Robert Phillips

About Robert Phillips

Robert Phillips holds a doctorate in music from the University of Miami, an M.A. in music from Brooklyn College, and a B.S in Music Education from Hofstra University. He is former student of Rey de la Torre, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, and David Starobin. Dr. Phillips directs the guitar department at the Lois Cowles Harrison Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, and teaches music theory there as well. He is also an adjunct professor at Southeastern University, where he maintains a classical guitar studio and directs the classical guitar ensemble. With nearly 40 years of teaching experience, Dr. Phillips’ former students have been admitted to Manhattan School of Music, Florida State University, the University of Miami, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Belmont University, Brooklyn College, Hofstra University, and Yale University. Since making his solo guitar debut to a sold-out Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Dr. Phillips has performed in a diverse range of venues – from traditional concert halls, including New York’s prestigious Town Hall and Lincoln Center, to jazz nightclubs. He has appeared as a guest soloist with numerous orchestras and as a guest artist at the Miami International Guitar Festival, the Guitar Foundation of America, and the American String Teachers’ Association, as well as many regional level performing arts series. Dr. Phillips has recorded 3 CDs, one of them a 2 disc box set originally released by Mel Bay, and now available as 2 separate CDs independently released. The most recent, Lo Mestre, The Music of Miguel Llobet, is available on Centaur Records. Dr. Phillips is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from Hofstra University’s George M. Estabrook Alumni Association, and of a Japan Fulbright.

Notes on the new recording: a project diary, part 2

No recording of guitar music that has been influenced by the Impressionist composers could be considered complete without a work by Miguel Llobet, and the piece of his most associated with Impressionism is El Mestre.

Llobet spent several years as a young musician living in Paris, where he associated with Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Manuel de Falla, to name just a few.  He is known to have had a number of discussions with Debussy about the possibility of his composing a work for guitar, an idea to which Debussy seemed receptive.  Sadly, this never came to fruition.  He also spent years asking de Falla for a guitar composition, which eventually resulted in de Falla’s little masterpiece, Le Tombeau de Debussy.  These associations had a profound impact on Llobet, and his compositional style evolved from the Chopin influence of his earliest works to a more Impressionistic aesthetic.

I have already recorded El Mestre – it was the “title piece” of my Centaur Records release, “Lo Mestre, the music of Miguel Llobet.”  (A word about the title discrepancy in a bit.)  So the jury is out as to whether or not to re-record it and include it in the new album.  Certainly many musicians have recorded the same pieces multiple times, but on consecutive albums?  On the other hand, there will be a couple of years in between my last album and my next.  Also, I believe I have something different to say about the piece interpretively.  And, of course, as I said in the first sentence of this post, no recording of Impressionism for guitar would be complete without it.  In any event, since I am at least considering including El Mestre, I am including it in my youtube channel playlist, “Impressions”.

Now, about the title discrepancy:  The work is published under the title “El Mestre“, but in 1975, when I studied it under Rey de la Torre, Maestro Rey put an X through the “El” in the title and wrote “Lo” above it.  Since he was Llobet’s most significant pupil, it is pretty hard to ignore the probability that, as Rey told me, Llobet originally called it “Lo Mestre“. For this reason, I decided to use what I believe is Llobet’s original title as the album title, but continue to use the published title when referring to the piece.

So, here is my recording of El Mestre as I recorded it back in 2011 (2 years before the recording that found its way into the album).

Notes on the new recording: a project diary

It’s been quite a while since my last blog entry.  I suppose I’ve felt that I haven’t had anything of importance to say.  But it has also occurred to me that I probably have a great deal more to share than I give myself credit for.  But now that I’ve begun to take some steps toward my next recording project, I feel that I ought to begin keeping some sort of public record of my progress.

This will be the first of a series of blogs that will journal the progress of this next recording.  In each of the blogs I’ll discuss one facet of the process, focusing on the works that I will record.  As a sort of  pre-production process I’ve decided to video record myself playing each of the compositions that I plan to record.  I’ll include these videos in each blog.

After some discussion with my producer, I’ve decided that my next recording will be a CD of music by composers who have been influenced by the Impressionist movement.  It might be argued that the only true “Impressionist” composer was Claude Debussy, and to the extent that I’ve examined the structure of his music, and his harmonic and melodic language I’d have to say that it is a position that I share.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the closest composer to Debussy in any way other than the most superficial may well be Edgard Varese, whose music sounds nothing like Debussy’s!

Nevertheless, there are plenty of composers who owe something of a debt to Debussy, and it is those composers that I’ve decided to record.  My recording will focus on works that are, for the most part, originally for guitar.  The only exception may be a work by Albéniz, which although it was originally for piano has become so closely associated with the guitar that I feel compelled to include it.  It may also be argued that much of the music of Albéniz was composed for the piano with the sound of the guitar in mind. Maybe, maybe not, but at any rate I plan to include Torre Bermeja in the recording.

That Albéniz was influenced by Debussy is never questioned, and although Torre Bermeja is not from his most impressionistic suite, Iberia, predating it by some 15 years, I felt that there are enough elements of the Impressionist esthetic to warrant inclusion.  It was, in fact, written at the same time that Debussy was first beginning to explore his own unique sound.

The transcription of Torre Bermeja that I play is by Miguel Llobet.  This makes is an excellent follow up to my last recording, which was the complete compositions of Miguel Llobet.  I fact, as a child of the same era and a friend to the most important composers who were associated with Impressionism, Llobet’s fingerprints will inevitably be all over this next recording.

So here is a video that I recorded a couple of years ago of the little masterpiece by Albéniz, Torre Bermeja.

Fast Tube by Casper

Prepare to Face Your Audience

The title of this post sounds a bit threatening, doesn’t it?  It’s as if your audience is about to pass judgement on you, and your fate will be decided.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth is your audience actually loves you, expects that you are going to do very well, and is excited about the prospect of showing their love. (How many concerts have we been to where we, as sophisticated listeners, were amazed at the standing ovation and wondered if the rest of the audience was actually listening?)

However, you still have to deliver the goods! You owe it to your audience to deserve the love that they will shower on you.  The problem is, if you get too fixated on deserving the applause you put yourself in that frame of mind I talked about above, and that makes it pretty hard to play well.  So how do you prepare yourself to be conscientious and calm at the same time?

Part of the trick to this is accepting that you will be nervous.  Some nervousness is a good thing.  It proves that you care, it energizes you to give that extra 10% that makes the difference between an indifferent performance and a great one.  It is also the result of excitement, and let’s face it, if you aren’t excited about performing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.  You also have to pre-forgive yourself for making mistakes.  You are not going to give a perfect performance.  You’ll probably even make some mistakes.  When students tell me that they are nervous about performing because they are afraid that they will make mistakes, I’m fond of saying, “Don’t worry.  You will!”  A somewhat different take on this came from Pepe Romero several years ago, when someone asked him if he was afraid of making mistakes when he performs.  He responded, “No. I’m afraid of making mistakes when I practice.”

And therein lies the key.  Good consistent performances are the inevitable result of good consistent preparation.  Good preparation means that you practice to the best of your ability all the time.  You don’t waste time with mindless practice that is counterproductive and only embeds bad playing while undermining your confidence.  After all, just because you are going to be nervous doesn’t mean that you can’t be confident.  You want to use your practice time to learn not only the notes, not only the nuances, but also to learn confidence.  If you get it right every time at home, you know you will get it right on stage.

So it’s the day of the concert, and you have been working diligently.  You get to the hall, you know you can do this, but your adrenalin kicks in, your hands begin to shake ever so slightly, you notice that your respiration is a bit shallow, and you begin to question your readiness.  Now is the time to do some good self talk, reflection, and then some sort of ritual that will keep you in control.  The self talk is a kind of pre-game pep talk, except that you are both coach and team.  Then reflect realistically on how well you really have prepared, and how exciting this experience is for you.  In your reflection, note that some of what you are experience is nothing more than excitement.  Give yourself permission to be a little nervous, because, after all, pretending it isn’t there isn’t going to make it go away.  And, acknowledgement gives you more ability to control how you will respond to the nervousness.

Finally, go through some sort of ritual.  Ritual is reassuring.  It is familiar, it focuses our minds, it helps us to prioritize.  Some people do yoga.  Others find that deep breathing is helpful (breathing is really important no matter what!) or perhaps some sort of relaxation technique.  I’ve seen players pull out a picture of their spouses, kids, parents, or pets,  someone who loves them unconditionally.  Are you religious?  Maybe a prayer for guidance, or better still, a prayer of thanks might help you.  Christopher Parkening once told me that he doesn’t get too nervous because he is performing for and in service to God.  I would think that this would take the ego out of the picture, and with that removed there is much less at stake!

The bottom line here is that your preparation is what makes or breaks your performance.  That preparation begins in the practice room, and ends in the dressing room.  With solid and consistent preparation you can walk onto the stage confident that you will do what you always do, your best.

Some really good blogs on performance anxiety can be found on The Bulletproof Musician, the website of Dr. Noa Kageyama, a doctor of psychology with a background in music, who is on the faculty at Juilliard, where he helps students prepare for orchestra job auditions.  Another website that I have found very helpful is Search Inside Yourself, which was put together by Google under the direction of Chade-Meng Tan, and gives some scientifically based, data driven techniques involving self awareness and meditation.

Bring your “A” Game

I just came from conducting a concert of my students from Harrison School for the Arts.  They are a great group of high school students, but I often have to remind myself, they are high school students! The music that they played was challenging, and their playing was on a very high level, but the past week has been very stressful because their playing has not been consistent.

So when I got home this evening, my wife, Kathy, asked how the concert went, and I was able to tell her that they pulled it off!  Kathy wondered out loud how it is that they were able to play well in the concert, but were so inconsistent in rehearsals.  That set me to wondering, and I reached a conclusion, a kind of “aha!” moment.

As a professional player, I bring my “A” game to every rehearsal.  When my instrument comes out of the case, I am giving all of my energy and all of my attention to the music and to my playing.  When I perform with other professional players I take for granted that they will do likewise.  But at some rehearsals the students played poorly, and in others they were outstanding.  I couldn’t make sense out of how they could play well one day and poorly the next. The inconsistency in the rehearsals left me wondering if they were really up to the level required by the music.  But faced with an audience, and with Mom, Dad, grandparents, and friends sitting in the house they played well.  Then it occurred to me that the problem wasn’t that they couldn’t play the music.  The problem was that they were not giving 100% at the rehearsals!  They were not bringing their A Game.

So, when push came to shove these students were able to pull off a pretty impressive performance.  But here is the problem.  By not bringing their best to every rehearsal, these students were bringing an element of risk to the concert that is, to my way of thinking, unacceptable.  They pulled it off this time, but can I be sure that they will the next?  I can not! And as well as they played in the concert, how much better might they have played if they had been completely present at every rehearsal?

So it occurs to me that one of the differences between a group of talented kids and a group of seasoned professionals is this work habit.  A pro gives 100% every time.  Thinking back to a recent concert in which I played with Andrew York, he and I had two short rehearsals prior to the concert.  During the first rehearsal we had little to say to each other (in a good way) to make the music better.  We both played all the notes, all the rhythms, all the nuances, and played with each other.  By the second rehearsal we were engaging each other in a real musical conversation, and by the concert, we were interacting deeply and playing off each other with conviction and passion.  We were both confident in the playing because we had both been completely involved from the first note of the first rehearsal.

This is the quality that is missing in many student performances.  As I said before, they are talented high school students, but they are high school students.  So it is incumbent upon me as the teacher and as a professional to impart this work ethic on them.

I’ll make a point of having them read this blog, and hopefully they, and all of my readers will be inspired to consistently bring the A game to every practice and every rehearsal.

Mix it up

When anyone asks me what I do I tell them that I play and teach classical guitar.  And yet this doesn’t really describe all of my activities.  I’ve discussed the need to diversify stylistically in order to make a living as a musician, and this is a concept that I take very seriously.  For example, this past Saturday I gave a concert with the North American Choro Ensemble, which is certainly not classical guitar.  In fact, even in the choro ensemble we have recognized the importance of mixing things up a bit, and our concert included some sambas and bossa novas.  When playing choros, I try to improvise short licks and runs when repeating verses, and on the sambas and bossas the members of the ensemble go for straight ahead jazz improvisation.  This keeps things interesting for the audience, which is vital if one wishes to perform regularly, and it also keeps it interesting for me.  There is the added benefit that all of these musical activities contribute to making me a better musician, something I strive to do every day.

On Sunday I played in a concert that was billed as “Geert D’Hollander and Friends”.  So I was one of Geert’s “friends” for the evening (and hopefully his friend for life),  This was a classical concert, with Geert playing several solo works on the piano (Chopin, Brahms, Faure, and Scriabin) and me playing solo guitar pieces by Miguel Llobet, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Augustín Barrios, and me.  The setting was a large living room at an historic mansion on the grounds of Bok Tower Gardens.

Which brings me to another subject: diversification of venue.  What is a concert space?  Easy! A concert space is any location in which you decide to give a concert.  Sunday it was a mansion, Saturday a church.  A couple of months ago I performed in what can best be described as a night club.  Downtown Lakeland, FL is home to a venue called Preservation Hall, which is a restaurant/bar/performance space, etc.  There have been rock bands there, burlesque, and now, classical guitar!  And that concert was, indeed, traditional classical guitar.  It was my release party for my new CD, “Lo Mestre, The Music of Miguel Llobet”. (Available for purchase below.)

lomestre orange_buynow

Interestingly enough, I must have driven this point home to my son quite well.  He exemplifies diverse artistic expressions as a way of both making a living and growing artistically (and he seems to be having fun, which is equally important).  Classically trained on violin, guitar, and piano (and also trained on jazz saxophone) he produced my Llobet recording.  But what really makes this surprising is that he makes a good portion of his livelihood playing lead guitar with a heavy metal band, plays slide guitar and mandolin with a bluegrass/country band, and owns a recording studio!  Now that’s what I call mixing it up!

My recovery from surgery

In my last post I wrote about my surgery.  Literally the day after that post, Christmas eve, I began to play again.  It was the best Christmas present in the world!  I began playing in increments of 15 minutes at a time, a couple of times a day.  I was amazed by several things.  First of all, I had no endurance, and no strength.  Moving the middle finger across the string was like lifting a heavy weight, and the little movements involved felt like I was really stretching my tendon.  The 15 minutes were all that I could take without being in pain, and pain is never a good thing when you are playing!  (As opposed to physical therapy, where if you aren’t in pain you aren’t doing it right!)

Over the course of the week I was able to increase the number of times I practiced to 3, then to 4 times, and felt pretty good. By New Years day I felt confident that I could increase my sessions to 20 minutes at a time.  The additional 5 minutes made a difference; I could definitely feel more fatigue in my hand, but there was no pain involved so I kept it up.

The following week I was out of town at a conference of the Florida Music Educators Association, where I had students performing, and where I presented a session geared toward helping classroom music teachers with no real guitar background, but who found themselves having to teach guitar.  Because of the exhausting nature of conferences, and because I knew that my entire schedule would be upset I didn’t attempt any changes in my practice routine.  In fact, although I stuck to my 20 minute limit, I was not able to get to it 4 times every day.  I was surprised that I had any time to practice at all!

January 13 I tried to increase my practice time to 25 minutes. At the very end of the first 25 minutes, my hand began to cramp, so I backed off to 20 minute sessions for the rest of the day – still keeping them to 4 total.  The next day I tried 25 minutes again, but made a point to pay close attention to my hand and keep it very relaxed.  I was able to do the full 25 without any pain, and repeated it 3 more times.

My plan at this point is to try for 30 minutes, which has been my normal practice session for many years now.  I’ll do it 4 times a day this week, and try increasing it to 5 the following.  If that works out well, the week after that I can try 6, which brings me to the normal amount of time that I practice while school is in session.

My goal has been to be back up to speed by February, and I’ve been particularly motivated because my new CD will be released then.  I have been planning to have a “release party” – more concert than party actually – at the end of the month.  I’m feeling pretty good because I seem to be on target so far.lomestre

And, of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that I’m already selling copies from my website, and I’d like to invite all my readers to consider purchasing a copy by clicking the link below:


My Surgery

I debated long and hard with myself as to whether or not to discuss this publicly, but in the end decided that I would, so here goes.

Last month I had surgery on my hand.  It began late last spring or early last summer when I developed a “trigger finger”.  The correct term for this condition is stenosing tenosynovitis.  What happens when one develops this problem is that the finger gets stuck for a fraction of a second on contraction and extension, and then snaps into position.  It is caused by a narrowing of the sheath that surrounds the tendon of the finger that gets stuck.  The number of remedies available is limited – either a cortisone shot into the sheath, or a minor surgical procedure in which the sheath is severed.

In my case, it was my right middle finger that was the problem.  The point at which it would stick in contraction was not problematic because it occurred after the string was already plucked, in other words, in the follow through.  The problem was that in re-extending it would also stick, and it was interfering with my timing because the finger wouldn’t get out quickly enough.

So in the early fall I went to a hand specialist who gave me a cortisone shot along with a warning that the effect would be temporary, and that I would be limited to 3 such shots in my life.  This, of course meant that surgery would eventually happen.  I went for a follow up a few weeks later, and the shot had not completely eliminated the problem.  Surgery was the only solution.  A few other factors impacted my decision to have it immediately.  I had a gap in my performance schedule that would allow for recovery without having to cancel any concerts.  Furthermore, I was getting ready to sign a contract with Price Rubin and Partners artist management, and did not feel that I could in good conscience sign such an agreement until I was ready to perform without any encumbrances.

On November 22 I had the surgery.  It was an out-patient procedure performed in a hospital under general anesthesia.  I was told that I would not be able to play at all for about 6 weeks, and could lift “nothing heavier than a cup of coffee” for that period.  I awakened from the surgery to find my hand bandaged very heavily, so much so that it actually looked as if I had a cast on my hand! A couple of weeks later I had the stitches removed and was given a referral for physical therapy.

I am writing this a month after the surgery, and my PT is going very well.  There was very little pain after the procedure, but the PT is a whole different story!  The main objectives of the therapy are to regain full range of motion and to prevent any internal scarring.  The exercises designed to stretch my tendons are only a little painful, but the deep massage required to break down scar tissue is pretty painful.

I have been allowed to move my fingers lightly, tapping on the strings delicately in playing patterns.  This helps my dexterity, and makes me feel like I’m practicing at least a little.  My therapist has told me that she believes I’ll be able to play by Christmas.  I won’t be able to dig in and play hard, fast, or long, so everything will be adagio and pianissimo, but at least I’ll be playing again.  This is the longest I’ve gone without playing in over 40 years!

I’ll have to admit that I’m pretty upset by the idea of having surgery on my hand.  Right before the procedure I told my wife that open heart surgery would be less scary for me!  And I’m a bit bothered by the fact that my hand stopped working the way it should.  But I suppose that at the age of 60, and with half a century of playing behind me, a certain amount of wear and tear is somewhat inevitable.  However, the main thing for me now is that I believe I have sufficient movement to be able to play anything, and that I have full sensation in my hand and fingers.  I’ll post follow-ups as I begin to regain my  playing.

Crazy Busy: How to make a living as a musician

In 1980 I was working on my master’s degree at Brooklyn College, where I studied with David Starobin.  David was teaching from his apartment in Brooklyn and was also traveling to Purchase, NY to teach at the state university there.  That’s about an hour drive.  As I recall, he would also take weekly trips to teach at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.  All this plus performing and recording!  So one day I commented to him that I was amazed by his insane schedule.  David’s response was, “If you want to make a living as a musician you have to be willing to work very hard.”

I’ve taken David’s words very seriously, and have almost never turned down work, irregardless of how busy I think I am.  I’ve already blogged about my practice/teaching schedule (June 17 – Daily Schedule), but this didn’t address some of the newer developments that have occurred.  First of all, this year I find that my schedule of teaching at Southeastern University (my other teaching job after I finish a full day of teaching classical guitar at Harrison School for the Arts) has picked up tremendously.  This year I have a dozen private students at SEU and I direct the guitar ensemble.  In addition I have several private students that I see in my home studio.

This is great for my economic security, but what about my artist’s soul?  Well, that side of my life isn’t too shabby lately and is showing signs of increased growth.  Which, of course, makes me busier!  In my July 9 post, Back in the Saddle Again, and more extensively in my  July 15 post, Back in the Saddle Again Follow Up, I talked about playing in churches.  Well, I’ve begun to play in a church in my home city of Lakeland, FL twice every month.  While it’s far from a full concert, I still have to practice a few pieces for these performances, which, although it doesn’t increase my practice time, keeps me on my toes.  And I don’t want to play the same pieces in a short span of time, so I’m a little more serious than usual about learning new repertoire, which is something that I usually do during the summer.  (This doesn’t mean that I don’t normally learn new repertoire the rest of the year, only that I’m not as aggressive about it as during the summer.)  I’ve also given a few performances and have more booked in the near future.  With my new recording, Lo Mestre, The Music of MIguel Llobet about to be released (February) I am keeping that extraordinarily difficult repertoire in shape in anticipation of several performances in order to promote it.   And I’m still playing choros (see my May 22 post, Choros) and I’ve begun to write some of the arrangements of these pieces, something that Dave Miller used to do.

This week has been particularly busy.  I played in church Sunday. Then, on Monday recorded an interview with Jack Price (of Price Rubin and Partners, an artist management company that will be representing me in the near future).  The company has a web radio site, PRP Radio One which does a daily artist interview.  Some of the interviews are with A list artists that they represent (Pepe Romero, Angel Romero, Lalo Schifrin, Scholomo Mintz, etc.) and others are more in my league professionally.  Tuesday I spent the evening producing a pre-production recording session for a student of mine who is getting ready to record his first classical guitar CD.  Wednesday I actually had nothing after 8:00 PM, so I managed to have a nice quiet romantic dinner (complete with roaring fire pit) with my wife.  It is very important for busy people to make time for their loved ones! Then, Thursday I played for a Chamber of Commerce event, raced from Winter Haven FL back to Lakeland FL, and played a couple of pieces in a concert program.  Next week I have concerts on Monday and Friday, and will probably be playing a wedding on Friday as well.  And since this week I had no time to rehearse with the North American Choro Ensemble we will be doubling up our rehearsals next week.

OK, so you are probably out of breath just reading my schedule.  And you may be asking yourself, “How on earth does he do it?”  A few things.  First, I love, I mean really love everything that I am doing.  I’m working in my bliss! This makes it feel more like play.  Imagine being able to just play games for 16 hours a day!  So although the work is tiring, it isn’t draining.  It is actually invigorating.  Also, I take pretty good care of myself physically, so I have a great deal of stamina, and I’ve been blessed with the ability to function well on less sleep than most other people.  (Yes, I know that we all, even I, function best on 8 hours of sleep every night.)

I’d like to close with another story that has influenced how I live and work.  Or maybe it’s more of a parable, except that it is actually true.  In 1982, preparing for the 90th birthday of Andrés Segovia, NPR sent a small crew of young men to Spain to record interviews with him.  These interviews would be aired the following year in a radio mini-series on the maestro.  Segovia rose early every morning, practiced guitar, ate, practiced some more, rested, walked, practiced, and generally dined late or held court with colleagues or went to concerts.  This was his daily routine.  The young men from NPR found that they were unable to keep up with this 89 year old human whirlwind.  Finally, one of the crew asked, “Maestro, don’t you ever rest?”  He responded, “I’ll have eternity to rest.” And to that I say, “Amen!”

Warm Ups

I like to begin my day with some simple slow warm up exercises.  I’m not a big believer in hard stretching.  To me it sounds like something that could be risky.  I’m particularly opposed to stretching one hand by pulling or pushing it with the other, or by using a wall or other object for resistance.  For me, some slow finger movements on the instrument, actually playing, that is, seem like a good safe way to get the muscles warmed up and limber.

The key here, of course, is that these warm ups must be played slowly. I like to start out by playing a little slower than one note per second.  I simply place my left hand first finger on the third string first fret (G#) then play A with the second finger (not picking the first finger up), then adding A# and then B with the third and fourth fingers, respectively. In each case, I place the finger on the string very carefully, trying, as it were, to put the groove in the correct place on the tip of the finger, and placing the finger as close to the fret as possible.  I repeat this set in second position, and so on, up to ninth position.  Then, I descend back to first position in the reverse order (4-3-2-1, etc.)

I repeat this exercise 4 times, once with index-middle alternation, once with middle-ring, once with index-ring, and finally with the thumb.  Here is a video in which I walk you through and demonstrate this exercise.  Try playing along with it!

Fast Tube by Casper



Back in the Saddle Again Follow Up

In my last post I mentioned playing for church services as a viable way to perform to an attentive audience, and more specifically mentioned that I had been engaged to perform on Sunday, July 14. So I thought it might be a good idea to follow up on this.  How did it go?  What was it like?  Is playing a church service as satisfying as giving a concert?

Well, for starters, it went very well.  I thought I was taking a bit of a risk programming the Barrios “Catredral” after only a month and a half of work, particularly  coming right after a week off from playing.  This was especially risky because I had decided to open with this piece – it served as prelude music to the service.  On the other hand, it was a great way to demonstrate to myself and my readers the real power of aim directed movement.  The pay off was pretty big.  Because the piece is new I still  play it with the joy of discovery that we all experience when playing new music, even if it is already familiar to us.  My playing was close to spot-on, with only a minor slipped note in the fast movement.  But more to the point, I felt that I was able to put my interpretation across very effectively.

The remainder of my program was much less risky.  For the “offering” I played “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”.  Sure we’ve all heard it a thousand times, but audiences still love to hear it, and it evokes a mood that worked well with the setting.  And finally, I rounded it out with three short pieces for the Eucharist portion of the service, my own composition, “Agenbyte of Inwit”, Jose Luis Merlin’s “Evocacion” and Leo Brouwer’s “Un Dia de Noviembre”.

What was it like?  It’s a bit like giving a concert, but you’re not the main attraction, God is.  It was not as satisfying as a concert, of course, because, let’s face it, I, like many other players, am an applause junkie, and in a church service the congregation always seems unsure as to how much applause is appropriate.  So there was some nice warm applause, but no shouts of “bravo!” or “encore!”  On the other hand, people were listening very attentively, and a good number made a point of visiting me afterward to voice their appreciation.

One nice bonus for me was that one of the community’s most influential arts patrons was in the congregation.  She and I had had an inadvertent falling out 3 years ago (long story, partly my fault and most certainly not hers) that I had not had any success repairing.  Well, I’m pleased to report that it is now repaired.  She came straight to me after the service and was glowing with enthusiasm for my performance and acted as if nothing had ever happened.

So, I had an opportunity to try out new material, a chance to perform in a meaningful setting, made some money, and mended some fences.  All in all a very successful day.  And most importantly, I had fun!