Strings of Desire

EMF’s fifth annual Guitar Summit

Young classical guitarists often discover their chosen profession comes with one major drawback. Because becoming proficient on your instrument requires a lot of time alone, you’re practically sentenced to a life of solitary confinement. Woodshedding with fellow musicians hasn’t been an option — till now. EMF has come up with a solution, redemption for those formerly incarcerated in lonely rooms.

Now in its fifth year, the Guitar Summit allows EMF attendees the chance to work with their peers as well as to strengthen their skills with one-on-one, master class tutelage from a trio of faculty guitar instructors. The program was developed under the guidance of Kami Rowan, PhD, and currently department chair for Guilford College’s music department where she has helped to build up a robust classical guitar program. She was also involved in putting together the Weaver Academy for the Performing Arts. A classical guitarist, she has long wished for a guitar summit for students, but until recently nothing like it, save the odd weekend-long festival, existed.

When given the go-ahead, there was only one caveat. Music director and conductor, Gerard Schwarz, insisted that Jason Vieaux be on the program. “That was my only thing. ‘You can plan this any way you want, but I want Jason to be one of the teachers,’” Schwarz told Rowan. Vieaux’s 2015 solo album, Play, won the 2015 Grammy for Best Classical Instrumental Solo and he was the first classical musician to be featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk series.

She also recruited Julian Gray, professor of music and director of the Guitar Studies for Shenandoah Conservatory of the Shenandoah University, known for his innovative and progressive arrangements. “I felt like the three of us really complemented each other; we brought very different skills to the table.” Rowan says of the immersive two-week program that will host 18 students (up from 12 the first year), ranging in ages 14 to 28. “They must really want to come,” Rowan allows, emphasizing a rigorous audition process that requires performance videos, a repertoire and instructor list.

“By immersive, I mean they wake up in the morning and they’re on it. We have class first thing and they don’t stop until they go to bed.”

The Summit is also groundbreaking in that the students get to collaborate, first working on-on-one with her, then a large guitar ensemble with all 18 guitarists. This year’s piece, “We’re All In This Together,” was written by local composer and Guilford alum Mark Charles Smith. As a bonus, students are chosen to work with other instrumentalists. “That’s really different, and definitely a plus for their résumés to have that type of chamber music experience,” Rowan says.

EMF Executive Director Chris Williams concurs, citing the solitary life of a guitarist. “It’s a real challenge for some of these people to work in small ensembles,” he observes. “Maybe it’s the first time they’ve done something like that.”  Grant Brittt

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