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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Today’s virtuoso guitar player needs a Renaissance education

While the sum of human knowledge has become vast, our specialities have become ever narrower

Once upon a time a person could seriously consider encompassing the whole of human knowledge in his or her education. By the 19th century this was no longer so. Education had to become selective, and the closer we come to our age the more selective it has become. Even in our small world of music very few of us can hope to become familiar with the works of every fine composer who ever lived.

How has education become selective given this avalanche of information and knowledge humans have accumulated? The answer is, by means of narrowing the range of subject matters. Gone are the days when a “gentleman” was expected to have knowledge of French, Latin, astronomy, theology, Roman history and geometry. Even Queen Elizabeth 1st, born in 1558, was conversant in half a dozen foreign languages or so, and as an apparently bright child was also instructed in grammar, theology, history, rhetoric, logic, philosophy, arithmetic, literature, geometry, and music. Many of these subjects were not useful, but rather accepted as being a necessary part of becoming an educated and cultured person.

The narrower education syllabus offered today has also affected our own world of the guitar

Specialised in music, and focussed on the guitar, the young student may be forgiven for thinking that the wider education of yesteryear is either a luxury he cannot permit himself, or just plainly unnecessary. But is it so? Wouldn’t the naturally inquisitive mind wander farther afield as in this example below which I ask you to imagine:

- On the music stand is perched the minuet from the Sonata in C by Fernando Sor
- The guitarist becomes curious as to the life and background of the composer and the composition
- He notices that Haydn also wrote loads of minuets and wonders if there is any similarity, which he soon discovers there is
- He asks himself why did Sor compose like Haydn and not in the strumming style of previous Spanish composers
- He finds out that Fernando Sor was caught up in the volatile political climate of Napoleon, and his military incursion into Spain, and that he left Spain as a political refugee….

I won’t go on any further. It is clear that even a brief exploration of the music of Fernando Sor, to name but one, leads to other composers, musical style and fashion, and to the social and political background of the time! Whereas education once would have homed in on all these aspects separately, the student today may have to build a spider’s web of knowledge spun around the central issue at hand. In case you have forgotten, that issue is learning the guitar and interpretation.

Once whetted, the appetite for a wider general knowledge may become ever keener. It no longer stops at gaining information related to the piece of music. This can lead to the guitar student dipping into literature, theatre, film, dance, painting, photography, science, philosophy, politics, rock, jazz and lots, lots more. All of these, I believe, feed back into the playing through the greater maturity and artistic consciousness of the player. How it does so, is another matter.

Maybe our change in attitudes to education is inevitable. I will not venture an opinion but leave it to you. All I do know is that to become a good interpreter on the guitar invites casting wide and afar the net of curiosity. Before you know it, our curious guitar student has become Renaissance man again!

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London, March 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1042 .
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