Summer School – 2

The teachers

This entry could be very short – a simple list of the teachers at the school. That would not do justice to the styles and interactions, and to some of the history that they bring to the table. This was reflected at the summer school not only in the individual lessons but in the small ensembles that they led.

The central focus of the summer school must be Simon Powis. He is a young Australian guitarist who plays wonderfully and who has taken the idea of an online guitar school from that single phrase to encompass something that now includes 4 teachers,  spans 8 grades of repertoire and technical exercises with recorded video lessons for each grade, along with live lessons via Zoom. Simon’s teaching style involves, at least for me, a review of the piece that I have played, then a deep dive into one or two aspects of the piece that can be used as a gateway into something that I can work on over the next weeks. This can be something technical, as in hand position or fingering, or it can be something musical, as in how to interpret the phrasing of a piece and bring that phrasing forward in a way everyone can hear.

When I heard that one of the teachers this year would be Berta Rojas I immediately began looking forward to seeing her. I was not disappointed. Berta led multiple teaching sessions at the school and her teaching style was both unique and quite a treat. Most of the students assigned to Berta for the sessions I watched had the technical ability to play some rather difficult pieces. Rather than detailing any technical details of the playing, she focused on the musicality of the piece. At times the audience was recruited to sing along with the guitarist, focusing on phrasing, breathing and making the piece musical. It was a different approach to the music that I would humbly suggest focused on something that many guitarists need – making beautiful music with the instrument. An example of her playing can be seen here.

Two teachers who have been at all the summer school sessions are Janet and Raffaele Agostino. They perform under the name of Duo Agostino. They also share the distinction of being Simon’s original teachers in Australia prior to his enrollment at Yale. Both Janet and Raffaele demonstrate the patience and perception of teachers who have been working with classical guitarists for over 25 years. Their sessions also demonstrate the ability to listen to student playing and determining the one or two things that a student needs to move forward and progress in the piece they are playing. Both also demonstrate a sense of humor and humanity that makes all students feel welcome. You can see them perform here and here.

An unexpected treat for many of the guitarists was cellist Jacques Lee Wood. He was advertised beforehand as willing to work with students on the Bergmuller Nocturnes for cello and guitar.  A number of guitarists chose to work on these pieces. However, an equal number chose to work with Dr. Wood on original arrangements for cello and guitar on pieces that reflected the unique sound that can be generated by a duet featuring the sustaining voice of the cello paired with the more staccato sound of the guitar. Combined with Dr. Woods dry sense of humor his sessions were a highlight for all who attended them.

Although this list seems to get longer and longer, it somehow seems inappropriate to describe Colin Davin as “another teacher.” He was a student of Sharon Isbin at Julliard, a two time finalist at the GFA competition, a member of the faculty at two universities, and has performed around the world. As a teacher he shares the same welcoming attitude and wit as the teachers listed above and demonstrates an outstanding and deep knowledge of guitar that allows him to play, and demonstrate, difficult passages. He can be seen performing with Sharon Isbin here, and solo at the Metropolitan Museum playing a 1953 Fleta here.

Although they will be listed last, that is only an artifact of the fact that there had to be some organization to this section. Dave Belcher has been community manager and teacher at Classical Guitar Corner for several years and is a favorite of the members of the community. He has a friendly, welcoming teaching style and a deep knowledge and love of music.

Nicoletta Tedesco is the newest member of the CGC team. She is a soon-to-be graduate of Yale and a student of Ben Verdery. Her teaching was detailed and reflected an understanding of the skill of each person she worked with. Summer school was the first opportunity most members at the school had to interact with Nicoletta, as she had just joined the CGC team. She was an immediate hit with everyone, and her energy and enthusiasm kept the open mic night flowing along.   

Next, a look at working with a small ensemble and large guitar orchestra.

Summer School – 1

Summer School

I recently came home from a week-long guitar summer session. I thought recording some of my impressions would be a good use of this space, both as a memory refresher for myself as time goes on, and to paint a picture of what a guitar summer school looks like for those who might be interested. I see this as running for a few days in order to cover the various aspects of the week.

I imagine the first thing to say is that the school is run by Simon Powis and the Classical Guitar Corner Academy. CGCA is an online school that seems to be quite unique in the space. In addition to the recorded classes, live on-line teaching, and a very large and active community of learners, once a year Simon puts together a week-long summer school on the campus of Endicott College in Massachusetts.  Students are assigned to dorm rooms at the college. Everyone stays at the same dorm, which also allows for the socialization in the evening after class.

The structure of the day is relatively consistent over the week, which give overall structure to something that could become quite chaotic without such a framework.

The first session of the day is the small ensemble. The 60 students in attendance are broken into 5 groups for work in small ensembles. The first time students see the music they will play is that first day. The division into ensembles is very roughly according to grade level, although each is more in a range rather than a strict stratification. The various groups and the multiple parts needed provide each person with a goal that is just beyond their current ability (but which is achievable!).

Following the small ensembles students are given some time off the guitar and attend a presentation/lecture done by one of the instructors. Some details of these will be forthcoming in a future installment of this blog.

Lunch is followed by individual lessons. Each student has two lessons over the course of the week.  These lessons are arranged before arrival and each student selects the pieces they would like to work on. The lessons are open, so any student can watch any lesson, although in all cases the audience maintains a respectful silence so the student and teacher interaction is the focus of the lesson. Entry and exit is suggested to coincide with the half-hour boundary, although lessons running a few minutes over tends to blur this as the session goes on. It seems to be something that everyone expects and accepts.

Individual lessons are followed by guitar orchestra practice. 60 guitarists are assembled on the stage and divided into 4 sections, roughly corresponding with traditional orchestra breakdown. This could be a somewhat daunting task as all of the orchestra members are amateurs, most of whom have either never played in this large a group before, or not since last summer school. The large orchestra director is Janet Agostino and she demonstrates just the right balance of iron fist in velvet glove to keep everyone progressing and on task.

The day finishes after dinner with a concert by a member of the teaching staff. While I will go into greater depth on these concerts, the one thing I would add as part of the overview is that each of the performers varies the repertoire from pieces that anyone familiar with the guitar would know to newer pieces that extend the experience of the audience and provide something new for their ears.

Over the next few posts I will explore more about each of the elements of the day at summer school.