EGTA Conference August 2010 Woodbrooke Quaker centre, Birmingham
featuring Xuefei Yang
This time, delegates gathered slightly later in the year. The weather was foul throughout and it was just as well all our activities were indoors!
Peer review is a useful method of learning what to do and NOT to do, in teaching practice. To this end EGTA invited members to record videos of their teaching. Rebecca Crosby’s film showed her introducing children to sol fa and notes on the 4th string. She used nursery rhymes to help the children internalise the rhythms such as:
Slowly, slowly moves the snail
Leaves behind a silvery trail
And then at double the tempo
Quickly quickly runs the mouse
Round and round his little house
Rebecca placed emphasis on memorising, the little finger playing D on string 4, And ear training.
James Eisner had the inspired idea of asking his students to twiddle their thumbs so as to get a good right hand pulgar movement.
One video illustrated problems with some of the students’ right hand positions, (pulled too far back). Richard Corr observed that an suggested a way to correct this was to ask the student to place their thumb on the adjacent string to the finger about to do a tirando stroke; he further said that arpeggios should be trained on adjacent string – 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st was better than 6th, 3rd, 2nd 1st, he opined. Chris Susans suggested just playing the chord of E minor ( in the style of the start of the 2nd movement of the Arunjuez ) was an effective way to get a good right hand position. Several members thought a swivel chair with no arms was a good chair to sit on and Rebecca Crosby said she placed stickers on the guitar to help students find a good arm position.
Luke Dunlea’s film showed him telling his students to think of the 4 Ps: plant, push, play, punch ( the last to show you had a nice fist on the completion of the tirando stroke). He encouraged them to think of an elephant hand position, fresh air under their hand and to say to themselves get out of my strings.
Colin Tommis showed a film teaching quavers with a metronome ticking throughout. Some delegates thought this perpetual tick would drive them crazy. One said that the metronome is external and rhythms should come from the inside out. Another disagreed; how can I imagine a banana if I’ve never seen one?
Richard Wright told us he got his students to think of breathing in before playing a note, and breathing out as they played it. This encouraged a sense of relaxation. He further noted that by relaxing the tip joint of a finger, the student is guaranteed to play from the knuckle.
Tom Ellis and Sean Shibe, two of the rising stars of British guitar playing, performed for us on the first evening. Tom played a Richard Wright transcription of Bach’s cello suite no. 3 with a muscular clarity. His voicing was very clear and he emphasised melody with a beguiling tone. Henze’s Drei Tentos ranged from the testosterone fuelled to the angelic and in his hands, the Giuliani Gran Sonata Eroica had a great sense of sonata form structure and a full palette of tonal colour.
Sean Shibe played the Mudarra Fantasia with razor-sharp dynamic control and a wonderful sense of architecture. Walton’s Five Bagatelles were breathtaking – this was a transcendental performance and it is hard to imagine that it has been performed better – utterly wonderful. He followed this with an elegant and poised rendition of Tarrega’s Endecha y Oremus and finished with the Rodrigo Invocacion y Danza, which built to a superb climax.
Conference agreed that with players of this capability, the future of the classical guitar in the UK is in safe hands.
Stephen Kenyon got the second day off to a flying start by illustrating how much control a conductor can wield with just a baton. In the fingertips of a skilled practitioner ( like Stephen ) many ideas of articulation, dynamic and tempo can be communicated without a word uttered. Stephen was persuasive in his argument that concerts with little rehearsal time could be successful if the conductor had authority with a baton and the players watched.
Julian Ward from Yamaha spoke to us about Yamaha’s new CG classical guitar range. He said that whilst Yamaha was of course interested in more sales of guitars, they also had an altruistic educational agenda – we want more people playing music he said simply.
Sophia Johnson demonstrated guitars from such as the CG 122 model and the CG 182 and 192 models. All these guitars have undergone revision to make them more open and responsive, and Yamaha have achieved this by using fewer fan struts, a smaller bridge reinforcing plate and a matt finish. Thy are more playable because the action has been lowered and there is a neck profile borrowed from Yamaha’s top-of-the-range grand concert models, and better looking with a new head. Conference agreed that these guitars were a big improvement on the Yamaha classical guitars of old and it was hoped they would be successful in the student market.
The Classical Guitar centre Ltd is run by Brian Whitehouse. It is one of the UK’s finest guitar retailers and many players shop there for high end guitars. Brian had agreed to sponsor a Xuefei Yang master class and concert. Her master class style is engaging and sympathetic. David Liu bravely played for her the Villa Lobos Prelude no 1, having been learning it for only one week! Xuefei thought getting absolutely in tune was important and that one should not play a guitar too large at a young age, because it made stretching harder. She advised that fingers should be kept close to the fingerboard to aid velocity. She thought that the phrases could come in waves of increasing strength and thought breathing was an essential path to finding phrase lengths.
Jack Hancher played Mertz’s Hungarian Fantasy and Xuefei thought it unwise to abandon phrasing in fast passages. She illustrated how sfz could be better emphasised with the use of a rallentando. When Georgina Bashford played Rodrigo, Xuefei thought lines were more convincing if they were played on the same string – “don’t change string if you don’t have to” she said “and use accents to help you articulate”. Mike Abrams played Tarrega’s Capricho Arabe and Xuefei thought the pursuit of a better tone was the first thing and guitarist needed to address. “I want a bigger diamond” she said, “and make the title of the piece inform the way you play it”.
With a Ramirez Elite guitar, Xuefei performed on the second evening of the 2010 EGTA conference. She started with Bach’s Sonata no 1 in G minor, transcribed and transposed into A minor . Her arpeggios were beautifully weighted, and her sound was authoritative. The final presto was particularly exciting and energetic, with a liberal use of apoyando to point up the frequent accents she adopted.
She played Albeniz’s Suite Espana opus 165 to conclude the first half. Xuefei is capable of huge stretches which she can claim in a moment with wonderful precision – as she did in the exotic Tango. The highlight was perhaps the Malaguena. She can sustain a full and legato bass line underneath the most complex figurations and make the virtually impossible sound effortless. The Serenata was a chordal tour-de-force and the concluding Zortzico had humour and wit.
The second commenced with Regondi’s theme and variations on Bellini's Capulets and Montagues. This had the audience agape; Xuefei’s blisteringly fast scales, rapid consecutive 3rds and octave passage work and beautifully shaped decorative figurations have to be heard to be believed. But it isn’t just lollipops and candy floss – Xuefei has a massive and rich sound and total control over the musical form. Whereas Sean Shibe’s Invocacion y Danza brought out Rodrigo’s despair, Xuefei found the anger in the piece. Her tremolo was smooth, controlled and as powerful as one could hope for. The tone of seriousness permeated her transcription of two Chopin Waltzes , the latter of which was both delightful and breathtaking.
She concluded with Three Brazilian songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Her impressive apoyando thumb featured in the 1st and the 2nd was tender and beautiful. Roland Dyen’s arrangement of a felicidade seems to be preoccupied with guitaristic devices that take precedence over a sense of Bossa nova – Xufei played with great panache, even though she was now noting that her hands were getting tired. When a marathon is run at sprint speed, fatigue is inevitable! Xuefei is like a sparkling button; her dazzling technique can possess the most inaccessible music and her sound is polished to an aural shine. The evening was a treat and EGTA is grateful to Brian Whitehouse and the Classical Guitar Centre for generously staging this concert.
The final day of the conference commenced with Bridget Upson/ Mermikides guiding classical guitarists through what she thought you should need to know in order to teach electric guitar. Her demonstration covered posture, pick ups, palm muting, the CAGED system, strumming, pentatonic scales and much more. What was heartening in listening to her accomplished playing was to recall that she is first of all a superb classical guitarist; her adoption of our electric brother has been successful and maybe others will follow where Bridget steps?
Edis Bowden and Tony Dodds as Professor Eds and Dodds talked us through the physics of string movement. Professor Eds has an authoritative understanding of these things and was able to place out-of-reach concepts within the grasp of the lay person.
Tony Dodds demonstrated a fascinating collection of tunings forks dating back to the 18th century, when the device was invented by John Shore. It is only in the past century that agreement has been reached internationally that A = 440; in Panormo’s day it was 435 and in the 19th century some orchestras were using 452.
Once again, EGTA’s conference organiser Ginette Eady had assembled a collection of sessions to delight, inform and encourage. Plans for 2011 are already being made.
Sean Shibe is a Scottish classical guitarist currently studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of
Music and Drama under Allan Neave. When 15, he auditioned for music conservatoires, receiving scholarship offers from the RSAMD, Trinity College, and the Royal College of Music in London. Last year he received the 2nd prize during the Ligita International Guitar Competition, and first prize in the prestigious Ivor Mairants guitar award. In 2008 he was a finalist in the "Westfalian Guitar Spring" held in Germany, and also received the Chanterelle Guitar Prize.
Classical Guitar Magazine: “dynamic... spectacularly talented”
The Herald of Glasgow: “the finest acoustic guitarist I have ever heard.”, “Shibe was back on stage fuelling the engine with astounding playing“.
Tom Ellis began to play the guitar when he was five years old. He studied at Junior Guildhall with Gary Ryan for three years, during which time he reached the finals of the Music for Youth competition at the Purcell Room. In September 2004 he was the first guitarist to take up a place at the Yehudi Menuhin School under a bursary scheme funded by The Rolling Stones, where he studied with Richard Wright. In 2006 he gave the London Premiere of Steve Goss's Suite for Guitar Quartet, Frozen Music, at the Wigmore Hall and has performed as a soloist with NYGE at the Bolivar Hall. He also appeared with both of the Menuhin School's orchestras, taking part in the Klezmer to Classical programme which was presented at the Arts Depot, Finchley and the Menuhin Hall in March 2007, and playing Vivaldi's Guitar Concerto in D in July 2007. In October 2008 Tom performed De Falla's Seven Spanish Folk Songs at The Menuhin Hall with Rosalind Plowright. Since joining the RCM in 2009 he has appeared as an electric guitarist with the RCM Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski, performed at King’s Place' Guitar Festival in the Fall' and at the 'Chacombe Festival' in 2010. Alongside his classical repertoire, Tom writes songs and performs with various rock bands.
Bridget Upson studied the classical guitar at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, and the electric guitar at Los Angeles Music Academy. Bridget is highly sought after as a teacher and current work includes: Head of Guitar at Radley College, Classical Guitar tutor for the London College of Music, columnist for Guitar Techniques Magazine, tutor for the International Guitar Festival and external examiner for the Royal College of Music. In 2006 Bridget was featured as guitar teacher to Bill Oddie in the BBC1 documentary 'Play it Again'. Bridget performs regularly in three bands and has a long history of classical guitar performing. Last year Bridget toured Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez with the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra and is due to perform it this year with the Westmorland Orchestra.
Stephen Kenyon studied as a post-graduate at Trinity College of Music with Gilbert Biberian, which included four years of weekly ensemble rehearsals with one of the prime figures in guitar ensemble direction. Stephen conducted guitar society orchestras including the Lauderdale Society (joint winner of the first Guitar Orchestra Competition) and his own ensemble Forest Guitar Orchestra, and moved from being a playing member to conductor of the London Guitar Orchestra, the UK's only large professional guitar ensemble of its time. All this was done on the basis of a two-minute try-out with Gilbert in a class, and much reading and observation of conductors. In 2003, Stephen conducted a professional symphony orchestra in the premiere of his first guitar concerto with Fabio Zanon as soloist. In preparation for this he took conducting lessons with Stephen Gregson MA, post-graduate student of the leading US band conductor Dr Jack Stamp of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and in 2009 took part in a masterclass with Dr Stamp himself, conducting the Band of the Royal Signals. Stephen is currently MD of Dorset Guitar Society. www.jacaranda-music.com
Edis Bowden was born in Uganda and returned to England as an infant. Edis was awarded an Honours degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Sheffield. He moved to Scotland 30 years ago began work as a chemical engineer for BP. Edis has had a passion for music from an early age, beginning with the violin, taking lessons and playing in the school orchestra. His repertoire has gradually expanded to include other string instruments such as classical and electric guitar, the mandolin, viola and latterly the sitar.
Edis is currently a member of the Bathgate Concert Orchestra and plays violin and guitar in the Chardon Ensemble. Edis has also runs a rock band called The Carbon Pills for his adult pupils and a folk band called The Velvet Thistle for pupils (and one or two parents!) of any age. The bands rehearse weekly and play the odd gig . Edis has been awarded the professional qualification The Certificate of Teaching by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
Woodbrooke is a comfortable, grade 2 listed house, set in 10 acres of organically-managed gardens and formally the residence of the Quaker chocolate-maker, George Cadbury. Excellent home cooked food with vegetarian cooking a speciality. Woodbrooke provides a tranquil space within a city setting for our
All rooms have tea / coffee making facilities
and the majority are en-suite.