Compiled by Joseph Thompson
The Falla Trio performance at the Southern Oregon University Recital Hall in Ashland on Saturday, April 6, 2002 was followed the next afternoon by a master class by Falla Trio member and internationally acclaimed composer and guitarist, Dusan Bogdanovic. The master class was sponsored by the Jefferson Classical Guitar Society and was held in the Choral room of the University Music Building.
First Student: Jeff Rinkoff
Jeff didn't feel very good about his performance. Dusan asked him to play it again and it went much better the second time.
Dusan prefaced his comments by saying that he thought this was "the most brilliant guitar composition of the twentieth century". When he teaches his class on "Guitar Music of the 20th Century" at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he opens with a discussion of this piece. Jeff performed from the Miguel Llobet edition and Dusan pointed out that there were other editions available and that a performer could gain insights into the composer's intent through a close study of them. He said that Falla had created orchestral and piano versions as well. There is also an edition by John Duarte which is different from the Llobet edition in that Duarte follows the articulations from the piano version. He noted that Llobet stylized the work a good bit in his edition through the use of mannerisms such as slides, slurs, and staccatos which were very popular at the time especially through the influence of Tarrega, and that these ideas were not necessarily the intent of the composer. In the orchestral version, the bass clarinet is given the dark opening theme and there are no staccatos. Dusan says that, for the performer, he considers the slides, slurs and staccatos in Llobet to be up for grabs.
Dusan said that the feeling of the piece was like that of a funeral march or perhaps "Conte Hondo" ("deep song" in the flamenco tradition) and that the rhythm was closely related to the Tango and the Habañera, a slow Cuban dance (Habana=Havana) which was hugely popular in Spain at the time. He recommended that Jeff work with the tone color and suggested that the C9 chord in measure 19 be played ponticello (near the bridge) and the following scale passage be played sul tasto (near the fingerboard). He suggested using more flesh in the attack for the sul tasto passages. Jeff asked how to deal with the big chord in measure 34. Dusan said that this dissonant chord was the "ultimate point" in the piece and that he should "just go for it!".
Second Student: Matt Dorris
Dusan was a bit surprised to hear Chopin piano music played on the guitar saying, "This is a first." Matt was experimenting with soft steel strings because of the expense of traditional nylon strings in the hopes that these strings would last longer. Dusan wasn't partial to the sound and suggested that nylon was preferable. He played Matt's guitar and noted that he found it hard to be expressive and that it was tough to get a nice sound with the steel strings. For the Chopin Prelude, Dusan suggested more vibrato, more use of dynamics, and a more singing melody. He thought that the edition was a bit "funky" because of wrong notes, altered rhythms and fingerings which do not allow connections between notes.
Dusan said that he was not too much into talking about technical stuff but that Matt had some technical issues that he should address. He pointed to excess tension, repeating fingers in the right hand and a need to minimize movement in the left hand (movements were too big).
Matt then played "Characters and Scenes from Lord of the Rings" by Alan Mearns
Dusan: "You are playing too fast and
tense. Slow down to a comfortable tempo. You're not breathing,
He recommended slow practice of the arpeggios, and the use of planting by individually moving each finger immediately to the next string in the arpeggio. He suggested not clamping down saying it is very important to find a comfort zone and BREATHE.
Practice on open strings so there is no distraction with what the left hand is doing.
1.) Play very slowly, in quarter notes,
planting each finger in advance.
-Work in this manner with a variety of
His final recommendation, "Get nylon."
Third Student: Jaxon Williams
Dusan recommended that Jaxon work on the expressive aspects of his playing, such as developing a variety of dynamic levels, use of vibrato, and development of a singing tone. Dusan makes his students at the conservatory sing their pieces. They hate it but find it very useful. Grant Ruiz asked "Why sing the piece?" Dusan replied, "Because singing gets you in touch with your body. With the guitar, you can play and not feel the music. It can become simply a mechanical process. Singing puts you directly in touch with the music, both physically and emotionally."
Dusan suggested that Jaxon sing along with Lagrima as he played it and to help Jaxon feel more comfortable doing this, he asked the entire class to sing the familiar melody along with Jaxon. There followed a lovely and impassioned impromptu choral rendition of Lagrima with guitar accompaniment.
In working on the development of vibrato, Dusan recommended practicing a very slow vibrato using the full amplitude of the reach in the hand in the movement from left to right. He suggested practicing a vibrato exercise used by violinists and cellists which starts out very slow and gets progressively faster and faster by subdividing the pulse.
(Note: This is easier to demonstrate than
it is to describe.)
He pointed out that different speeds of vibrato can have different effects. Consider using slow, medium and fast vibratos in your playing, while keeping in mind that a too fast vibrato can have a nervous feel to it.
In discussing the development of a broader range of dynamics, Dusan said a player must recognize that a loud chord on the guitar will not be nearly as loud as a loud chord on the piano or one played by an orchestra. The dynamic range of the guitar is relatively narrow, so it becomes even more important to experiment with different levels of dynamics. Try playing very loud. "Make it ugly!" Then play loud using more flesh in the attack for a warmer sound. Dig in more for a bigger warmer sound.
When Dusan had finished working with Jaxon, Joe Thompson asked him how he got started in music. He said that he started playing at age eleven. His father played violin and guitar and taught him to play guitar. He played electric guitar as a teen, playing mostly rhythm and blues. Though he enjoyed playing this style of music, he finally felt that it left him nowhere to go, musically. It was Bach's Pasacaglia and Fugue that got him started in classical music.
Then Joe asked him, "How did you know that music would become your life?". He said it was very interesting question. He was studying architecture. One day he was on his way to class carrying an armload of books when he was hit by a car. He ended up sprawled out on the pavement with his books and papers strewn about. Though he sustained no serious injuries and even managed to make it to his class, he realized that two more inches one way or the other, and he might have died. It was his confrontation with the idea that his death could be lurking around the next corner that made him realize now was the time to do what he wanted to do and not later. So he quit architectural school and dedicated himself to the study of music.
Fourth Student: Maurya Murphey
Dusan said that Maurya's playing of Alman was very good. He complimented her on her technique and nice tone. He suggested that she work on widening her dynamic range. He asked her how she heard the dynamics in the opening phrase. Maurya described how she thought they should go and Dusan agreed with her. Then he asked her to play it that way and it was noticeably better.
He pointed out a particular phrase where the notes were disconnected and worked with her on how to better make the connections. He asked her to sing the phrase while she played it. He then noted that her singing wasn't disconnected. He pointed out how she could improve a specific movement form in the piece by practicing it in different positions, on different sets of strings, and using different rhythmical values. He said that she had small hands and that there was nothing that could be done about it beyond exploring the possibility of a shorter scale length guitar. He then noted that some of her struggle with notes was related to performance nerves. He told her, "You should loosen up, because you can!" Then he said, "I know, I can tell."
Then he talked to Maurya about working to stretch her dynamic range by practicing scales at different dynamic levels. He asked her to play a scale first at pianissimo, then mezzo forte, then forte, then "an ugly fortissimo". He suggested that she take a phrase from Alman and play it with a crescendo from piano to fortissimo. He asked the class to help her by singing the crescendo with her. He noted that her singing made a better crescendo than her playing.
Fifth Student: Grant Ruiz
Grant had to stop playing before he finished his performance due to missed notes and nervousness.
Grant: "Do you get nervous when you
Grant played again and it went better the
Dusan suggested that Grant have some work done on the action of his guitar to take care of the buzzes on the first string. Dusan indicated that glissandos in guitar music were are not always appropriate and that it was a matter of the style and period of the piece. "But" he said, "they are appropriate here. Villa Lobos was Brazilian after all." Dusan noted that Grant's playing of the piece was rhythmically, somewhat arbitrary and that it would be more effective if it were played using a steady pulse with ritards at the ends of phrases. Dusan then played a few passages from "Blue Bossa" by Antonio Carlos Jobim to demonstrate how closely related the choros is to the later bossa nova style and to show how important the regularity of the pulse is in driving the rhythm forward. He also demonstrated how stopping some of the chords short of their notated values gave more of a Brazilian feel to the piece. He talked about the many different accentuations in Brazilian popular music and that some amount of accentuation could be used in this Choros.
He then discussed the glissando in bar 16. He suggested that the double slide with the 4th finger on the second string was a bit awkward and would be easier if it were played on the first string with the first finger taking the glissando. He also felt that Grant could take advantage of opportunities to use vibrato. At bar 16 of the third section, Grant played the descending arpeggio by gliding his i finger across the strings and Dusan suggested that he use the more conventional slur followed by amippp fingering.
On a historical note, Dusan pointed out that this was the first piece that Villa Lobos wrote for the guitar and that, in his early days, the composer was a guitarist with a choros band.
In general, Dusan thought that Grant could bring more tonal color to his playing by using a variety of positions along the string with his right hand; more sul tasto (near or toward the fingerboard) and more ponticello (near the bridge). He also recommended that Grant use more varied dynamic levels. On a technical level, Dusan said that he uses a lot of planting, in general and thought that Grant would find it helpful to practice planting ima on open string chords.