Aron and Students With Concert Choir
Last year, I asked our choir director at Oberlin, Greg Ristow, if he'd like to play Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Romancero Gitano for choir and guitar. To my surprise and delight, he responded enthusiastically, proposing an entire program of music for choir and guitar. But not just choir and guitar; it would be choir and classical guitar, then choir and baroque guitar and then, as if that weren't enough, choir and electric guitar. I thought, sure, why not--it sounded like fun.
I'd never played the Tedesco before, and had not heard most of the other pieces. But it was a great project and so it went into the calendar. The Conservatory owned a baroque guitar (I don't), so I'd borrow that one. The Baroque music would require an entire ensemble to be assembled and in the end, it included, to my further delight, two of my students, Rebecca Klein on a second baroque guitar (she owns hers!) and Collin Sterne on the Conservatory's theorbo--an instrument he'd been playing all year in Baroque Orchestra. (See the end of the post for the concert program)
It also required an electric guitar. The Con owns a mike, a mike stand and a small amplifier for use with the guitars--a Fishman LoudBox. But not an electric guitar. And, while I did play one the previous spring in an outing with the Contemporary Music Ensemble under Tim Weiss (for Andriessen's De Staat), it was borrowed. I hadn't owned an electric guitar since about 1979. So I bought a (new) Fender Stratocaster, much like my first one (a '58 Sunburst Strat--oh how I wish I'd kept it!), and geared up with a rack of five pedals--the ones required for the piece (reverb, phase, echo, fuzz and boost). I was ready to go.
The process of juggling the three instruments was more confounding and stressful than I imagined it would be. Having never used pedals before, I came to realize they were like independent instruments themselves, and required quite a bit of independent attention. And my rock-style electric guitar skills (which is basically what was required) were pretty elementary. Still, the score was detailed and it was all possible.
After a very small number of rehearsals, we found ourselves on stage in the College's largest performance space, Finney Chapel, before a full house. The concert went well and the sound mix---a particular concern--was effective, according to those present. It was a special pleasure to have composer/guitarist and longtime friend, James Piorkowski, present for the performance of his piece. We were able to keep him around for an extra day, and he taught a class for the guitar studio.
I REALLY enjoyed the whole process, having long accompanied singers, but played with choir only once before, in the 1980's. Greg Ristow is absolutely expert as evoking from the choir the sounds he wants in an extremely limited number of hours together. The singers are habituated to arriving at the first rehearsal having already learned the music, and they can assemble even very complex scores quickly.
The Baroque music was a special treat, as I got to play next to my students--a thing that happens seldom. Rebecca and Collin rose to the occasion and we formed a credible period ensemble. The singers, in that one pair of numbers, hammed it up, giving the audience a real stage show and livening up the proceedings considerably. And switching from that music to the work that featured the electric guitar made for a startling and compelling concert experience for the listeners.
Thanks, Greg, for your interest in this wonderful project, and to the choir, whose singing was truly impressive. I had a blast with them.