Combining youthful energy, high-quality instruction, large ensemble playing, and a mission to help a younger generation of classical guitarists build a vibrant community, the third annual Young Guitarists’ Workshop was by all accounts a rousing success. Held at New England Conservatory as part of Boston GuitarFest 2014, the workshop drew 22 enthusiastic guitarists between the ages of 6-16 for a marathon six-day total immersion into their instrument. During the workshop students explored techniques to improve their individual musicianship, and discovered new possibilities that can only be achieved through teamwork.
VIDEO: Boston GuitarFest IX: Week in Review:
Many of this year’s first time participants had never played with other guitarists their own age. Adam Levin, one of the Co-Directors of YGW, said, “One of the primary things we want to address is young people having experiences playing together. To this end, we engage a like-minded community of guitarists their own age, and place them in different ensemble combinations. It was fantastic to see the connections that were made between the kids as they worked together at this year’s YGW.”
The participants seemed to think so too. When asked to describe something she didn’t expect to learn at the workshop, Kayla A., age 12, commented, “I didn’t anticipate I’d be as enchanted by the youth guitar ensemble as I really was. I learned how, during the ensemble, the music unfolds and connects to the different guitar sections and everyone is really dependent on the whole team for it to work well.”
Kayla also participated in a girl’s quartet, preparing and performing a set of American iconic pieces, designed to match the theme of this year’s Boston GuitarFest – “America Odyssey”. When asked about their favorite part of YGW, her quartet partner Terra J., age 12, said, “I got to know what it was like to play with other guitarists. I got better at sight reading. I learned more about how to watch the conductor, but my favorite part was playing the pieces with the quartet. It was easier to listen to the different parts because there were only a few other people. I liked how it sounded when we all played together.” Rose C., age 12, agreed: “I loved playing in the girl’s quartet. My part was simple and it sounded so pretty with the others. We were awesome.”
VIDEO: Preparing for the final recital in Brown Hall at New England Conservatory:
A major highlight of the week was the opportunity for all of the workshop participants to play together as an ensemble in world-renowned Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory. The work selected for this performance was Terry Riley’s “In C”. This composition, conducted by YGW Co-Director Devin Ulibarri, has a strong improvisational element, with rhythmic groups progressing in a spontaneous fashion. Sasha V., age 10, of Brookline, MA, noted, “I changed as a guitarist and musician by getting better at staying in the same beat, which you need to do if you are in an ensemble. Terry Riley’s “In C” helped with this a lot! I really loved this camp!” Rose C. also commented on the Jordan Hall performance: “I learned that the same piece can actually come out sounding different every time it is played.” Her brother Roy, age 10, and a three-time YGW participant, said, “I was really excited to play “In C” in Jordan Hall because that is a special treat to play there.”
VIDEO: Young Guitarists’ Workshop in Jordan Hall, performing Terry Riley’s “In C”
In addition to the emphasis on classical guitar, workshop classes were taught in other aspects of guitar technique and musical life. Rockshop helped the kids improve their rock chops, intro to flamenco guitar showed them basic rhythmic patterns and strumming techniques, and Yoga/Flamenco dance had them physically relaxing and moving to improve their artistry. Then the kids would break up into small groups for guitar master classes with the faculty, before returning to sectionals and large ensemble practice.
The week went by very quickly for everyone, and culminated in the YGW Workshop Recital on Sunday. After a spirited introduction by guitar virtuoso Eliot Fisk, whose vision initially launched the Young Guitarists’ Workshop, the students gave a warmly-received performance of the ensemble repertoire they had prepared during the week, in addition to solo performances. “My favorite part of the workshop was the Sunday concert. I liked this the most because it was really fun to play in an ensemble with other kids,” said Sasha.
VIDEO: “Hush You Bye” performed by the Young Guitarists’ Workshop ensemble:
When asked about how he might have changed as a guitarist or musician at the workshop, Steven L., age 11, said, “I think I changed as a guitarist by learning to play better in a whole group. Usually when I practice guitar at home I’m playing by myself. So playing with younger and older kids was a very fun and interesting experience because it was just so many different guitars playing together, it sounded very layered. When I wasn’t playing, the other parts were playing, so I had to listen carefully for my next part.”
VIDEO: YGW II Boy’s Quintet (Dmitry I., Steven L., Quentin C., Alexander K., Kayden B.) keeps in character with the theme of Boston GuitarFest 2014: American Odyssey, performing “Life and Liberty:”
The Young Guitarists’ Workshop Staff is planning to create smaller weekend sessions throughout the year to build on the momentum generated by this year’s workshop. In the meantime, the kids have all promised to practice, like Chloe A., age 10, who said, “I hope I can go to guitar fest next year. I will try to get better and keep practicing!”
VIDEO: YGW Directors Devin Ulibarri, Adam Levin, Colin Thurmond, and Will Riley performing Franz Waxman’s “Peyton Place Suite” in Jordan Hall:
The positive environment this year’s YGW created can be summed up in the words of its youngest participant – Simon A., age 6, who remarked on the whole experience “I would say it wasn’t just amazing… it was totally amazing!”