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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Amazing Guitars: Renaissance to Rock

"Amazing Guitars: Renaissance to Rock"
           - is a brand new show that I’ve written, produced, and recently debuted to a wonderfully excited, and enthusiastic audience at the Turnage Theatre in Washington, NC.

This show has been a long time coming. My wife and I were extremely fortunate in being able to collect a handful of amazing instruments that were handmade by Lawrence K. Brown, a nationally recognized luthier. It all started back in 2004 when I became a doctoral student in classical guitar at Shenandoah Conservatory. Being at the intersection of being in school, and being able to obtain those instruments was fantastic. I was interested in teaching the history of the guitar at a college, or university someday, and was chomping at the bit to see how well these instruments would sound in a recording studio.

So… I set out to learn about the repertoire, performance practices, and history of each of these early instruments. The fact that I was able to hold, and play these instruments was absolutely invaluable. That doesn’t mean that I was comfortable with them. Holding these instruments was quite awkward for a very long time. The technique requires that you angle your hand such that your forefinger juts out almost straight as if you are pointing at someone while you hold your thumb back, moving your thumb and forefinger up, and down simultaneously, and in opposite directions – much like the motion of a flat pick that you use for guitar playing. It often felt like I was starting all over with these instruments in terms of learning how to obtain a consistently smooth, beautiful, and musical sound. As you can see below, I still haven't quite mastered the correct hand position - work in progress.

My interest, and momentum for these instruments began to wane after I graduated with my DMA in Classical Guitar in 2010. I was living in Los Angeles. I wasn’t teaching at a college, or a university. My career was moving in the direction of composing, recording, sound design, and touring with musicals. There were times during those years that I contemplated selling these period instruments. They just sat in cases. I didn’t like that.

But, thankfully, the story didn’t end there. It seemed like just as I was ready to write these instruments off, someone would ask me to use one of them on a recording leaving me to think that there might be a future for them somewhere down the road. I had also dreamed of being a side person/studio musician. In that case, the more instruments, and creativity that I could bring to the table the better!! So, I started experimenting with recording the instruments. I found it to be lots of fun, and quite satisfying. That was the beginning of me finding a way, a path, and a journey for these instruments to becoming a part of my everyday work.

There’s my everyday world, and then there’s the world out there – the one that’s much bigger than my own. So with that in mind, I took my instruments to my son’s high school music class. I showed the instruments to fellow musicians, and enthusiasts whenever possible. I made a point to learn something new about each one of them every time I demonstrated, or shared them. Even with all of that, it was still a really long time before I would become comfortable with them. I was working for the day when I could speak about them intelligently at length, and with a strong sense of passion, energy, purpose, and importance.

It became apparent to me that the only way to achieve this goal was to write, and produce a show involving all of these instruments, and to include fun, interesting, and informative facts, and anecdotes about the history of the guitar, its performers, builders, patrons, and roles in society.

My only shot at really accomplishing this was to manage by deadline. In other words, I would need to book the show, and commit to doing it in order to force myself to finish it. I finally saw my chance to commit to writing, and presenting this program through Linda Boyer – who runs the Beaufort County Traditional Music Association. I was attending her weekly bluegrass jams at the Turnage Theater in Washington, NC.

I asked Linda if she would mind if I presented my program after one of our weekly bluegrass jams. I was thinking that it would be something super low key, no pressure. She was definitely into the idea. Linda contacted me fairly soon after our conversation asking me to take a 7 pm time slot at the Turnage Theater here in Washington, NC. Another band was scheduled for 8 pm so I knew it would be a challenge with 9 instruments on guitar stands, a pedal board, and a music stand. In reflection, I now realize that this time constraint was in fact a blessing in disguise as it required that I be concise, succinct, interesting, funny, accurate, and inspiring all while covering hundreds of years of history all within a span of 45 minutes.

I was up for it, I did it, and I had a blast. It was much more satisfying, and fulfilling for myself, and for the audience than I ever could have imagined.
I hope that that performance marks the first of many more to come. I have my second show coming up on Oct. 26th at 12 p.m. at Beaufort County Community College. It’s really exciting to think about how the show might evolve, and change over the coming years. I want to include other musicians in duets, with jams between polar opposite instruments. There is no limit to the production, and performance options for this show.

Interesting, and Fun Facts

Did you know that we don’t have an example of an early renaissance guitar? The guitar that you will see at my presentation was constructed from a picture on a book that was published in 1551! The renaissance guitar flourished most of all in France. Chances are that you’ve never seen a guitar like this up close, and personal. The Renaissance Guitar is on the right hand side of the picture below. 

Did you know that there are two instruments that go by the name of “Vihuela” (pronounced v-way-la)? The vihuela that I own is a reproduction from the renaissance period 1450-1600, and was popular in Spain. There is also a vihuela that originated in the mid 1800’s, is popular in Mexico, and is used in mariachi bands.

Did you know that Robert de Visee, one of the greatest French guitarists of the 17th century played the guitar in the evenings at the bedside of Louis XIV?

If you’re interested in booking the show, need any music for television, movies, or corporate applications – or you just want to check in, then please e-mail me at I'd love to work with you!

Special thanks to Tom Whelan for these fantastic photos, to Anna Radmall for editing, and a special thanks to Bruce Tillman for all of his unbelievable work with marketing, and promotional materials for all of our recordings, social media, performances, and our website!! 

Until next time – surf it mellow my brothers and sisters! – The MD

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