unannounced and tries to “chat you up” or make a contact of you? Is it uncomfortable or are you happy to talk to these people.

VV: I have no problem to talk with new students and sometimes I give tips or give my scores or arrangements.

MCM: To wrap up what in your opinion are the most important things a young guitarist needs to do to put himself/herself in a position to further their careers through teaching and performing?

VV: First of all, a young student needs to be constant in their studying the guitar.
Talent is welcome, but more important is consistent study, not only repeating but thinking in his/her own way.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Wedding Scams.... If you are a guitarist who plays wedding gigs, you need to read this.

Hello everyone,

I hate to say it but I was almost taken in by an Internet scam. It started like this, I got an email forwarded to me from a VERY reputable source. The first email is as follows (this is the actual text):

I'm preparing for my wedding which is going on ( 21th of April 2007 ) and i will need your service for entertament of guess So i will want you to get back to me with your charges, and where u are located.
waiting to read back from you as soon as possible.

So I am thinking I have a possible gig here. I email the person back and they get back to me in a couple of days saying they want to hire me. So again I am thinking, "Great." I send them my info including the info for a couple of duos I play in and they send me this:

Hello ,
Thanks for accepting to do me a great honor on my wedding day..I have no doubt its goin to be a memorable day for me..u know its the joy of every woman..u wont belive how long have been longing to witness that day and honestly i can wait...Smith has agreed to mail the payment of $4500 so that you can be able to deduct your fund of $500 and send the remaining $3500 to our event organizer in state.
I will want you to get back to me with your info.
Waiting to read back from you asap.
I'm mailing with my husband box

So I email them back with my info and waiting to hear back from them. My duo partner Chicago guitarist Matt Rutherford starts talking to me about this gig and we look at the emails together. He notices some similarities with a guitar lesson scam that he almost fell for a year ago. The funny thing is I was the one who told him it was a scam then...
Anyway, they sent me another email with information about the address where the wedding will take place. It turns out it is a real event hall, and a well known one at that. They even put a link in the email to the hall's website. So Matt tells me that he thinks it is a scam and points out several similarities with other scams. So we call the event hall and on the supposed day of the wedding, they are having a fundraiser and no wedding. They then followed up that email by apologizing that they got the address wrong. I tell you these people were pretty good. Anyway, that phone call was the last straw and when I sent them an email asking for the phone number of their events coordinator so I could send a performance contract, they all of a sudden stopped emailing me. Up until that point they had been getting back to me really quickly.
So this is how the scam works. They get you by "hiring" you for a gig. Then they say they will send you a check with your name on it, the catch is this. They send you a check for much more that your fee. They then ask you to wire the rest of the money to an account. It turns out that the check is fraudulent, but the money you wire to the account is real. So you get nothing, and they get your money. This is a variation of a scam known around the Internet involving among other things Nigerian princes, ex-presidents, French families who want guitar lessons for their son, and wedding photographers. There are many resources on the web that detail similar scams. Just Google "Internet scams" or something like it and you will find plenty of info.

Be careful,
Michel Chatara-Morse

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Interview with Chicago Guitarist Jesse Criters

A photo of Jesse Crites, Ray, Marshall, Kevin, and me. Jesse is on the far right.

Jesse Crites is a guitarist and teacher currently residing in Chicago. He is a student of Denis Azabagic working on his Master's Degree at Roosevelt University.

MCM: Jesse Crites could you give us a brief synopsis of your career starting with your early playing.

JC: At first I was self taught. I watched my father play electric guitar for many years. I finally got the guts to ask for lessons when I was 13. I took electric guitar lessons at a guitar store around the corner called Music and Arts. My teacher’s name was Bruce, he was a good teacher. He did everything by ear, rock, finger-style and jazz. He also gave me my first introduction to classical guitar. He was trained in finger-style and he just gave me a hint of classical training. By my senior year in high-school I had played jazz band for a couple of years and cello in the youth orchestra for 8 years. I also played in a rock band, and actually got really bored with the electric guitar at that point. My orchestra teacher told me to see a concert at the Kennedy center in Washington DC. The performer was Kevin Vigil and his wife. This was the first classical guitar concert I attended. After the concert I approached him and asked for lessons. That is how I got started with the classical guitar.

MCM: How old were you?

JC: I was 17 years old.

MCM: 17 years, interesting. How did you get to Chicago from there?

JC: I had two months to prepare an audition for college?

MCM: Only two months to prepare! What did you play?

JC: I played a Brouwer study #6 and Carcassi Etudes #3 and #7. I think that was it, it was a long time ago.

MCM: That’s incredible, only two months. You were able to get into college on the strength of your audition after only two months of classical guitar?

JC: Well I had a lot of musical training up to that point.

MCM: I would have thought that the technical side would be the most difficult.

JC: Well I got into all three schools I applied for. One was in Greensboro the other was Virginia Commonwealth University, and Shenandoah University. I went to Shenandoah and studied under Dr. Glen Caluda. A great guy and a good performer as well. He opened a lot of doors for me. He said that it was an easy school to get into, but really hard to graduate from and he was right. It took me four and a half years to get through the program. Of course my reading was really weak and my technique was poor, but after two years I felt like this was definitely the right decision. I at first thought I would be a musical therapist, but decided to be a classical guitar performer instead. I took a semester off and studied with Berta Rojas, a graduate of Peabody. She prepared me for my senior recital. In 2004 I audition for Jason Vieux at the Cleveland Institute of Music. At first I was on a waiting list, but I got bumped off of it. In February 2005, I auditioned for Roosevelt University after meeting Denis Azabagic at the Alexadria Guitar Festival in Virginia.

MCM: Was he playing at the festival?

JC: Yes he played a split concert that night.

MCM: So you met Denis there. After you saw him play did you know you wanted to study with him?

JC: Yes, definitely.

MCM: Me too he blew me away.

JC: Tremolo was the technique that was giving me trouble at that time, and when I heard him play tremolo. It was the most fluid, beautiful sound I have ever heard.

MCM: Yes, his tremolo is brilliant. I can think of maybe one or two players with similar tremolo but no more.

JC: Also, he had a slip up during the concert, but it was an incredible slip up. He played a series of five pieces composed by Vojislav Ivanovic, who I believe was his teacher for a time, called the Café Pieces. After he played the second piece he stopped and apologized because he had played the pieces out of order. It struck me how perfectly he had played, yet sometime in the middle he knew that he had made a mistake. Yet he still played so perfectly. Also, at the end of the recital he was very approachable. This festival had a wine and cheese reception after every concert, and I met him there. He was very kind and he told me about an opening at Roosevelt.

MCM: Very interesting. Ok can we go back and talk about your early teaching?

JC: My first teaching job was the Shenandoah Conservatory Arts Academy.

MCM: How did you get that position?

JC: My teacher Dr. Caluta told me of the opening. It is a great school located in an old historic building. It was a good job because it was associated with the University and taxes and students were all taken care of by school. Looking back on it I bombed as a teacher many times. At first I had only about five students. It felt like a struggle every time I taught. You know, trying to teach something they are interested in and making sure they got what they needed. At that point I knew about technique and I knew about repertoire, but I had just learned it. It was still difficult for me to find problem in someone’s playing. Once I found them, how did I fix things? My first teacher Kevin told me that I would look back and think, “Gosh I could have done that better.” He also told me that it happens to everyone and to suck it up and continue on.

MCM: This is a problem that occurs for many teachers young and old, including me. You said that at first you felt like you bombed as a teacher. At this time did you have a lot of turnover? Was it difficult to keep students?

JC: I have always been able to keep students. I’ve known from the very beginning that communication with the parents is very important.

MCM: So at this point you had mostly young students?

JC: Oh yes, mostly young students. I have had my share of adults too, but adult students are different. At first I had problems with adult students but I now enjoy teaching them. Keeping students was never a problem, but making it worth the while of the student and me was a challenge at first. I also wasn’t making much money, only $23 an hour. It sounds pretty good as a part-time job. At the beginning you have to really take what you can get. The pay might not be worth it but it will pay off in a long time. I had an ADD student and his older sister was also a student of mine. She was more intelligent than I was ready for at the time, and after six months or so she quit. Unfortunately, the kid ended up being moved from teacher to teacher but I was the only one who kept him for over a year. You know after two and a half years I had some long term students and I started looking into methods. The best one I came across at the time was the FJH Young Beginners Student. It covers almost everything and if you are transitioning from electric to classical it is a great series to use. It is applicable to finger-style technique and plectrum playing. It is progressive and easy to use. I wouldn’t use it now, but for the time I used it to set up a progressive program. It has theory, chords, and repertoire as well.

MCM: So you were there for two and half years?

JC: Yes after that time I quit and moved to Chicago.

MCM: Excellent, the perfect transition. Can you tell me about your teaching now in Chicago?

JC: Well first I also taught at a couple of schools when I took a hiatus from school before I got to Chicago. I taught at Falls Church Music Conservatory, I feel I was the best teacher there. It was a bum school, but I had amazing students. I gave my students two months notice and the school only two weeks. The school got angry because a parent leaked it, but I felt my students deserved better. I also taught at Contemporary Music Center in Haymarket Virginia. It was an awesome school that happened to pay poorly.

MCM: Were these jobs only classical or did you teach everything.

JC: At music shops like these you take whatever they give you. It is not a great thing, but it gives you the experience to get to the next level. If anything it tells you what to look for in your students.

MCM: In Chicago?

JC: The first thing I did was pick up a phone book and call every single music school in Chicago. Except for anything that looked like a music store, those were a last resort for me. Most places didn’t have anything. I also looked at websites like Craig’s List and Chicago Reader.com. I finally stumbled on flyer for a school called For Strings Music on a bulletin board in Roosevelt University. This place is great. They had never had a classical guitar program, so I get to do anything I want. They paid for everything I asked for. They have great links on their site. Also, they do not want electric guitar students there. Anything and everything I want they get for me. It is really excellent. I have had sixteen students there and lost only a few of them who went to college. I also taught at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I’ve also refused a few jobs because they were too far away or paid too little. As you know some places are not good to further your career.

MCM: What about your own studio?

JC: Yes the other part of my teaching is through my daily life. Networking and advancing my own ideas to get my name out there as a teacher. If you put your name out there everywhere you go tell people who you are and drop cards everywhere you go you will get results. Invest in cards, it is very important. Cards are a very easy way to get your name out there. The most important thing when you create your own studio is having a place to teach. One thing you can do is teach at students houses. It is difficult. It takes a lot of time out of your day, and a lot of set up time. I recommend charging more for it, but having some prescribed pay-scale for the teaching is a bit better.

MCM: Great, now can you be more specific in terms of how started your studio. I know you have a successful studio and I am very impressed with it. Still, for young up and coming guitarists who have never done it, the world can be a scary place. This blog is for them, and I think your experience will benefit them greatly.

JC: It doesn’t matter how much experience you have when you move to a new area. I was scared and unsure of my ability to acquire students. I was never unsure of being able to keep them once I had them.

MCM: That kind of confidence is a big boon for a teacher. Some teachers will be unsure of both of those aspects of teaching.

JC: Overall one of the biggest factors was luck. I hate to admit it, but it is true. I moved to a culturally rich area that lacked classical guitar teachers. The biggest thing was probably networking through my daily and weekly activities.

MCM: Can you give an example?

JC: Well one of the first things I did was frequent Coffee shops. One in particular I go to a lot. When you walk around with a guitar on your back, people ask questions. So I tell everyone I can that I teach and go to school, and most people are intrigued.

MCM: This is part of your daily life right. It is not like you are going around to coffee shops trying to chat people up right?

JC: No, no I go to school and I teach so I am always walking around with my guitar. I have built it into my routine. Networking through daily activities, church, social events, fairs and cultural events are great networking events. Community involved events are the best way to get known in your area. All you really need is one good student. Also you need a good relationship with the parents. From this word of mouth spreads over a two or three month time period. This is the best way to mushroom your career. The child is not going to go around and tell them how good of a teacher you are, but the parents will.

MCM: Can you give a specific example?

JC: I worked at the UIC laboratory school. So I was walking through the hallway after school, and parents would see me with the guitars. So the first student I had was Mia Rutter and she saw me holding the guitar and we started a conversation. I started teaching her and from there she told a couple of other people who told other people and the rest is history.

MCM: Have you received help from teachers you have had?

JC: Yes some years ago Dr. Calut helped me out. The best thing teachers have done is connect me with some opportunities. Still, you have to win the job the teacher cannot get it for you. Referrals do happen often though.

MCM: Jesse Crites thank you very much for your time.

JC: My pleasure, thank you.