About 10 years ago, Mitch Weverka was a performer in need of an audience. But don’t take that to mean he was some street busker playing for change. Rather, he was a highly trained classical guitarist looking to perform more often in his home town of Fort Worth.
To that end, he and a few other players formed the Fort Worth Guitar Guild in 1998. The organization has been organizing performances and workshops for classical guitarists ever since. One of the group’s biggest events, the 2009 Guitar Guild Music Festival, takes place this week at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The event includes concerts tonight and Saturday, as well as a workshop for 16 students with the pros.
Mitch discussed the difference between classical and rock guitar, how Europeans view the instrument and offers a few tips to beginning players in this week’s Art&Seek Q&A.
Art&Seek: For someone who hasn’t attended the Guitar Guild Music Festival, what can they expect?
Mitch Weverka: They’re all classical guitar concerts. On Thursday, there’s a guitarist (Marko Feri) in town who I’m really excited about – a really fantastic player that I heard for the first time about a year and a half ago, and I’m really excited about getting him back to Fort Worth. He’s playing a program of all living composers, and they’re all composers who are also guitarists. And then the last night is a double concert, too. Another solo act – Richard Todd. This is the forth year he’s been with us. And also a guitar duo – they call themselves Duo Spiritoso. That’s Jeff McFadden, who is the head of the guitar department at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto and Andrew Zohn, who runs the guitar program at Columbus State University.
A&S: Besides the nylon strings, are there many differences in playing classical?
M.W.: Yeah, there are some really big differences in technique. For one, unless it’s a modern piece that calls for it, we don’t use picks at all. In classical guitar, the right hand is played with the fingers, and we all kind of grow our fingernails out and kind of shape them. I guess they kind of serve as our picks. Also, unless absolutely necessary, we never amplify. It’s always completely acoustic. … And then probably the thing that distinguishes classical guitar the most from some of the more well-known styles is the fact that we approach the music and a festival like this as you would expect in other classical music settings, where we’re performing pieces composed for the guitar by composers. … Occasionally you will hear original works by that particular performer, but there is a guitar tradition of repertoire that goes back to the 1790s.
A&S: You’ve been playing guitar since you were 7 years old. Have you always been a classical player?
M.W.: Yeah, that’s how I started. I vaguely remember seeing MTV and wanting to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. But my mom had the idea that I should study classical music first, and I guess it just kind of stuck.
A&S: A significant amount of your training came when you lived in Italy. How do the Europeans approach classical guitar differently?
M.W.: The history and tradition of this type of guitar playing originated in Italy, Spain and parts of France and eventually spread throughout Europe in the first half of the 19th Century. So all the historic repertoire comes from those countries. … The classical music in general is a little bit more of an accepted part of the culture over there. Whereas maybe in the United States at most of our concerts, I’ll get questions like you’re asking a lot, where there is a certain amount of outreach or educative aspect to the concerts, where maybe over there, the audiences know a little bit more of what to expect from that kind of style of music. But it’s not like we don’t have great classical music here in the States.
A&S: American music is so strongly associated with rock guitar. What’s it like being a classical player in that environment?
M.W.: I think of myself as a classical musician, but I grew up listening to rock and played it a lot in high school and still every now and again have a little fun with it. But I don’t do it on a professional level. … It’s not something I think about too much. I kinda listen to what I like and I study and prepare what I’m trained to do.
A&S: So you still pick up the guitar sometimes and play some non-classical music?
M.W.: Oh sure, all he time. On friends’ back porches when we’re just sitting around. I think just for fun some friends got me up at an open mic a year or so ago and I sang some pop tunes. But that’s just stuff that just kind of happens. … If I have the time to do it and it’s fun, I will. But it’s nothing that I pursue.
A&S: Every week, there are people who pick up a guitar for the first time. Besides practice, practice, practice, do you have a tip for a budding player?
M.W.: I think the most important thing for a young musicians or a beginning musician is to listen to a lot of music and try and immerse yourself in the experience of listening to music – particularly live music, almost regardless of the genre. And there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas and Fort Worth, obviously. Finding a good teacher can be really helpful. It can be essential. We hear lots of stories about self-made musicians, and it happens. But finding a good teacher can be really important. And I’m a big believer in learning fundamentals of music. If you understand those well and have a good command of them, you really can apply them to just about any genre of music. And it can create a base that, as you develop, can open up a lot of opportunities down the road.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.