Andrew Cooper on the Governor’s School for the Arts

Andrew Cooper GuitarAndrew Cooper is 17. He lives in Smithville, TN. He studies classical guitar with performer/teacher/luthier, Zebulon Turrentine.

Until I received an email from my guitar teacher Zeb Turrentine one morning last November, I did not even know that the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts (GSFTA) had a classical guitar program. Luckily, I was informed a few days before the deadline and sent in my application. In addition, applicants were required to audition, which made me a bit anxious. However, when I finally set foot in the office of Dr. Yelverton (the amazing classical guitar professor at Middle Tennessee State University), I found myself at ease. His office had a warm and comfortable aura about it, and I only had to audition in front of Dr. Yelverton and another guitarist. The audition itself consisted of performing two pieces of contrasting style, playing any two of my favorite scales, and sight-reading in the first position. For my pieces, I chose to play the prelude from Bach’s first cello suite and a study by Tarrega. As for preparing for the audition, I recommend being able to play the pieces and scales comfortably, and for sight-reading, I suggest practicing out of a book of simple etudes.

I was overjoyed to receive the acceptance letter, and before I knew it, I was at registration in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, at MTSU. In addition to music, GSFTA had programs in dance, filmmaking, visual art, and theatre. As a more math and science type of person who would never be described as “artsy,” I was about to spend a month with people of personalities completely different from my own. It was going to be a new experience indeed.

I especially loved the guitar program. Because there were only three classical guitarists there, I believe that we received more one-on-one attention than any other group of students. When I wasn’t practicing alone (which I did for four hours a day), I was either in a masterclass learning new techniques such as tremolo and trills or playing with the guitar ensemble. Every week, we received a private lesson in which we worked on specific parts of a piece or refined a particular skill.

Because the guitarists did not play with the orchestra, we only had two performances for which to prepare. Nevertheless, they were very fun and exhilarating. My favorite memory is when Dr. Yelverton prepared us for performance distractions by imitating a crying baby, coughing loudly, and taking flash photography in our faces while we practiced. However, something happened in our first performance that no one anticipated. Before the piece was over, my music fell off the stand. Luckily, I had the piece memorized. Knowing a piece by heart is something I highly recommend because one never can predict what will happen on stage.

For those who have problems with performance anxiety, I recommend performing for people over and over again. Whether playing for a full house or just one spectator, the benefit is the same. Try and change your mindset also. Rather than thinking about it as performing for people as they watch you, think about it as sharing the music with everyone. I guarantee it will make performing much more enjoyable and stress-free.

At GSFTA, I was also exposed to different types of guitar music. Before, I had only listened to European composers, but Dr. Yelverton introduced us to South American composers (like Villa-Lobos and Barrios) as well as modern classical composers (like Leo Brouwer). Since then, I have taken a liking to these composers, and I hope to incorporate some of their pieces into my repertoire.

Overall, I loved the Governor’s School experience. I spent every minute of it learning something new, and I would recommend it in a heartbeat to any aspiring classical guitarist. Although I do not plan to major in music in college, I might take a few classes in guitar while I am there in order to hone my skills and receive beneficial feedback. However, I definitely plan to keep pursuing classical guitar as my favorite hobby. Investing your time in a musical instrument is one of the most important things you can do. No matter what age you are or what group you are with, there will always be people who want to listen to music, and, most importantly, to be inspired.

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