I’m Old Fashioned has to be one of my favorite pieces by Jerome Kern so masterfully taught by Larry Koonse. As I play various gigs around town, there are times when clients request more jazzy selections. These arrangements are a perfect way to accommodate those requests. They are arranged for fingerstyle guitarists and are fully written out as music so that even as a classical guitarist I can read and play them as I would any other classical piece. Here are some of the of the other arrangements by Larry Koonse.
Larry Koonse is a household name around the world’s greatest jazz cats. As a twice Grammy-nominated artist, we are fortunate to have him teach our Jazz Guitar Track. Here is a brief biographical sketch in which Larry talks about his beginnings with the guitar and passion for jazz.
German-born guitarist Ines Thomé is a multifac
eted musician who performs internationally as a solo and chamber musician. A multi-instrumentalist in many different styles, Ines plays electric guitar, lute, theorbo, baroque guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Since a young age Ines won first prizes as a solo and chamber musician in national competitions. Later she received awards from numerous international competitions in Germany, Italy, and the USA, including First Prizes at the International Guitar Competition in Walnut Creek, and the Guitar competition of the American Guitar Society in 2015. Her passion for Early Music was honored with a special prize for the best interpretation of a work by Johann Sebastian Bach at the International Guitar Competition in Erwitte.
Ines studied classical guitar in Frankfurt and Stuttgart and completed her Master’s degree summa cum laude at Stuttgart State University of Music and Performing Arts where she studied with Professor Johannes Monno. In August 2013 she began post-graduate work at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and is continuing as a doctoral student and teaching assistant in the studio of Prof. William Kanengiser (LAGQ) since August 2014. In Fall 2017 Ines will start teaching classical guitar at Riverside City College.
My passion for teaching comes from my passion for music: the aesthetic and emotional values inherent in music still motivate my own learning. Sharing this passion –with my students as a teacher, and with my colleagues and audiences as an active musician –makes music become real and meaningful. I want to help my students to discover what they are passionate about and improve their skills to reach the goal they have. As an active musician, I like to be engaged in the various processes of music making. As a teacher, I want my students to be engaged in those processes through performing, listening, composing, and analysis. Focusing on the “whole person” and educating my students through different musics is my goal as a teacher.
Creating a safe environment for my students is very important to me. I believe that creativity and critical thought can only be developed when the classroom is a safe space where students are allowed (and encouraged) to make mistakes and learn through them. As an example for student-based education, I encourage my students to bring pieces or songs into their class or lesson which they are interested in. From my own learning experience, I know how important the initial excitement for music is for our motivation to learn. In addition, it makes the students accountable for their own progress.
Playing the guitar requires the training of difficult skills. To express freely and musically, we need to master our craft so that technical issues don’t get in our way. In this way, physical health is as important as mental health. Playing the appropriate music which is challenging but still realistic to accomplish is crucial. I see myself as a consultant who helps my students reach their goals. This includes helping my students set a goal and finding the best path to achieve it.
University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music, Classical Guitar Department – Teaching Assistant
“Taso Comanescu is an exciting, young guitarist. His enthusiasm for the music and talent for performing shows in the way his audiences have received him. I wish him all the best in his career”
Christopher Parkening, America’s preeminent guitar virtuoso
American guitarist Taso Comanescu has recently emerged on the classical music scene as a colorful performer full of subtle nuance and strong musicianship. His interesting programs present a variety of repertoire highlighted by a deep commitment to engage his audiences in a meaningful way. Comanescu’s debut recording “Epitaphios” (2011) features music from all over the world including a world premier recording by the young American composer Kyle Peter Rotolo (Le Crane A La Cigarette Qui Fume).
More recently he released his follow up recording entitled “Renaissance | Baroque” (2015) featuring popular and lesser known transcriptions of works originally for lute, vihuela, theorbo and baroque guitar. The recording was described as “infused with a sense of artistry that is rarely found nowadays”. (Tavi Jinariu, guitar virtuoso)
Taso has been a member of the music faulty at Pepperdine University since 2011. Mr. Comanescu received his degrees from Pepperdine University studying with Christopher Parkening and the University of Southern California under Scott Tennant. Taso plays on a 1973 Jose Ramirez guitar.
Teaching guitar, or anything for that matter, is an art that requires cultivation, patience and time to develop. I have been privileged to teach guitar privately for over 10 years and at Pepperdine University for the past 6 years. It has grown into a essential part of my life as a professional musician and an endless well from which I draw inspiration and encouragement. I have learned a great deal from my own teachers over the years and perhaps even more from my students.
My philosophy at it’s core is about helping a student achieve their own personal goals on the instrument. Not everyone is called to be a concert guitarist, be it classical or contemporary, and not everyone has the same amount of time to practice. I have learned that it is vitally important to establish goals on a semi consistent basis so that students have clear reasons to practice and also track their progress. Consistency is key. The rewards will come.
I would also stress that the teacher-student dynamic is a two way street. Teachers should adapt their style to fit the individual student. In essence, one can’t teach every student the same exact way and expect uniform results. Students also need to be receptive to their teacher and be willing to try out their ideas. If a student resists, then what is the point? Ultimately learning can happen on so many levels and the guitar has much to offer to anyone who is patient enough to try.
I’m excited to be a part of EliteGuitarist and look forward to learning with all of you!
As we welcome a New Year I thought I would write a few lines and share some thoughts on the notoriously fickle New Year’s resolution we are all so prone to make. There seems to be no shortness of enthusiasm for the coming year and no boundaries as to what we think we will accomplish. Yes, we are all intending to exercise more, we are all going to read more, work less and spend more time doing what really matters. If you can diligently keep your resolutions, more power to you! I find that a couple of weeks into the new year my enthusiasm turns into a laborious grind and I often find myself reverting to the old habits.
When it comes to guitar playing let’s nevertheless set goals for ourselves. Zig Ziglar famously said that “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” Boy, is this is ever true when it comes to the guitar? You may fall short of your lofty goals, but you wll nevertheless make significant progress. Set goals for yourselves and chase hard after those targets!
1. Have fun! This is my daughter’s favorite rule. Whenever we go to the Zoo or to the park we review the rules of “engagement” and our #1 rule is to have fun! Embrace the difficulty of guitar technique, enjoy the sound of your instrument, enjoy the feeling of strings under your right hand fingernails, enjoy the woody smell of your guitars, listen to a lot of different guitarists that can stretch your interpretive palettes. Have fun folks; the purpose of music is to ennoble not just others but ourselves first of all.
2. Schedule in your practice time! Carve out time on your calendar and guard your practice time. The enjoyable routine of playing the guitar every day will add a sense of balance to your life and will be one of the most important factors that contribute to your overall growth.
3. Track your progress!Set small goals that you want to accomplish before each practice session and write them down. Meet your goals and check them off once you accomplish them. Don’t set unrealistic goals for yourselves; it is very unlikely that you will be able to read Bach’s Chaconne in the 27 minutes you have available to practice that day. In terms of musical progress, you will become the sum of our small decisions. You may not see the way you grow but, when looking in the rearview mirror, you will be encouraged by the progress you have made over time.
4. Log into your Elite Guitarist accountand learn how to play repertoire pieces. What differentiates Elite Guitarist students from others is rather important fact that they can play actual repertoire pieces. Thank you to all who have sent me recordings of you playing these pieces; keep them coming folks! Over the coming months I will be adding these performances to a Elite Guitarist playlist on our Youtube channel entitled Student Performances.
I wanted to thank you all for embarking with us on this project that is Elite Guitarist. It has been a wonderful six months and I want to thank you for being regular users and contributors to what Elite Guitarist is and is becoming. If you are benefitting from these lessons and repertoire tutorials, pass the word around. We have several recording sessions scheduled for January and we will add a couple of Fernando Sor studies at the beginning of the year. We are also in the production stages of a flamenco track, which is very exciting to me. Thanks to all of you who have given us tutorial suggestions; meeting your repertoire suggestion will be my priority in the first 6 months of the year.
Happy New Year to all of you!
And, just to share with you my personal musical goals for 2017, here they are.
Learn 3 movements of Torroba’s Castles of Spain
Select & Prepare the repertoire for a Baroque album to be recorded in the next 1-2 years. (3 Scarlatti sonatas; Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in Eb major; Suite in F by Weiss; La Frescobalda, etc…)
Record an album of Spanish music.
Upload 20 new tutorials for EliteGuitarist (classical track)
It is with great sadness that I say goodbye to Roland Dyens whose compositional genius, pedagogical generosity, and genuine relational warmth have a left an indelible imprint on me. Classical guitarists will continue to talk about him and plumb the depths of his artistry a hundred years from now.
I had the privilege to learn from him in the past and am forever grateful not only for his teaching but for his sweet and gentle demeanor. He taught not as a guitarist but as a composer and often reworked fingerings and tonal colors on the spot. The lesson was experimental in nature and he would enrich the students playing vocabulary by providing multiple alternatives to playing a certain passage. He never did so heavy-handed but graciously respected the students preferences and interpretive choices. In memory of the great maestro, here is a performance of his Tango En Skai.
Lullabies are tricky beasts when it comes to interpretive approaches. What should the performer’s goal be in playing a lullaby? There is no shortage of opinions out there with regards to the interpretation of lullabies. Some say that in order to stay fully committed to the authorial intent of lullabies, our ultimate pursuit should be to bring listeners into a state of relaxation, and if possible, put them to sleep altogether. I, myself have fallen asleep in the past listening to certain performances, and (dare I say?) it was nice. The sleep felt good but the performance was an absolute bore as the performer failed to keep me engaged. After all, what can communicate more detachment from the performer than to fall asleep during his or her performance? I guess death could… I suppose that if I had died on that chair, I would have been even more detached from the performer.
DESCRIBE THE SLEEPING PROCESS
Here is an alternative suggestion for the playing of lullabies: imagine that when playing a lullaby your goal is not to put a baby to sleep but rather to explain the sleeping process to a sleep specialist or describe the singing of lullabies through your instrument. Yes, there is a branch of the medical communitty focused solely on the study of sleep habits and disorders and these folks do a lot of good out there. They are the archenemies of coffee companies that keep people awake.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
What if your goal in playing a certain lullaby would be to describe various aspects of the sleeping process? What if you could musically portray the sensation of falling or slipping that many experience at some point or another right before they begin to enter the REM (rapid eye movement) stages? Why not attempt to portray a brief bizarre dream or a short instrusive nightmare? How would you express the return to the sweet sleep in the REM stages through your playing? How would you replicate the singing of lullabies in your playing? Would you maintain metronomical rhythmic consistency or would you bend the rhythm to account for the informal approach to lullaby singing? How would you express with your instrument tonal colors and volume changes? How would express the transition from full voice to falsetto singing and, at times, even rhythmic whispering that is so much part of lullaby singing?
A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE
When we think deeply about our playing and it is at that time that we make lullabies exciting to play and to listen to. Here is an example of how I tried to bring all this out in playing Cancion de Cuna, an Afro-Cuban Lullaby arranged by Leo Brower. These are my internal mental processes and, of course, they need not become yours. These personal thoughts may not communicate to the audience with the same level of detail. However, even your listeners don’t associate specific aspects of sleeping or lullaby singing to your actual performance, at the very least, they will be drawn in by the variances of tonal colors, volume and textures.
0:00-0:54 Introduction of the lullaby with more rhythmic consistency to account for the first time the lullaby theme is introduced.
0:55-1:28 Less rhythmic consistency and more flexible rhythmic phrases to prevent listening and performative boredom.
Interpretive contrast between 1:28-1:39 & 1:39-1:52. The softly played notes and the strum at 1:39-1:50 are meant to imitate the whispered singing of a mother.
The sharp ponticello at 1:50-1:52 is meant to denote that very brief sensation of falling or slipping right before the realization that everything is well in the world and I could return back to my sleep at 1:53.
2:25-2:47 introduces a new theme, a more dissonant theme. The louder volume and sharper ponticello tones are meant to describe an intrusive strange dream that may disturb the sleeping for just a little while.
3:16-3:37 The out of shape chord strum at 3:16 (same notes just played on switched strings) introduces the ending of the piece. The ending is rhythmically loose and it is meant to imitate the final singing of the lullaby theme right before the baby is laid down for the night.
Also I thought I would one of my favorite lullabies played on the guitar. This is a masterful performance of Tedesco’s “La Arruladora” by Christopher Parkening.
The years of our lives are seventy or even by reason of strength, eighty…, they are soon gone and we fly away…, so teach us to number our days, so that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Moses, Psalm 90)
I have been thinking a lot about the brevity of life lately. Not in a morose, depressing way but in an attempt to distill down the most important aspects of my life. My point here is not to suggest how you should set your life priorities. I know what mine are or, better said, what they should be and I have a hard enough time making those happen. Nevertheless, when it comes to music and guitar playing I have a brief word of encouragement or advice, if you will allow me. I hope that this is helpful and affirming to what you instinctively feel is right.
Here is a thought: Why don’t you play the music you really enjoy? Our days on this earth are defiantly short and sooner or later we are all going to have to force exit this life. If you are going to put in the time and effort it takes to play the classical guitar, you might as well play material you really love. It is very easy to get on the bandwagon of playing what is trendy in guitar repertoire. We go to guitar competitions or festivals and immediately begin to feel the pressure of playing the same material although we often don’t understand it or, in all honesty, we dont even like it.
So what should you be working on? There is no shortage of music you could be practicing and you must become incredibly discerning as to what your time will be used for. The music you should devote your time to perfecting is the same music you constantly go back to for listening enjoyment. It is the music that continues to move you, elevate you, to ennoble you and bring some relief from your daily toils and hardships.
A few years back I decided that my practice will be devoted to the music that I most gladly listen to at the end of a long day, when I take my shoes off and put my feet up on the couch to relax. This is not to say that your repertoire cannot be intellectually challenging or avant-garde. Rather, this is an encouragement to be true to who you are and to embrace the music you really enjoy listening to without trying to fit in the repertoire mold of the latest guitar competition of festival.
Play the music you really like and don’t let others dictate what you should like. As long as you attempt to fulfill others’ goals for your musical progress you will continue to grind your teeth on music you don’t like and guitar playing will become a major drag or you will give up playing it altogether. Press on, be true to yourselves, and play what you love because playing music you don’t really enjoy is like driving through life with the handbrake on.
Here is the music I am enjoying these days and is becoming a part of my repertoire goals for the coming year or years.
10 Catalonian Songs with some examples below (arr. by Miguel Llobet)
“Tavi is an excellent classical guitarist whose fine technique, combined with depth of feeling communicates wonderfully to his audience. His strengths are considerable, among which are a deep love for the guitar, remarkable discipline and motivation, and good musical instincts that give him advanced abilities to interpret the music.”
Christopher Parkening, America’s preeminent guitar virtuoso
It’s All About People
Teaching guitar has always been about people. The joy that comes from seeing my 85-year-old student produce a clear sounding bar chord can hardly be quantified. The empowering impact the guitar can have on a withdrawn teenager or its ability to help someone who is going through a rough patch, is what makes playing and teaching the guitar worthwhile. It is ultimately about people and not about the guitar itself; the guitar without people becomes nothing more than a strung up piece of furniture. In my own experience, I forgot most of the actual notes my mentors played on the guitar, but their personal impact on my life is indelible.
The Humble Beginnings
I started playing the guitar at the age of thirteen when my father told me that I needed to have an extra curricular activity. In a slow vocal cadence he told me that I had to choose between Romanian folk dancing and playing the guitar. Somehow, the prospect of wearing leggings and jumping around in awkward musical movements did not sound that enticing to a thirteen-year-old skinny boy. So, I guess it had to be the guitar. From the first encounter with the guitar I resonated with the instrument. I loved the way it felt underneath my fingertips (yes, even when they were throbbing with pain) and loved the sensation of strings as I plucked them. A few years prior to this I had tried to play the accordion at the insistence of my father but failed miserably. However, I had always been charmed by the guitar. My uncle was a guitarist and I remember that as a young child I snuck into his bedroom and strummed the guitar with all my might, only to then run away as fast as I could in hopes of evading the repercussions.
I began playing the guitar in the church’s children choir. I was fascinated by any guitarist, no matter what style he or she was playing. I became a sponge absorbing every solo line I could from Joe Satriani and every interesting chord from George Benson. My journey with the guitar took a significant turn at the age of sixteen when, for the first time, I heard the lush tones of a classical guitar. The guitarist played for me Lauro’s Natalia waltz. I was struck 3 seconds into the piece by the natural harmonic played on the second string. “The tone, the tone, the tone!” was what I kept on saying to myself. I knew it right then and there that I had to play the classical guitar.
There was no classical guitar teacher in my hometown and my friend Rares, at that time a conservatory student in Germany, began teaching me to play the instrument whenever he visited Romania during his school breaks. Without much supervision I was largely self-taught and, as one can imagine, I had developed many poor playing and practicing habits. But who cared? I loved playing it and there was nobody else in my hometown who played the classical guitar that I had to worry about impressing. I began devoting every minute I had to the study of the guitar. I began thinking about guitar playing all the time and was solfeging every musical piece I knew. I was now customarily practicing bar chords using my right forearm as a pseudo-guitar fretboard. It started to get a bit out of hand but the guitar world was a great escape for me, otherwise a shy and rather withdrawn boy.
A year later I was invited to tour the US with a band from Hungary. During this tour I played a composition on the classical guitar with some flamenco influences; nothing really to brag about. Perhaps it is helpful to mention I had to borrow a guitar for this tour as my parents could not afford to purchase one. It was during this tour that a kind gentleman gave me a Yamaha classical guitar that he stored in his closet and had never used. Humble beginnings are wonderful, and I mention this in hopes that you would be encouraged to press on regardless of your own humble beginnings and limited options. It is amazing to consider the opportunities that came from nowhere, opportunities that brought a poor gypsy boy from Romania to tour half of America.
The Influences of Segovia and Parkening
It was during this U.S. tour that a kind hearted lady named Janice recorded one of the concerts and sent that recording to various classical guitarists in the U.S. One of those recordings got into the hands of the American guitar virtuoso and now wonderful friend, Christopher Parkening. Upon my return to Romania, he kindly surprised me by sending me an encouraging letter, cassettes and a bunch of sheet music. This initial contact would turn out to be a life-altering event. I was on my way to going into law but I was now inspired more than ever to pursue excellence in playing the classical guitar.
Over the coming months I recorded myself playing and sent the recordings to Christopher Parkening. He provided brief but valuable advice on hand positioning, nail shape, repertoire choices and so on. After a few months I told him that I would very much like to study the classical guitar but that prospect would be very unlikely in my country as there was virtually no guitar tradition. Parkening kindly mediated a deal whereby he would become the guitar chair at the Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA if the college would financially make it possible for me me to study there under his tutelage. The deal went through and everybody won. The college now had the world’s preeminent classical guitarist chairing the guitar department of 1 student. I also won big time by becoming the one student in the department. As for Christopher Parkening, actually I am not sure what he won; not very much at all, as he even returned his paychecks to the Master’s College. This act of generosity eventually transitioned into a guitar student grant that is awarded each year. I was also fortunate to study under the instruction of John Nelson, Christopher Parkening’s associate. John also made a deep impact on my guitar playing as well as my personal development.
In 2003 I graduated from the Master’s College with a degree in classical guitar performance. After graduating college I became interested in other fields of study. I pursued and received graduate degrees in theology and classical philology. Throughout all these alternative pursuits, the guitar remained a constant companion and I found myself over and over gravitating towards it. Over the years I became increasingly busy with my performance schedule and decided to accept the Master’s College invitation to chair their classical guitar department in 2009. I have also enjoyed privately teaching a broad range of students over the years ranging from 5 to 85 years old, ranging from absolute beginners to advanced students seeking admittance into various graduate guitar programs across the country. Teaching is enjoyable and rewarding because I get to see the musical transformation taking place in my students, their increased enjoyment of life and their personal development.
It is the same passion for people that led me to start EliteGuitarist.com The guitar is meant to help and better people. Over the years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the current state of the classical guitar and how cliquish it has become. Unlike the times of Segovia, Williams, Bream and Parkening the guitar is now generally isolated to competition stages and guitar festivals. Guitarists these days play for other guitarists and the beauty of the classical guitar has little appeal to the general musical community.
My goal is to enlarge the community of the classical guitar and provide teaching that would draw players of other styles into taking up this wonderful instrument. My approach to teaching the guitar is steeped in the musical traditions of Andres Segovia and Christopher Parkening while at the same time it embraces the current trends in technical development and repertoire. For the guitar to again find a prominent place on the large concert stages of the world, guitarists need to adopt a different approach to playing the instrument. It is not enough to play it with a clinical and immaculate technique; we need to play the instrument beautifully. It is not the technical aspect of the guitar that appeals to me but rather it’s beauty. Andres Segovia said “The beauty of the guitar lies in its soft and persuasive voice and its beauty cannot be equaled by any other instrument.” If you are ready to approach your playing of the classical guitar in the same way, welcome to http://www.EliteGuitarist.com. It is great to have you here!