Spotlight on Alumni: Scott Schwertfeger
Scott Schwertfeger was in the MM program at the University of Akron 1992-94. He was a terrific player with an open mind and a curiosity about the world around him that was plain to see. He landed a plum teaching job while there, at the Cleveland Institute of Music's Preparatory Department. I was sorry to see him leave the area when he graduated. Check out his musical journey.
I was blessed to be born during the late 1960's, a vibrant time in music, and was constantly surrounded by those Aquarius sounds being created for the first time. As a child, I pursued baseball and other sports, activities which taught me about personal training and how to be the best I could be. Music was always there, though, and when I turned 13, my father, who was a great guitarist and singer, taught me my first guitar chords. At that time, feeling dissatisfied with the popular music of the 1980's, I focused instead on music from my childhood: music of the '70's and the folk tradition.
Scott, age 13
I entered West Liberty State College in the Fall of 1987 as a Biology Education Major, but would always stop in the Fine Arts wing on my way back to my dorm after classes, and tinker on the piano. At that hour there would normally be no one there, but then one day I heard a new sound floating through the hallway, sounding much like a piano, but not quite. Intrigued, followed the sound into the hallway where the faculty offices were, and noticed the door slightly ajar. I knocked on the door and, hearing "yes?," opened it to find my future teacher, Dr. Nels Leonard playing his guitar. I was amazed, having never before been exposed to the beauty and sound palate of the classical guitar. After introducing myself, we talked for quite a long time. I learned he was a former student and friend of the late Andrés Segovia. He had a display of pictures on his wall from guitar events in Santiago de Compestela, Spain during the late '60's and early '70's, where he was a participant.
Scott with Dr. Nels Leonard at West Liberty State College Honor's Recital 1992
I quickly decided to pursue guitar studies and was accepted as a guitar major there, beginning my studies in 1988. Through this time, I learned a great deal about the physical demands of the technique and how to unlearn the tension and bad habits I had developed through sports; how guitar does not require the shoulder to play the strings, but rather a complete releasing of everything but the hand. I was also amazed at the great body of music written for solo classical guitar from all over the globe, and through all style periods in Western Music.
My aspirations led me to try and find a good place to continue my studies, and led me to another great player and teacher in Stephen Aron at the University of Akron. I remember driving to Akron on a bitter cold and windy, snowy day in February, 1992 to audit Steve's program, and was amazed at the level of the playing of his many students, and their excitement about the craft. I applied to the program, was accepted and moved to Akron in the Fall of 1992.
This period of my education taught me a lot about the professional aspects of being a musician, and of the many professional possibilities for guitarists. During this time I also was hired to teach classical guitar in the Preparatory Department at the Cleveland Institute of Music. This teaching experience helped me to understand many aspects of community and community outreach as well as the importance of building relationships with not only the guitar studio, but the student's parents and the greater community as a whole.
I feel the work I did with Steve had the most direct influence on my playing today. I learned what I believe to be the truth about how to use my right hand--how to produce the sounds and the feel and tone I want when I play.
Upon graduating in 1994, I accepted an appointment as Lecturer of Classical Guitar and Music History at Bethany College in West Virginia, and was able to start a guitar program at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling, nearby. On the creative side, I decided to begin work in other areas of music. I started working with a professional group, Sleeping Giants, in Wheeling. We were once featured on the Conan O'Brian show.
The show I did with Sleeping Giants on Conan was filmed and broadcast
the same day on February 17, 1997.
It was my first time in an airplane, in a limo, and to New York City, all in one day!
Conan was great, the city was amazing.
Conan is a guitar enthusiast. He was really tall; attached to his office, he had a workout room with all kinds of equipment and weights, and in addition to that, he had, yes, a guitar room, with many, many guitars on stands: it looked like something out of the film Pink Floyd: The Wall.
He kept asking us questions about technique and what the best gear was, etc. A great time, that was.
Scott in foreground with Sleeping Giants, on Conan Obrien, 1997
Playing with Sleeping Giants led me to the Washington DC area, where I began working with Modern Yesterday, a group that was under contract with MCA records. I got involved in the writing and recording aspects of the music industry, a development which led to a recording project in Los Angeles with renowned music producer David Kershenbaum, whose credits include the films Last of the Mohicans and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, as well as many well known popular music artists from The Carpenters to Cat Stevens.
The studio where I recorded the Modern Yesterday material was called Andora. It was a complex right off of Sunset Strip, and was truly amazing. So many famous pop records were recorded there: Tom Petty: Wildflowers, Michael Jackson: Bad, etc. It had an amazing soundstage and facilities, and a really great B room, even an amazing kitchen with all the accouterments. David Kershenbaum was great, and the engineer was Duane Baron, who is the group Heart's in-house engineer.
Modern Yesterday CD
I was involved with these things for about 2 1/2 years, then made the decision to return to the unfinished business I had with the music and technique I was working on at The University of Akron and at West Liberty. So, i
n recent years, I've dedicated myself to composing my own works for solo guitar, and to recording, performing and teaching. In 1999, I was appointed to the faculty of the Columbia Institute of Fine Arts in Falls Church, VA, as instructor of Classical Guitar, and recently have had much success with the development of the Community Classical Guitar Ensemble as well as with private classes there.
In a recent duo concert with Duncan Trudeau
As a teacher, I take pride in offering a good technical foundation for classical guitar students, blended with a well-rounded knowledge of fretboard harmony. Many of my students have gone on to enter established programs as classical guitar majors at major Colleges and Universities; one was selected as one of three in the world for inclusion in Christopher Parkening's studio at Pepperdine University.
In concert/recording with Sharyn Byer, flute and Oberlin alum, John Gockel, cello
I released my debut solo classical guitar recording in 2010 on Willowood Records; it was produced by Jeff Bragg and Jan Nichols, and engineered by Jeff Bragg. It features some of my own works and some of my all-time favorite works for solo classical guitar.
Scott's first solo CD
Currently, I am preparing a second recording; it will include more original pieces as well as works by Tansman, Pujol, Bach, Ponce, and Berkeley.
Many more adventures to come!
And many thanks to you, Scott, for sharing some of your adventures along the way! --SA