Thursday, June 26, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

When Less is More

A killer version of Merrily Kissed the Quaker:

I found this whilst seeking inspiration for the "groove" on this tune (I know the Pierre Bensusan solo guitar arrangement, with Cunla stuck on at the end). These guys rock it way harder than I have been. Why? Well, being a whole rock band helps, but there is another reason. In the Bensusan version (at least the very rigid version I've been rendering), the rhythm is totally straight:


Your basic 6/8 Jig rhythm. But the Brandos put a little twist on it:


And many variations. The 'AHA!' for me is that they get more with less by being more sparing with the rhythmic emphases. And they are always changing it up in suble ways.

Actually, Pierre puts tons of little variations in his rhythm, as well as bass line, harmonies, and ornaments:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

From the Amazing Things show

A photo kindly emailed to me from Al Cath:

Sheesh -- I look so serious! Despite appearances, I really had a lot of fun playing last Saturday. Al also captured an AVI from the show... it is a very big file so I am still downloading it, but maybe it will be of sufficient quality to post here (via YouTube?)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

One more chance to see the guitarist this month

I am going to be playing at a music festival in Fall River, MA called "Dark Side of the June". The date is June 28, and my set will be early to mid afternoon. More details to follow... for now, just mark your calenders!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Manicure virgin no more!

"Guitar: An American Life" by Tim Brookes contains a hilarious-because-its-true quip about how guys start playing guitar in their teens to be cool and impress girls, and they end up in their 40s with expensive guitars, discussing nail care with other middle-aged men. Let's just say that yesterday afternoon, I took the next step towards this inspiring scenario.

Many very accomplished and respectable guitarists (including Pierre Bensusan, Tony McManus, and Martin Simpson to name a few) use some kind of fake nails on their right (picking) hand. Pierre tells the story, on his instructional videos, of how he went to see a manicurist in Paris after years of messing around with broken nails, superglue, finger picks and other re-inforcement strategies. So I am in good company. Really.

Yesterday I sheepishly walked into a little nail salon not too far from my apartment and explained how I wanted acrylic nails, not too long, no color, oh, and by the way, only on my right hand. Add to this story a very well meaning but heavily-accented non-native-English speaking Asian woman with a wide assortment of tools and chemicals. So, I sat while she filed (quite vigorously at times: "Gentle! It's my first time!"), treated, sculpted, dremeled, trimmed, ... you get the idea. The result afterwards was an odd exhilaration (ha! I finally did it! I feel so alive!), and a sensation not entirely unlike the one you get after visiting the dentist (this part of my body feels sore and oddly foreign to me).

I came home fearing the worst and was pleasantly surprised that my playing was only minimally affected (perhaps even improved -- I feel it is much easier now to play loudly). After sleeping on it (well, not on it...) it is beginning to feel a bit less sore and weird. Overall, I think this experiment is a success... so far.

Oh, yeah and it only cost me $30. And I have to go back in 2-3 weeks from now to have my nails maintained to the tune of who knows how much.

Things are going well for the concert this weekend. I am practicing around 2 hours every day, each song for about 20 minutes. And I am re-reading "The Perfect Wrong Note" by William Westney. Anyone who is serious about advancing on their instrument needs to read this book.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Who is this Tony guy anyhow?

I started making music late in high school, using the family computer (a Commodore Amiga 500) to compose electronic music in the mold of NiN, Filter, and Tool. My interest in the guitar was sparked by the desire to use higher fidelity samples than the ones I was able to find and rip out of other songs. Around this time I made a new friend, Dave Cox, an extremely talented drummer who had recently picked up guitar. He turned me on to the Allman Brothers, Phish, and Dave Matthews Band. When I went to UMass Amherst, I began to play guitar more and more, first on a Harmony hollow-body borrowed from my father, then on a cheap dreadnought borrowed from a friend. Eventually I bought my own guitar and began to learn more Dave Mathews tunes, as well as songs to play at the Christian fellowship meetings I was attending. My junior year, I upgraded to my first "good" guitar, a Larrivee D03. I was getting into Phil Keaggy (I knew about Phil because my parents listened to him a lot when I was little), and read an interview where Phil credited Michael Hedges as a major inspiration for his (then) recent direction on acoustic guitar.

So I went down to Newbury Comics and picked up two Hedges CDs: Oracle and Live on the Double Planet. I picked Oracle to listen to first. By the time the first track had finished, my mind was completely blown. My entire musical journey up until that point had been a search for a kind of emotional intensity, a deep expression where you could lose yourself in the music. The loudness of rock and metal/industrial music tickled that intensity for me; the freedom of jam bands approached the aspect of being wonderfully lost in sound. But here was one guy with an acoustic guitar doing exactly what I wanted to do. I was floored. I was enraptured. I had to play this music.

I signed up for a classical guitar class at the university, because I read that Hedges was classically trained, and I figured I needed some kind of grounding in a tradition (so many of the artists I admired seemed to follow the pattern of starting in a tradition and innovating from there). My encounters with the world of classical music education have been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I have benefitted tremendously from the rigor and depth of classical technique and method. On the other, I have found it to be a very stuffy, arrogant, snobby, and restrictive culture. What else can I say? This is true. I dropped the class after a few weeks and continued to meander towards Hedges' oracle.

Around the end of my time at university, I met and began to study with a local guitarist of international renown, Brooks Williams. The time I spent learning from him got me unstuck from where I was and opened huge new avenues of playing for me. He is an extremely gracious and humble teacher, and his playing has this silky smooth, virtuosic, contageous quality to it. He is the sort of guy that makes you a better player just by watching him play!

I got married in 2003, and two years later moved from the Pioneer Valley to eastern Massachusetts, where I began to focus more on solo instrumental performing. I began to go to the local folk open mics (not an exact match for acoustic fingerstyle instrumentals, but my music has been well-received nonetheless). Out of this came my first open mic feature, my first opportunity to open for Brooks (at the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, June 2006), and many ongoing friendships and musical collaborations.

My current focus is on arranging and recording Bach and traditional Irish fiddle music for solo guitar, as well as playing and singing at the local Vineyard Fellowship. I continue to be inspired by sacred and secular music alike, from Bach and O'Carolan to Bensusan and Keaggy. Even though my full-time "day job" is being a software developer at the MathWorks, music remains one of my primary passions.