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Throwback guitarists Benjamin Verdery and Andrew York highlight CSUMB’s second annual California Summer Arts program.

When Ben Verdery arranges Jimi Hendrix’s fuzzed out “Ezy Rider” or Johann Strauss’ waltz “The Blue Danube” for classical guitar, he approaches them with equal intensity. “I’m essentially creating a new piece for the classical guitar, so my concern is, how can I make this great on the classical guitar?” he asks. “Arrangements are somewhat trial and error.”

The renowned classical guitarist has been chair of the guitar department at the Yale University School of Music since 1985 and artistic director of art of the guitar at the 92nd Street Y in New York City since 2006. His collaborators include Grammy Award-winning classical guitarist John Williams (John Williams Plays Vivaldi), guitarist Andy Summers of The Police (First You Build a Cloud) and steel string guitarist William Coulter.

As part of CSU Monterey Bay’s second annual California Summer Arts event (see story, p. 38), Verdery will perform a solo recital Wednesday at the World Theater. He will also be on hand through July 7 to teach a master class in Dominguez Hall.

Along with Verdery’s repertoire of original compositions spanning 22 albums, some of his most dynamic work comes in arrangements of songs by other musicians, including many tunes you’d never expect to hear on classical guitar.

Verdery’s most recent record Happy Here features a mellow rendition of Cream’s psychedelic classic “White Room.” Though the time signature is slower than the version rocked by Baker, Clapton and Bruce, Verdery captures the essence of the tune.

“I always try to find that game changer,” he says. “When something sounds great on the classical guitar, that’s when we have something we can work with.”

Prince’s “Purple Rain,” “Kiss,” “For the Tears in Your Eyes” and “Let’s Go Crazy” are probably the most unexpected of any of the music Verdery has taken on, but they work very well – “Let’s Go Crazy’s” main guitar riff translates seamlessly to classical. “It’s important to go outside of your comfort zone,” he says. “When people stay very close to their comfort zone they don’t progress. As a teacher, if I can give [students] the confidence to go forward and believe in themselves, that’s great.”

Classical guitarist Andrew York also performs on Wednesday. Endowed with influences ranging from bluegrass to folk to jazz, the Grammy Award-winning guitarist/composer is the only USC graduate – he earned a master’s of music – to ever receive the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award twice.

“Andrew York’s eclectic writing and playing constitute one of the hippest styles in American classical guitar,” Guitar Player Magazine’s Jim Ferguson writes. “His writing projects, levels of honesty, spirit and magnetism are rare in contemporary guitar composition.”

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY

Amazing Grace is an iconic melody to say the least. I have heard so many wonderful musicians sing and play this powerful tune through the years. The one that will always amaze me is Aretha Franklin’s version on her extraordinary recording Amazing Grace. In addition, I was very moved by the Bill Moyer’s documentary Amazing Grace. To launch this web site, I am giving away my arrangement. I would like to thank Joseph Shields for generously copying the arrangement.

Ben's Arrangement of Amazing Grace (PDF)

Minimalist Music for Guitar Plus

Julia Crowe
April 4, 2014

The closing concert for the sixth season of the Guitar Plus chamber music concert series (Artistic Director David Leisner) took place March 27th at Symphony Space in New York City featuring a program of minimalist music written and transcribed for guitar..................

Guitarist Benjamin Verdery, head of the guitar department at Yale University’s School of Music and Artistic Director of the 92nd Street Y’s Art of the Guitar series and Yale Guitar Extravaganza, performed mesmerizing and meditative Soepa, which was written for him in 1999 by composer Ingram Marshall. Performed on an amplified classical guitar routed through digital delay, the piece creates loops and echoes built upon quotations from the B-flat Major Prelude of Book 1 of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Guitarist Benjamin Verdery invokes the string gods.

Marshall says he chose this motif because Bach’s music happened to be sitting open on his piano the day he started to work on this piece. As a way of explaining the title, “It means ‘patience’ in Tibetan, according to the Dalai Lama, who talks about this concept in his book, Healing Anger,” Marshall says, per the program liner notes. “I am not sure if this refers to Ben’s patience with me in writing the piece or my own meditation on the idea that the more anxious you become about something the less likely it is to happen the way you want it to.”

Onstage, Verdery appeared to be surrounded rather impressively by five small Marshall amps but he did not use any of them. “I was plugged into the house system,” Verdery says. “The speakers were above me. The amps were used by the Dublin Guitar Quartet.” For the piece, he used a Jam Man Delay Looper pedal made by Digitech and, to improve the overall sound, a Fishman Aura Spectrum with his Gary Lee guitar, which is outfitted with a B-band pickup system. “I will always love my Smallman,” he says, “but I felt the desire to change guitars after twenty-five years.”

The evening’s performers take a bow. Photo by Julia Crowe.
Dublin Guitar Quartet, Benjamin Verdery, Brasil Guitar Duo, David Leisner

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2014 Maui Guitar Class

I'm excited to announce my 15th guitar class on the island of Maui in Hawaii from Tuesday, July 22 (opening concert) through Thursday, July 31, 2014. Joining me as guest teacher this year will be John Dearman, member of the Grammy Award–winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and director of the Guitar Chamber Music program at California State University, Northridge. And, joining us again this year as guest ukulele teacher and ensemble assistant will be Hawaiian guitarist and ukulele player Ian O’Sullivan, currently on the faculty of the University of Hawaii.

Deadline extended - applications are still being accepted.

For complete application information please contact John Olson:
verderyclass@gmail.com
Benjamin Verdery 2014 Maui Guitar Class.pdf