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.”


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)


I am so excited to announce my 14th guitar class on the island of Maui in Hawaii from Wednesday, July 24 through Thursday, August 1, 2013. Joining me as guest teacher this year will be the renowned guitarist and Emmy-winning composer Frederic Hand. Joining as guest ukulele teacher and ensemble assistant will be Hawaiian guitarist and ukulele player Ian O’Sullivan.

The opening concert with Frederic and myself will be Tuesday, July 23. The class will include student recitals at two spectacular and intimate locations: the Lahaina Jodo Buddhist Mission and the Keawala‘i Congregational Church in Makena, Maui, as well as a special recital for advanced students. Each student will play three times during the nine-day class, receiving two master class sessions with me and one with Mr. Hand. All students will participate in the guitar ensemble, which will be led be yours truly and Mr. O’Sullivan. Mr. O’Sullivan will offer ukulele classes for the local community and interested class participants as part of the class activities.

All applicants, including those who have attended the class in the past, must submit an audio or video recording of two works in contrasting style and tempo. These may be submitted as mp3s emailed to benverdery@gmail.com, or as links to online video or audio files. The application deadline is February 15, 2013. We will notify you by March 1, 2013 whether you are accepted.

The class is also open to auditors, who may attend all master classes, concerts, and other class activities. Auditors will also have the opportunity to receive a brief coaching session with me during the week.

For more information please contact John Olson at verderyclass@gmail.com.
Benjamin Verdery 2013 Hawaii Guitar Class.pdf