Bach & Parachute – Sound & Image for You

Classical guitar

Here’s a video just for you. Cinematographer Andy Bowley was seriously captivated by this billowing parachute at Arcosanti.  I love listening to, learning and playing Bach. Two great tastes that taste great together. I hope you like it.

Prelude for Cello Suite No. 1 for Guitar.  Recorded super lo-fi in my living room.

A Present for You

VCCA Corn Crib interior
VCCA Corn Crib interior

Here’s a present from me to you — me playing Heitor Villa-Lobos‘ Prelude No. 2 for Guitar,  recorded in the corn crib at VCCA on a very rainy day.

Please excuse the misplayed notes, the notes that didn’t get played, and squeaky notes escaping my cranky guitar which was not digging the variable weather.

A personal note about this tune: I always feel challenged by it and midway through the final section it always feels like I hit the 20th mile of a marathon. Not that I’ve ever run a marathon…

I hope you like it.

More Villa-Lobos here.

For more guitar music recorded at VCCA, here’s a Bach prelude (recorded in the silo) and a Purcell minuet (recorded in the field).

Here’s a playlist of me playing classical guitar music.


A Music Playlist!

Finally, it’s here! WordPress has made playlists possible. So here then, in one place, is all the classical guitar music I’ve recorded and placed on the blog. I like to think of them as humble presents for you, my valued readers.

In case you’re new here, don’t expect Andre Segovia. This is something I do for my soul, not professionally or semi-professionally (whatever that is).

I hope you enjoy the music.

And here’s the video, too.

Photo by Sandra Dal Poggetto
Photo by Sandra Dal Poggetto

A Present for You – Music and Video – Brouwer’s Etude No. 1

For all of you who have donated to A Life’s Work, read the blog, liked the Facebook page, left a comment somewhere, or supported me and my work in some way, here’s a wee present for you — Leo Brouwer’s Etude No. 1. Hope you like it.


Video shot by photographer and friend Peter LaMastro.

Special thanks to the awesome Kate Schutt, who re-introduced me to this piece.

If you’re new here, you should know this blog is about a documentary film, A Life’s Work, currently in post production. The director, David Licata, who also plays classical guitar, invites you to support the film. In addition to monetary help (the portal accepts $5 to $50,000), there are many ways you can support A Life’s Work. Why not consider being a part of  the film’s growing community?

Want more classical guitar music?

Broadacre City: Just My Imagination?

Frank Lloyd Wright portrait

A few years ago I blogged about an imagined quote from  Fredric Chopin.

trevor.pratt, flickr
trevor.pratt, flickr

This happened again recently. I know I’ve seen archival footage of Frank Lloyd Wright standing over the model of Broadacre City (now on view at the Museum of Modern Art through June 1), his vision of urban design. He looks imposing, unshakeable in his conviction that this is how cities should be designed and built. I’ve searched and searched and searched, but haven’t found a thing. Maybe I dreamed it. Or maybe it’s a case of wishful thinking gone haywire. Or maybe I’m going insane. Perhaps a visit to MoMA will clear things up.

In the meantime, here’s me playing a Chopin prelude on the guitar, recorded a few years ago at Blue Mountain Center. Chopin composed it for piano, of course, but this piece was transcribed by Francisco Tarrega.


More music here.


We Should Listen to Nobel Prize Winners Because They’re Usually Smart

Nobel Prize winner Thomas Sudhof

Popping up all over my Facebook feed last week was a three-year old interview with Thomas Sudhof, who won (with Randy Schekman and James Rothman) this year’s Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology. The reason? This question and answer:

Who was your most influential teacher, and why?

Sudhof: My bassoon teacher, Herbert Tauscher, who taught me that the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours.

My voice doesn’t carry the same weight as Mr. Sudhof’s, but I have this here blog so I’m going to voice my opinion. Surprise! I  agree with him  about the value of art education. I studied classical guitar outside of school when I was a teenager. I’d practice one stanza at a time, over and over until I played it well, then on to the next stanza, and the next. At my most serious, I did this for hours everyday day. This was (and still is) how I learned the music. Memorized it, yes, but more than that, this was how I discovered how a certain phrase, passage and entire piece was to be played.

I didn’t just learn how to do this weird thing known as play an instrument (it is a weird thing to do, when you think about it), but I learned the value of working hard to get the details right, and you know what they say about details. Before taking those guitar lessons I was pretty unmotivated and passive. I really didn’t care about anything enough to spend more than an hour doing it. My school work was a chore and I always did the minimum amount to get by with a B. But when I started taking guitar lessons, I discovered that I did have passions and that I could be inspired, and that discovery was a powerful thing.

I learned that hearing and listening were two very different things. That was kind of a big door to open.

When writing and film caught my attention, I knew I had it in me to spend the time necessary to hone those crafts and get the work out there. Learning music gave me that kind of confidence.

So I’m with you Thomas Sudhof. Doug Brown, classical guitarist, was my most influential teacher.

Who was your most influential teacher, and why?

You can hear me playing some classical guitar music here.

[cross posted on]

Noodling, or How I Spent My Month at Ucross

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with my productivity at Ucross. This had nothing to do with Ucross, they provided an atmosphere that nurtured creativity and productivity. It was the headspace I brought with me from NYC. The best work I did there was document a performance piece done by one of the residents. My work, feh… I brought some stories to revise and one of those seemed okay-ish (it’s a sequel of sorts to There Is Joy before the Angels of God) so I was happy with the draft I produced, though it’s still far from being anywhere near done.

I brought the 25 or so clips of A Life’s Work and arranged and re-arranged them. I came up with some good transitions, I took a lot of notes, I thought a lot about how to incorporate Jeff Stein, Paolo Soleri’s successor, into the film. I also re-realized that the clips are works in progress as well and will require re-editing in order for them to be part of the whole film. Not earth-shattering news, but there it was. It was a little frustrating not having all my footage on hand, but that was impossible given my gear and travel arrangements.

I played a LOT of guitar: I recorded a Villa-Lobos Prelude al fresco, I worked on a Scarlatti piece, and I noodled.

Noodling is what musicians call aimless playing. In my case, it was playing a straight up 12 bar blues romp with your basic blues licks thrown in. I also worked on my finger picking.

My right handIt’s a curious thing, as a classical guitarist I trained the fingers of my right hand to work independently. The kind of work I conditioned them to do and the more pattern-oriented finger picking are related, but very different skills. So spending time on that was very satisfying. I think it shook up my creative juices a bit.

I can hear you: “You went to a residency and all you did was play guitar? Was that on your application?” Yes. And no, it wasn’t on my application.

But the good news is that from that noodling came several musical sketches that might be of use in A Life’s Work. I certainly don’t plan on composing the music myself, but these sketches might start a discussion between the composer and me.

And that’s something to look back on and feel good about.

If you want hear some classical guitar music, just click on the Music page.

Born This Way. Or Not. Classical Guitar and Obsessiveness

Back in December, I decided I wanted to learn how to play a piece on the old classical guitar composed by Domenico Scarlatti (Sonata in A Major (K. 322, L 483)), originally composed for keyboard.

This is the longest and most difficult piece I’ve undertaken from scratch in a very very long time.

The first thing I do when I look at the sheet music is circle the measures that I know will be a challenge. Like this bit:

Domenico Scarlatti

Then I start from the first measure and practice two or three measures at a time, until I come to a very difficult bit. It may be just a few notes, but I’ll practice those 10, 20, 30 times in succession, whatever it takes. Maybe it gets better, easier. The next day, I start practice by playing that tricky bit again, over and over.

Photo by Sandra Dal Poggetto
Photo by Sandra Dal Poggetto

This was how my guitar teacher taught me how to practice and this method dovetailed with my tenacity and obsessiveness. I didn’t need to master the piece after a few run throughs. I was content to hear, feel, and see my improvement one note at a time. I’m still that way, whether it’s learning new music or making A Life’s Work.

[Photo by Sandra Dal Poggetto. You can listen to an excerpt of Sandra’s essay on Annie Oakley on a regional NPR.]

It’s come in handy in life, and I’m very grateful to my guitar teacher for guiding me toward this work ethic.

Some random thoughts and questions on this.

I’ve seen this tenacity and obsessiveness as a guitar teacher and it happens in some younger students and especially, in my experience, with teenage boys. Is it something we’re all born with and it’s waiting for expression?

I’ve noticed that my older students don’t get the same sense of accomplishment from practicing hours and hours. Do we lose the ability to derive satisfaction from conquering the baby steps as we get older? Or are we just more impatient? My older students want to be able to play a song masterfully, but some just don’t want to — or can’t put in — the required time. Do we simply get too busy? We don’t have the time? Or do we lose the drive?

Let’s discuss.

While you ponder the comment you’re going to leave, why not listen to John Williams playing the Scarlatti.

If you want to hear me play some classical guitar and you don’t mind low-fi and flubs, go to the Music page.