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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

My Week In Arizona

Carlos in Arizona with the Santa Catalina mountains and saguaro cactus

Lead Guitar, a 300-year-old Cactus and Other Hot Issues

Imagine playing the guitar on an ample terrace facing the sun-drenched red and black Santa Catalina mountain range of Arizona in Tucson, to an audience of dozens of saguaro cactus and the occasional humming bird. Such was my good fortune last week in the lovely home of the distinguished pharmaceutical research scientist Andre Pernet and his charming wife Julia, Chairman of the Tucson Guitar Society, at the beginning of my week’s concert tour. Mind you, saguaro cactus are not your standard issue desert cactus, they only grow in this area, live to 300 years of age and only sprout arms when they reach the age of 70, not before. No one has taught them to clap yet, so my playing was greeted with silence, not that I am complaining, for I received plenty of that from loud and vibrant audiences in Tucson, Flagstaff and Phoenix.

My manager, guide, adviser and driver was none other than the guitarist Brad Richter who once studied with me at the Royal College of Music in London. Since that time he has developed a unique career as composer, guitarist and visionary teacher. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of Lead Guitar, a music and guitar-learning programme described as providing to students:

”technique, music reading, theory, performance skills and ensemble playing through which they develop their self-discipline, self-esteem and ability to work as a team - attributes that help them realize success throughout their lives.”

Thousands of children are receiving free tuition in dozens of schools spreading gradually across the USA. In a country reputed to always manage its affairs with carefully calibrated financial rewards in mind here is an educational provision which relies largely on the idealism and good will of local teachers using Brad’s well-devised, clearly thought-out teaching material, much of it ensemble-based. It has grown alongside Venezuela’s El Sistema which boasts of creating hundreds of orchestras nationwide from children and teenagers, some of them from deprived and criminalised backgrounds. Like El Sistema Lead Guitar provides an opportunity for poor children to play a musical instrument. In Arizona it started out in schools on the Navajo Reservation but has quickly grown from there.

It matters not whether children learning to play a musical instrument do not become professional players, for what matters more are the startling effects – intellectually, emotionally and socially – of growing up actively involved in music. I have written about this before in Playing In Groups Helps Advance Social Abilities where I referred to a recent study by Cambridge University.

From the desert heat of Tucson we drove to the more moderate temperatures of Flagstaff, passing by countryside where vegetation changed rapidly every 50 miles or so from desert and savannah to luscious green. There I met Craig Yarbrough, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Guitar Society whose energy and enthusiasm drives so much of the guitar activity in Arizona. He shows delight not just through his facial expressions but through every joint of his loose-limbed body!

And finally to Phoenix and yet another good hall. My host here was Frank Koonce, whose comprehensive edition of J.S.Bach's Lute Suites has rightly earned him international recognition.

I played the same programme in all three concerts including the Villa-Lobos preludes, Bach’s Lute suite in E minor, Albeniz’s Granada and Asturias, Smith-Brindle's El Polifemo de Oro and my arrangements of the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Strawberry Fields, and Here Comes The Sun, and Queen’s Love of my Life.

Judging by the response a good time was had by all, including me.

After an intense week of activity I departed Arizona around the time of the Eastern coast’s Hurricane Sandy with a detour to Mexico, spending several days there on my way back to the UK….but that’s another story.

3rd November 2012, Mexico

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1715 .
© 2017.

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