Since I missed making a recording for my last post, I did my best to sneak off and make one when I had the chance. It was actually a lot of fun to make a quick recording while I was out and about. It was also fun to play with all the birds chirping, though they’re louder in the recording than they actually were.
So, here beside Liyu lake is little runthough, straight without the repeats, of the ninth piece of the Sychra Journal. It’s a fun little piece, though I do have to adjust a bit since I don’t have a low D on this guitar. Hope you all enjoy!
All the pieces I’ve been working on have been from the Sychra Journal, so what exactly is this journal. Andrei Sychra was an important figure in the development of the Russian seven string guitar and composed a huge body of repertoire for it, both original pieces as well as arrangements. He also wrote virtuoso literature and teaching literature, as well as simple amateur pieces for the instrument. You can find out a bit more about Sychra on wikipedia if you are interested.
This particular journal was aimed at amateur guitarists. The first thing to keep in mind is that amateur musician had a very different meaning at a time where there weren’t the distractions of modern life like television, internet, and such. People had a lot more time to pursue their hobbies and less to get in the way. It was also a time when the only way to hear music was through live performance, either by yourself or friends. So an amateur piece in this era still expected a player to be well versed in technique and properly trained in music. The music itself tends to lean towards the idioms of the instrument and reflect current taste. Basically as long as you know what you’re doing the music isn’t too difficult and flows really well on the instrument. It’s for that reason that I’m working with this journal. It’s fun music, but more importantly it’s introducing me to the idioms of the Russian guitar. It also makes for great reading literature to get used to the new tuning. This journal should be a first stop for anyone wanting to get acquainted with the Russian guitar, and because of its age, it can be found for free online.
Today, I unfortunately don’t have a video for you because I’ve been busy with the end of the school semester (I’m a teacher in my day job) and because my parents just flew around the world to come visit me. I haven’t had a lot of time to pick up my guitar in the past couple days, but I’ll actually into why I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing in my next blog post. Also I hope to add some more interesting things to my weekend posts, so keep watching!
Today I want to talk a little about the guitar I’m playing. This guitar is one that I made myself … well made myself from a kit and under the guidance of a master luthier from Spain. And yes, that’s the photo on the homepage of this blog. It’s an Alaskian spruce top with Taiwanese Koa sides and back. This was actually a super fun process and I’d recommend anyone who wants to seriously study guitar to find a basic luthier class. Don’t do it because you think you can make a super awesome guitar, but do it because building a guitar will help you understand the instrument in a way you don’t from playing the instrument. Also, don’t be afraid of making a bad guitar. I can attest that even a so so handmade guitar is better than anything factory built. I personally think my guitar sounds amazing and I am no carpenter (plus, I did a terrible job setting my nut). If you’re interested in the particular kit I used, you can find it here from Taiwan Bass Wood, though be warned, the link is in Mandarin. Several of the staff speak very good English, so don’t be afraid to contact them in English.
So, some of you might be thinking, wait did you say from Spain. Aren’t you practicing Russian guitar? Then you might take a closer look and see that yes, I do only have six strings on my guitar. Well yes. I’m playing my guitar because well, I made it with my own two hands, and it makes more sense to me to use it than buy an entry level Russian guitar while beginning this experiment. This means that I don’t have the lowest string. Right now, this really isn’t a problem. So far I’ve been able to take everything up an octave or leave a note or two out without any issues. As I get into more complex literature perhaps I’ll start running into issues, but so far so good. I have adventures in luthier that might bear some fruit soon enough that will sate my desire for a seventh string, and of course I’m looking over guitars that I’m trying to stop myself from impulse buying. So, expect more on guitars in the future.
Todays journal piece is No.10 Andante. This one has a wonderful turn to a minor key and was great fun to get into some flat keys on the guitar. I like to finish it with a return to the major section rather than ending in the minor. I recorded it a bit slow because it was a late here and I didn’t want to have to record it a second time since I was already a little worried about the noise. It’s andante, but I feel like I’m a snail behind that. I’m not that fond of this recording, but lessons learned and I’m still going to put it here so you can have a listen. Hopefully I can revisit it and make a better recording of it.
Here is my first attempt to put one of the longer pieces from the Sychra journal here in my practice journal. All things considered, it went fairly well. My mind wandered a bit after I made it through the big runs and jumps though, so I made a stupid little mistake in the final part. But that’s the point of this journal, to put my imperfections where the world can see them so I don’t have to be afraid of them. I can already tell this practice journal is paying off because I doubt I could have made it through a piece this long no matter how many takes I made if I had tried even just a few months ago.
Second, I also realize because so much of the Russian guitar’s literature is from the Romantic period, I need to study up on some period practice. I honestly have no idea what a Polonaise is, so I just kinda played what felt right. While I’m not aiming to be a peroid performer, I still want to pay proper respect to the music rather than be ignorant.
What exactly is the Russian guitar? That’s actually a question a lot of guitarists themselves couldn’t answer. It’s a somewhat forgotten cousin of the Spanish guitar. While you see the resemblance in the family portraits, I say cousin rather sibling because it’s lineage is a little different which results in a couple distinct features, seven strings and a different style of tuning. It was close enough of to guitar however, that many advances in instrument construction of Spanish and Viennese guitars migrated to the Russian guitar, erasing a lot of the physical differences between the two instruments.
This isn’t the place for a long rambling talk about historical guitars and instruments of the Romantic era, plus I only think I know what I’m talking about. So, let’s leave it at that. If you’re interested in nerding out over this, there is plenty of information out there to be found, so be brave and jump in.
What this means to me is that I have a new tuning to explore. At first I was suspect of it, but I’ve come to really like it. The strings are closer to each other (in a musical sense). This means there is more shifting around as you play, but you’re able to do much more pianolike texture of voicings as well as easily harmonize your melody line (playing in thirds, sixths, etc). More importantly for my practice project, it means a fresh start. Not a cleanslate fresh start because I’m no stranger to guitar, but still fresh enough to be a learning experience. The Russian guitar feels both like an old friend and new love at the same time. The repertoire itself has this same feeling. As a composer, I trace my lineage to the Russian school. I’m not good enough to pretend I can claim any pedigree naming names, but still, the music itself feels more right to me than Spanish music ever has. To put it poeticly, in Russian guitar I have found the guitar I had always wanted but had never known.
Today’s piece is more of a sight reading challenge. Playing through a few new pages of the Sychra journal, I came across a piece with a gentle character that really touched me. It’s not particularly difficult, plus I like how it sounds slowed down despite the tempo marking, so I decided to see what I could do recording a piece I’ve only read through a few times.
There’s always a bit to think about when blogkeeping (I just made that word up but I like it) and pacing is a question that pops up at the beginning. I thought once a week seems like a standard kind of pacing, and I would probably have enough to talk about to always keep a few weeks ahead in writing.
Then the weekend rolled around, and I realized I need to do my practice journal more if I’m going to grow from it. After all, that was the whole thing that got this blog started. So, I’ve decided that I can always throw up an extra video or two over the weekend and do my proper blog post during the week. That sounds good to me, so here it is.
This piece is one of the small ones from the Sychra Journal, No. 3 Masurque, and it was actually the first piece I recorded when I started my practice journal. It was fun to record it again and put it here. I put up the sheet music so you can follow along. I also think I need to up my resolution a little on my videos and stop making chewing faces while I play, but hey, maybe next time.
A few weeks ago I started an experiment. I’ve always been particularly nervous while recording, far more so than when performing. I decided to record a piece from my recent practice and put it on facebook. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t a performance piece. It was just a short little piece I was using as a reading exercise. Way more people liked it than I expected. Over the weekend I kept recording. One piece that had my parrot squawking so loud he was drowning out my guitar got even more likes. As a video of music, it was terrible, but people like it. They liked the idea behind it, that I was facing my flaws, and still willing to put this ‘bad’ recording up to do so. So now that the new year has come, I’ve decided to turn this experiment into a proper blog so I can also ramble about guitars, luthier, and indulge in my writer side as well.
Since I plan to keep up this practice journal, so what will I be practicing? Recently I’ve gotten into Russian Guitar, and there is a trove of wonderful music for it all online. I’m starting with the Sychra Journal which is a wonderful place to start and step into this vast and largely forgotten world of guitar.
As for the blog, I plan to share ideas on music and musicianship from my perspective, I want to share what I discover about Russian guitar as I explore, and finally I hope to share my own creative projects, from bland to absurd, in the worlds of composition and luthier.
So to begin, here is No. 5 Cottillon from the Sychra Journal. This is one of the smaller pieces, but I enjoy playing it quite a bit. My nerves are still pretty high, but most of the recording came out well. Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle some of the larger pieces comfortably in front of the camera soon enough!