Playing in the Band

Playing in the Band

I don’t think that anyone except classical guitarists and pianists are inclined to play their instruments solo. Every other instrumentalist I can think of practices in order to play with other people, whether that is in jazz, rock or bluegrass bands, string quartets or orchestras, or other groups. Classical guitarists just sit in rooms, all alone, playing pieces for ourselves. I used to joke that the classical guitar gave a voice to my natural misanthropism.

Last year I attended a classical guitar camp and in addition to presentations, lessons and concerts, there were regular group classes. One was a small group ensemble, and one was a large guitar orchestra that consisted of everyone at the camp playing together. All together I think I learned 7 pieces in total, ranging from some relatively easy pieces to some devilishly difficult ones with weird syncopations.

At first, I viewed these groups as a “something I needed to do.” It was part of the experience as crafted by the people running the week. If it stood between me and what I “really” wanted to do so be it. I would persevere.  By the end, when we performed in concert as a group, I had a great time and I was hooked. There is something about being one voice in a multi-voiced group that cannot be duplicated without other players and which I don’t think can be described adequately in words.  

When I got back from camp, I started looking around in earnest for a group that might allow me to do this. I thought of Wilmington and Philadelphia, but they were just too far away. I had heard there was a Lancaster Classical Guitar society, but I had trouble finding them. When I finally connected, I started attending the monthly meetings.

These are something that I genuinely look forward to. Everyone has a chance to play something they have been working on, but it is not required. Some do, some don’t and it changes from month to month. Then we start on the group pieces.

The one thing that I think separates solo guitar pieces from ensemble parts is the interplay between voices. There are syncopated rhythms and point counterpoint sections. Practicing my part as a solo exercise does not give the same reward as playing it as one voice in 3 or 4 others. That reward is one of the genuine joys of playing in an ensemble.

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