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Encores and Curtain Calls

Encores & Curtain Calls: Guitar is ‘The Thing’

“To me a guitar is kind of like a woman. You don’t know why you like ’em but you do.”

— Waylon Jennings

A 2003 Gallup poll says that there are 6 million guitar players in the U.S. alone, while another tally puts the number as high as 20 million.

Meanwhile, a Guitar Centers survey tells us that customer base breaks down into the following: professionals, 16 percent, aspiring professionals, 43 percent, and hobbyists, 41 percent.

Finally, the venerable BBC reports that there are 50 million guitar players worldwide.

No matter who’s right or how you slice it, that’s a lot of guitarists.

As a contrast, though no information exists on how many piano players there may be, we do know that there are approximately 10 million pianos in the United States.

No contest!

Someday, somebody will probably do a doctoral thesis shedding light on just why the cult appeal of the guitar is so pandemic. Perhaps it’s because you don’t need to be musically literate to enjoy it? But until then, all we know is that the guitar’s “The Thing.”

Really, it can’t be helped. What other instrument lets you get down and dirty right where the sound happens with both hands, like a child in the mud? The piano? Forget it. I love and play the piano, but you’re miles from the sound interface. The violin? Ah, that awkward bow gets in the way, as is the case with other string instruments. How about the clarinet? As with all the wind and brass instruments, your fingers are incapable of laying themselves directly on the vibrating core of the instrument but must remain content only to slither about on the wood or metal surface.

“But,” you protest, “your mouth is in direct touch with the reed!”

True — but the hands are where it’s at. And, besides, if your girlfriend asks you to sing along with yourself, you’re dead in the water.

So, putting all other instruments to the test, we’re left with only two standing: harp players and guitarists, only these enjoy uninsulated access to the live wire of their instrument’s sound. And, well, perhaps you’ve heard the old dig by Stravinsky: “Harpists spend 90 percent of their lives tuning their harps and 10 percent playing out of tune.”

Put that together with my Andres Segovia quote from last week’s feature on guitarist Pierre Bensusan (recapping it for the rare reader who may have missed the column): “Lean your body forward slightly to support the guitar against your chest, for the poetry of the music should resound in your heart.” This is a clear reference to the direct vibrations you receive while you have a guitar in your loving embrace, an unbeatable recipe for addiction.

For these and possibly reasons unknown, much of the world loves a guitar.

On Sunday, March 10, at
2 p.m., the Springfield Museums will present a special afternoon of music titled “The Valley Guitar Showcase.” The event is part of a series of programs related to the museums’ current exhibit, “GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked the World.” The event will take place in the Davis Auditorium of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.

Promoters tell us that organizer Peter Newland “has assembled some of the finest guitarists from the Pioneer Valley to provide the audience with a tour through a variety of guitar styles and techniques.” The line-up includes Jim Armenti, Joe Boyle, Ray Chaput, Bobby Ferrier, Phillip de Fremery, David Goodrich, Jose Gonzalez, and FAT, featuring Peter Newland, Jim Kaminski, Mark Pappas and Chet Pasek.

The respective musicians will demonstrate their various guitar styles, including classical, jazz, Latin, folk, blues and rock. Afterward, local luthier (fretted-instrument builder) William Cumpiano will discuss his craft and his work in raising awareness about the cuatro, the national instrument of Puerto Rico, followed by Jose Gonzalez and Criollo Classico with a Latin music set featuring the cuatro and a Latin/rock fusion version of the classic FAT tune “Black Sunday.”

The event will culminate in a set by FAT, followed by a final coming together in a jam session by all of the performers under the collective name, “The Valley Guitar Army.”

The Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts is located at 21 Edwards St. in downtown Springfield. Free, secure onsite parking is available. General admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and college students, $8 for children 3 to 17, and free for children under 3 and for museum members. The fee provides admission to all four Springfield museums. Springfield residents receive free general admission with proof of address. 

For those visitors who wish to view the “GUITAR” exhibit, there is a special exhibition fee of $3 for all visitors ages 3 and up in addition to museum admission.

Hot tips of the week

■ A return engagement by highly praised young organist Christopher Houlihan at the The Brick Church Music Series He will perform on the Richards & Fowkes tracker organ, Sunday, March 10, at 3 p.m. at The First Church of Deerfield, 71 Old Main Street. This is a fundraiser for the church with a suggested donation of $10 at the door. Music by J. S. Bach and Louis Vierne will be heard. A reception will follow in the Caswell Library, Deerfield Academy. For further information call: 774-2657.

■ For a more adventurous musical outing, I would cast caution to the winds and head west on the Mohawk Trail, disembarking at the The Williams College Department of Music, then head for the MainStage of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St., Williams College, Williamstown, to hear a two-part retrospective that includes a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s ground-breaking composition “The Rite of Spring” on Saturday, March 9, at 8 p.m. The first part features an overview by W. Anthony Sheppard, professor of music and department chairman, on the history of “The Rite of Spring.” There will also be live dance demonstrations by Williams College’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble. The second part is a complete performance of Stravinsky’s ear-opening score by the Berkshire Symphony under the direction of Ronald Feldman.

All performances are free and no tickets or reservations are necessary. Seating is limited, so please arrive a half-hour before the performance to ensure yourself a seat.

Parking is free, in the parking garage located behind the theater.

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at

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