Guitar Repertoire: Context & Perspective

This editorial post is a personal point of view of how choosing the right guitar repertoire can make a difference at an audition; It is all about context and perspective.

This personal editorial piece begins, like so many good ones do, with a story about a journey. A journey that pretty much straight away began with hope and then defeat, and then progressed on to a phoenix like rise from the ashes. It also involves this piece below. So let us begin at the beginning…

Once a long time ago a young and aspiring classical guitarist was preparing for college auditions. Having practiced his guitar repertoire, or so he thought and ably assisted by his teacher Neil Smith, he got together 4 pieces of classical guitar music. On the anointed day he rose super early (5am) to catch a train to Birmingham; first up was Simon Dinnigan at Birmingham Conservatoire. Not only was this the first audition of six, it was his first audition in his entire life ever! Scary stuff, kids so hold tight it gets worse before getting better.

It was a very, very cold December day when this young guitarist went into one of the then dark and dingy practice rooms, where there was no heating on as it was that early in the day, to warm up. Thirty minutes later, fingers cold and extremely nervous, he entered the room to face the Head of the Guitar department to play. Or at least try to play, there were a lot of doubts floating in his mind by then. Needless to say it was not a successful endeavor. So after listening to three of his pieces, and asking some probing questions about valor, honor and the Bach methodology there was much pondering on Simon’s part. Much! Alas the answer was a straight-up-there-and-then: no! Crushed, and still cold, this young aspiring guitarist picked up his dreams and walked out the door to catch a train back up North to find solace and to contemplate his future.

Ok, so what is the point of this story? Well it turns out that after a quick repertoire change and having blooded myself on my first audition, I was able to remedy the situation, get back on the horse and face the other five guitar auditions with ever growing confidence. Both in my abilities and in playing and in the interviews. One of the pieces I chose that day was the Prelude from Cello suite No. 1 by Bach. By this point I really had no clue about Baroque music, and had not played this piece often enough or even learnt it deeply enough for me to confidently perform it. So having had the foresight to prepare four pieces, I swapped it out for the piece above: Tears In The Rain by Joe Satriani.

Most of you can probably hear the sharp intake of breath from purist guitarists reading this. (I know I can as I type it.) Being born in the 20th century my understanding of Baroque music, and my immersion into it, was limited. I did however understand how to interpret music and I loved the Joe Satriani piece. However I felt that it could be better served on nylon strings and allowed to breathe a lot more than the dots on the page allowed. So that is what I did. I dug in and brought that piece to life as a classical guitarist. With some success I might add, I got my second choice University pick and managed to impress the head of guitar at the time, Tom Kerstens, enough for him to ask for the name and composer of the piece; as, not surprisingly, he had not heard it before. (He even wrote it down!)

So what does all this have to do with context and repertoire?

Simple…

First just because a piece was written on another instrument does not mean it wont come alive in another context. Joe’s piece is written for a steel string guitar and played with a plectrum, very straight and very linear.

Second, always pick repertoire that is in your wheel house, not what you think the panel wants to hear; it never ends well. How can you convince an audience to listen and like a piece if you don’t?

Third, always, always, perform your repertoire as many times as you can before the audition. Do not wait for the audition day to do this, hoping that things will go right. They never go to plan and it is better to know what happens to you, and your music, under pressure, before hand.

Hopefully this personal editorial piece on guitar repertoire will help, it was written with the perspective of twenty years passing. Along with having performed, and failed as well as passed, loads more auditions; and having taught many other young aspiring guitarist, who also wanted to chase their dreams. It has helped me help them to achieve it. It was informed by years of research into this area, performance, as well as having performed on big and small stages. It was backed up by the road rash I have obtained through good gigs and more importantly bad gigs.

So if you want some more info on getting it right on the day of an audition check out this post: on succeeding in guitar auditions. It has loads of links and advice from myself, excellent publications and from around the web.

Rhayn

p.s. here is the original piece. Enjoy!

Classical guitarist who loves to rock out!