I started playing guitar when I was in eighth grade. I borrowed my sister’s guitar (she wasn’t using it anyway—thanks, Jeanne!) and her Monkees songbook. I read the melody of “The Last Train to Clarksville” and I was on my way. I had learned enough about reading music in elementary music class that I could read the melodies in the book, and I knew the names of the strings well enough that I could figure out where the notes were on the guitar. When mom thought I was ready to start taking music lessons, she insisted that I begin with piano in spite of how much I bugged her to let me take guitar lessons. I would go to piano lessons on Saturday afternoons then come home and play basketball until it was too dark, and then play guitar.
I attended a baseball camp for two weeks that summer. One of the guys had brought his guitar from home. When we had breaks, we would pass the guitar around and take turns playing it. I learned a lot from the guys who had been playing longer than I had. What a life! Play ball all day and guitar all night. Later on, Frederick Noad started a guitar lesson show on PBS. Here’s the end of one of his lessons.
My friends and I would watch the show and then get together to practice some of the concepts we learned. I still use Frederick Noad’s guitar method book when I teach. Much of my learning happened because I gave free reign to my inquisitive nature and gave myself time to experiment with ideas. After awhile, I started to think that I could learn more if I took lessons and allowed ideas other than my own into my playing.
Studying Classical Guitar really opened my eyes to the possibilities of playing the guitar. I discovered that I could play very complex and beautiful music but I had to rework my technique— from the way I held the guitar to the way I touched the strings. I studied with Jaime Guiscafre for three years and when the UW-Madison hired a guitar teacher, the Bolivian guitar virtuoso Javier Calderon, I changed majors and started studying with him. I completed my Bachelor of Arts and Master of Music degrees while studying with Professor Calderon.
Here’s Calderon, my mentor, playing Sevilla by Albeniz during a University of Wisconsin Varsity Band concert at the Kohl Center.
I had no intention of teaching until one day Javier said, “You should start teaching now.” And that was that. I stared teaching and found out that I really loved to meet with people and help them learn how to play. After I completed my Master of Music degree, I enrolled in the Music Education program at the UW-Madison. Not only did I learn teaching methods, but I learned a great deal about music in those two years as well.
As I look back at these years of practice and playing, I think, “What fun this has been!” My intention as I continue to grow as a musician and a teacher is to share my enthusiasm for music and to help people along on their personal musical paths.