Spotlight on Alumni: Randall Avers
Randall Avers holds such a special place in my teaching career. He started with me when very young and, after a break returned. Later I hired him to perform many times as a guest and we've played in ensembles together. He knows my family well, as I know his, and we spend time together every year. When asked for his recollections about his time as my student, it took him a while. But I love reading what he wrote. Here is Randy:
"Stephen Aron was my guitar teacher at Akron U and Oberlin Conservatory - Akron from the time I was 12 and Oberlin for the final years of my undergrad.
I remember meeting Steve for the first time after an Edward Flower masterclass at Akron U. I was about 11 years old then. My guitar teacher was colleagues with Steve at the University and strongly suggested I meet him and hopefully set up an audition to study with him. I was pretty scared meeting him for the first time, but he was friendly and excited to hear what I could do. I walked into the audition feeling pretty confident - the first question was easy "can you name for me any classical guitarists?" I played the Ponce Valse and some one-page piece in the Noad book - he gave some compliments and then promptly started a lesson on tone production - he rated mine "4 out of 10." After the lesson, he mentioned foregoing the private lesson route and suggested we find a way to enroll me in the university program directly. This was a HUGE boost for me and it really shaped my life afterward. He found a provision that would enable me to enter as a "Special Status" student and so, the following semester, I left my regular school twice a week to take guitar lessons and attend Studio Class and Guitar Ensemble at the University. I did this for 4 years.
Randy started Suzuki guitar lessons with Michael Vahila at age 7
Akron was a place where I got a huge amounts of support - from Steve, the teaching assistants, other guitarists, and a few guitar moms - including my own (thanks for the support, gang - and mom!). Lessons were well-organized and all business - there were concrete plans and goals for each semester. The studio was a genuinely friendly gang, a lot of good playing and good comments at the studio classes every Tuesday. My first semester, I chose my own tunes - Valses Poeticos and Sor's Mozart Variations - both were completely over my head. Steve humored me and supported the work with exercises and studies. By the second semester, he insisted I take on more manageable repertoire and I began to tackle larger pieces soon afterwards. The Noad Baroque and Classical books, the "frest-stroke," Bach's 3rd Cello Suite, notes inégales, Giuliani's Haydn Variations with the bass dampening, the Villa-Lobos Preludes, no squeaks, clean notes.
Randy, circa 8th grade, after a performance at the University of Akron
In hindsight, I went through enormous amounts of repertoire at Akron and remember so many lessons on phrasing and musicality. The technique in the pieces was always manageable - it was about finding ways to interpret the musical score - Steve was always putting the music first. I was encouraged to read lots of music and listen to many recordings. In my free time, I went through the file cabinets at the U of A library, and sight-read scores and listened to recordings from past recitals. My folks and I were encouraged to go to Guzzetta Hall and hear concerts - not just mine but the visiting guest recitals and other students.
There we're lots of good memories from the Akron years. My first guitar duo partner, Eric Noden, playing Carulli with a cape. (Eric is now a prominent Chicago-based blues guitarist). The guitar orchestra playing "Ain't'a That Good News," an old spiritual, arranged by Steve for us, and Steve's abstract piece using matchsticks and paperclips. We had "octave guitars" that were essentially ½ size instruments tuned up an octave with fish string for the high E string. It was a pretty crazy, potentially hazardous idea actually - the immense pressure from the strings made the bridges practically pop off.
Randy (back row, left) with the "University Guitarchestra," ca. 1988.
Back row: Director Stephen Aron, Randall Avers, Michael Cameron, Thomas Guarino
Middle row: Tony Orlando, John Kastelic, Susan Collins, Duncan Haines, Paul Marsh, James Marron
Front row: Chris Akin, David Coleman, Stephen Soehnlen, Paige Jackson, Karl Madden, Roxy DePue
Steve played a bunch of chamber music himself - with marimba, with flute…. He did this spectacular quartet arrangement of Bernstein's
West Side Story,
performing with Karl Madden, Lou (Paul) Petric and Bob Firestone. If you spend enough time with Steve, you find out he always working hard on something - performing, organizing - in front of and behind the scenes. Over the years, I've had a chance to see how consistently and endlessly he takes on responsibility: monstrous new projects, while maintaining all that's going on around him - it's really impressive. He passed onto me SO many arrangements of guitar music: Albeniz, different suites by Bach, a huge volume of Scott Joplin…
Apart from the normal schedule, we'd get many guest artists each year for concerts and masterclasses. I distinctly remember classes with David Russell (two of them), Jorge Morel, Vladimir Mikulka, Ben Verdery, Nick Goluses (who taught the day Segovia died, and was pulled out part-way through a class for an interview), the LAGQ when they were starting up, Paco Peña and Neil Anderson who I'd have the privilege of working with after Akron. While all this was going on, Steve hosted an incredible GFA in Akron in '88: Julian Bream, David Russell premiering Aquarelle by Assad, Jorge Morel premiering his concerto and Tanenbaum performing a Henze concerto with Orchestra, LAGQ, Elliot Fisk. It completely blew me away. Another very funny coincidence was that Olivier Chassain won the GFA competition that year. I'd study with him ten years later at the Paris Conservatory in France. Steve introduced me to the guitar world. Akron was very good to me.
After the 4th year, Steve went on sabbatical and I went off to the Walnut Hill Performing Arts High School near Boston and studied with Neil Anderson at New England Conservatory. Then spent my freshman year with Aaron Shearer at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem (NSCA). At 17, and while still in high school, I won 2nd prize at the GFA (adult competition)--half of my repertoire was learned at U. Akron.
After my freshman year at NCSA, Steve invited me to come to Oberlin my sophomore year and study with him again. Oberlin itself was incredibly inspiring because of its ultra-engaged and positive, wacky, creative atmosphere. For me, it was the culmination of my musical studies - I had never been or will again be in a place that exudes that combination of raw creativity, focus and drive. When I came to Oberlin, I was set on doing more competing and working on my solo repertoire. Steve was interested in helping me pursue those goals and gently steered me into more chamber music and career planning. The lessons were the same business as usual, but as it came closer to graduation, the lessons turned more into coffee chats at the Feve or Java Zone, planning new projects and making me aware of all the tools one needs to be a musician. (If you read Matt Hinsley's recollection, in another post in this blog, he took these considerations very seriously and wrote a remarkable research paper on the topic during his senior year).
Randy performs while at Oberlin
During my junior year, it was about arranging a mini-concert tour. The following year, he set a goal to record and complete a full-length CD, leaving me to figure out mechanical licenses, bio and program notes, etc. It was recorded in Oberlin's Warner Concert Hall and released as "VISTAS." Some fellow students really helped me out tremendously during those years: the double major pianist/TAMARA major, Elbert McLaughlin, volunteered many, many evenings helping me record VISTAS - he was a genius engineer, and did the editing and mastering, etc.
My junior year roommate, Rami Vamos (see his recollection elsewhere in this blog) and I wrote our 12-Silly Songs for 12 Silly Strings over the course of a year which just felt like an extension of the wild Oberlin vibe and the incomparable Rami. (The piece was published earlier this year).
Randy at Oberlin with roommate and partner Rami Vamos (left)
Matt Hinsley, another of my classmates at Oberlin, remains one of the most positive, engaged people in music I have met - he's a great friend and I'm constantly amazed (and inspired) by all he is able to juggle. (He has a spotlight article in the blog also). To top off the final year at Oberlin, there was a fantastic party at Steve and JoNell's old farm place complete with pie eating contest, burlap sack trap, and Scrabblechamp concert (Rami's band). The crazy intense vibe was tremendous, and I love looking back on those years. Thanks for having me back Steve!"
Randy, right, winner of the 1994 ASTA competition, along with fellow prizewinners (left-to-right)
Adam Kossler, Andrew Mah, Alvin Tung, Kevin Gallagher and Eishun Fukui.
Randy recalls that he broke his toe right before the competition!
After Oberlin, Randy went on to study with Olivier Chassain at the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Paris, where he met his current duo partner, guitarist and composer Benoit Albert. More importantly, though, he met his future wife there, the Norwegian beauty, Line. Randy graduated with honors in both solo playing and chamber music, a first for an American guitarist.
After Paris, Randy came back to the U.S. and got his MM degree with Thomas Patterson at the University of Arizona. He continued competing and racked up prizes in several other guitar competitions, including another GFA, the ASTA, the Yamaha and the René Bartoli. He has released three solo CD's. Randy re-settled in Oslo, Norway, where he lives now with his wife and two boys. His duo with Benoit Albert, Les Frères Méduses, plays constantly across Europe and the U.S. They were feature artists at two GFA Conventions and have two CD's out. Their unique choreographed, original-music accompaniments to silent films have created a whole new performance niche.
Benoit Albert and Randall Avers, "Les Fréres Méduses," perform
Randy and Benoit performing "Mekanisk" in Norway
Randy's latest solo effort is this extraordinary hommage to the great Ralph Towner, "Man in the Moon":
"I hope this little recollection gives a look into how rousing a supporter he was (and still is) of me. Steve is practically family to us now and it's a pleasure catching up with him and JoNell when I come back to Ohio."
Thanks so much, Randy, for your extraordinary contribution to the guitar and even more, to our lives for all these many years!
Randy with his wife, Line, and their children Felix and Sievert, visiting the Aron's in 2013