THE NEW FRESH WAVE IN CLASSICAL GUITAR
Isabella Abbonizio is an Italian classical guitarist and musicologist born in Lanciano (CH) and currently based in New York City. She represents a new wave of musicians with training, experience and knowledge in such varied fields as education, performing, ensembles or musicology.
She performs both as soloist and in chamber ensembles. Isabella is a member of the Contemporanea Guitar Duo and of the Brooklyn Guitar Quartet. Also she is a recognized musicologist, with special interests in the fields of 20th century Italian and French music, musical exoticism, Italian music and politics, colonial/postcolonial studies and music education.
Currently she is co-founder and co-artistic director of Lanciano International Guitar Seminar, which is taking place now, between the 23 and 28 of July. So, I would like to take this opportunity to talk with Isabella about several aspects, specially about education, ensembles and the features of the Lanciano International Guitar Seminar.
F.B.Z. We live in the 21st century and sometimes it looks like we are in the 19th century, in matters of education. Education specialists like Kodaly, Willems, Schaffer, Molina or Hemsy de Gainza did great discoveries in the field of music teaching. They found several ways of improving the experience of music through the use of creativity, improvising, playing in groups, singing, composing… and, of course, playing the music of nowadays. But, I rarely see all these resources applied in conservatories and music schools and the pedagogy I normally see is the old fashioned one: old repertorie, repetition, and, like Violeta Hemsy says, “sensory, primary and motor skills based education”. Do you agree with me?
I.A. I agree with you on this topic. I think the lack of a proper and updated training for music teachers in Colleges and Conservatories is one the reasons an old-fashioned music education persists. Fortunately, the situation is changing, thanks to illuminated educators and to multiple occasions where teachers can today complete their own educative path outside the main institutions, which tend to be more conservative. In the USA, for example, there is a new fresh wave, mostly represented by young educators, promoting ensemble playing, composing and improvising inside guitar performance-focused programs. Furthermore, guitar teachers started looking at other sources of inspirations, i.e. other instruments’ and disciplines’ teaching methodologies. In this way they are able to promote a more extensive and multifaceted educative path.
F.B.Z. As teachers we are, we have very hard work in looking for strategies for helping people to love music, master a musical instrument, raise awareness of good repertoire or connecting with their personal interests. The initial stages are crucial to the good development of a music career so the importance of the teacher is very high. I see a lot of students waiting for study with a great teacher until become better musicians. I think we must do on the contrary! Look for a very good teacher at the beginning to become a much better musician in lesser time. What skills do you think have to have a good teacher?I.A. I think to be a good teacher you should put efforts to match the students’ skills, ability and music tastes, and at the same time help them in developing those elements. Important tools to develop in students are a good methodology for problem-solving, ear-training and analytical skills. These are important for deeply understanding and penetrate the pieces they play and appreciate them. The good teacher’s final goal should be to make a complete musician.
F.B.Z. I like to do analogies in my teaching, sometimes crazy analogies, to look for new ideas and resources for my classes. Lets we see some definitions for the terms twitter and musical instrument.
Twitter is an online social networking service and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters, known as "tweets"
A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds... Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in steps with changing applications
So, in short, Twitter calls to mind terms like: software, visual, reading, social, fast and short, new, instant communication, easy, fun, superficial.
Instrument calls to mind terms like: slow, hardware, auditory, patience, antique, hard, long time, entertainment, deeply… There seems to be clear differences but we can see some similarities between them: communication and fun, and sometimes we forget this basic aims of the music. How could we relate these terms with the purpose of turning the guitar into more interesting activity? How do you use technology in your classes?I.A. I use it to teach my students that music is a language, with its own alphabet, roles and properties. And I use to give them basic analytical skills in order to better understand this concept. I do so from the first stages of their learning process. It’s easy even for a five-year-old student to recognize a repeated melody and to understand that it is a shared strategy with verbal language to form a sentence or idea; or to recognize likewise a variation. I think students can enjoy music if they have the tools to understand it, not only what they play but also the music they listen to. Also, improvising or creating his or her own music is a good way to either have fun or understand how communicate through music.
Regarding your second question, living in the USA I’m experiencing very high-tech-minded students who certainly don’t need my encouragement to use technology in their individual learning process. And, as a consequence I’m really stimulated to use technology for teaching. I use digital scores, videos and recordings to make my teaching more effective. I allow students to video record my playing for difficult passages so they can look at them again when back home. I suggest students also to record their playing to improve their performance and solve problems.
F.B.Z. The classical guitar has no jacks; no buttons; no screens; no wifi... We can’t learn to play the guitar in ten minutes but we, as teachers we are, have the task of creating ways of making the music and learning so attractive to get introduce the students to it and keep them for years to see results. We ask them for hard and lonely work, long term goals, discipline, awaited results… How do you do to make your classes appealing to this student’s profile?I.A. I use it to teach students how to pinpoint their own goals, and to push them to perform as much as they can for an audience. I also stimulate them to join an ensemble. The guitar environment in New York City offers multiple occasions to perform and play together and I use to suggest my students to take advantage of those opportunities.
F.B.Z. Could you talk us about your course? What can we find in it? Which is the methodology of the classes? What areas do you meet?I.A. The Lanciano International Guitar Seminar is one-of-a-kind international seminar for solo guitarist and guitar ensembles. The mission of the Lanciano International Guitar Seminar is to promote high-level solo and ensemble/chamber music training for guitarists. Faculty are internationally renowned professionals from Europe and USA, with really different profile, backgrounds and experiences. They will teach master classes for soloists and ensembles during the six days of the Seminar and will perform in a faculty concert. Beside performing as solo, participants not signed up in ensembles will be invited to join small groups set up the first day of the Seminar. A final concert featuring selected participants in solo and ensemble performances will conclude the event.
The focus on the ensemble playing is motivated by my
and the other artistic directors’ belief
that the benefits of successful chamber music experiences are enormous,
especially for instrumentalists who devote so much of their time and efforts to
solo pursuits. Moreover, chamber music skills are necessary to be competitive
in the music job market.
Another important goal of the Lanciano International Guitar Seminar is to promote international cultural exchanges between Italian and international guitarists and institutions. To boost the international exchange stature of this new endeavor, international students will receive 25% discount on the tuition fee. Moreover, two top participants will receive full scholarships ($575 value each) to the 2014 New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes College The New School for Music, New York City. Lanciano International Guitar Seminar is in fact a new partner with the New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes founded and directed by Michael Newman and Laura Oltman, this year at his 13th edition. This represents an exclusive occasion for European students to cross the borders and experience the guitar world in USA.
F.B.Z. What do you expect from the students to know at the end of the course? Could you tell us what does it mean for a student to attend a seminar like yours? How does contribute these seminars to the musical education of the students?I.A. In general, a full-immersion guitar education week gives the opportunity to share new ideas, contacts and experiences. The Seminar represents a unique occasion to learn from people with different backgrounds and music tastes. I’m sure they will end up culturally enriched and more open-minded. Also, a course like the Lanciano Seminar enhances the development of new international collaborations which is relevant for a successful music career.
F.B.Z. In the education programs of much of the music schools and conservatories of today, solo guitar playing has the priority number one. Nevertheless the curriculum gives the ensembles and chamber music an important role, but I can see the reality is different from the theory. I feel like the ensemble playing has not the importance it deserves. What is your point of view in this sense?I. A. I agree with you that in much of the music schools and conservatories ensemble playing is just an appendix of a music education program mostly focused on solo playing. This is usually motivated by time constraints, as students need to focus on their own performance skills. Chamber music would instead need of a particular attention to obtain relevant results. Playing with others is not easy and needs time and practice to develop awareness and equilibrium in between the performers. We need to adjust our playing to the others’ to sound perfect in ensemble. We need to understand the others’ skills and ability, beside ours, and to make advantage of them.
F.B.Z. What does ensemble playing bring to education of a guitar player?I. A. Playing in ensemble represents an exclusive occasion for learning and completing a performers’ music background. It forces the performer to listen the other player, share ideas, communicate and reflect on his/her own ideas. I think ensemble playing helps a performer to become a more complete musician.
F.B.Z. I often listen to people say that they don’t want to play a “classical” instrument for its strictness and lack of creativity, but we know about a lot of classical musicians who know how to improvise and doing it regularly. For example, you did a deep work on the life and music of Maurice Ohana and you know about some composition born from some Carlevaro improvisations on the guitar. I think we have to exploit the creativeness and technical possibilities of the guitar. Do you work these aspects of music? How do you do this?I.A. The example of Carlevaro’s Estelas is pretty effective in this context. Carlevaro was able to lead back Ohana’s attention on the six-string guitar just improvising on the instrument. Furthermore at that time the six-string guitar was too restrict for him as for its reduced harmonic and resonant possibilities, and he preferred writing for ten-string. I use to stimulate my creativity with improvisations but only in private settings. I started studying jazz to improve my improvisation skills. I also like to explore the potential of contemporary pieces that allows the performer some freedom during the performance, for example in Brouwer’s music. If you look at the path of music through the centuries, improvisation, from being a common element in cultivated music until the 17th century, was reintroduced in 20th century music after a long period of progressive increase of precision in notation. But of course the situation is multifaceted. In any case, a certain amount of improvisation has been always present in a performance. A live performance always guarantees a unique and not repeatable performing/listening experience.
F.B.Z. Isabella, you are an accomplished musicologist too, with many papers published in some of the most important magazines of the world and you also have been doing a lot of work as a music educator and teacher. Can you tell to the readers why do you play in ensembles, like Brooklyn Guitar Quartet, Contemporary guitar duo? What are the benefits you obtain of playing in these ensembles? What are the difference between solo and ensemble playing in personal and educational terms?I.A. I enjoy playing in ensembles to share my experience and passion. It’s also a unique occasion to learn a new repertoire. Playing in two different ensembles, beside as a soloist, is not easy because of the time constraints on each of the members. But I think it’s worth doing it for the benefit of how much you learn in terms of listening and sharing with the others. When performing solo you rely only on your own potentials and abilities, whereas in ensemble you breathe and express yourself, you communicate as one with the other players and this is a unique experience.
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