Learning to Dig Classical Music

The guitar lessons that my mom signed me up for, per the terms of The Deal, were explicitly for the “Classical Guitar.” I had no idea what that meant. The fact is, I was not raised in a family that listened to classical music. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I firmly believe that if you haven’t been introduced to “classical music” (a term that I hate dearly and use only because of a shared cultural context – more on that another time) by the age of 10 there just isn’t much hope of getting it ingrained. The only way for an appreciation of traditional western fare to make it into an individual’s heart after that point is via a good teacher. I didn’t have a good teacher. I had an amazing teacher.

I took a little sidebar to look him up on the internet. I can’t find him on Facebook and the one person that I knew we’d have in common seems to have killed her account so I’ll just throw his name out there and hope that he finds me one day as he’s doing a vanity search (which he’d probably never do). Ken Leonard was the perfect person to enter my life at that key juncture. He introduced me to Hunter S. Thomson, Henry Miller, Kate Bush, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Sor, Villa-Lobos, and most of the other artists, writers, and musicians who color everything that I love creatively.

Ken started things off slowly. He needed to teach me how to do certain fingerings and so he took a tune by one of my favorite bands, The Police, and arranged it so that I would learn some basic arpeggios. After a few more pop tunes, he showed me what the guitar could do. And that was it. Once I heard some bits from Bach’s lute suite and a couple of Villa-Lobos etudes, I knew that most of what I thought I knew about the guitar and its potential was so naive. It was like skipping from thinking that the world of music could be contained in a single Woody Guthrie song and then hearing King Crimson. My mind was blown open and there really was no going back.

I listened to everything I could get my hands on. I couldn’t really get my head around the orchestra, but I dearly loved opera. And chamber music. The string quartets of Beethoven and Webern. I couldn’t describe what it was that made them stand out, but they did. I had a dozen Segovia cassettes and I would put them on in my room before I went to sleep at night. The music became a part of me.

It was a little surprising to some that I majored in composition when I went off to the conservatory. Not Ken. He knew where it started, in that small room on the second floor at Woodsy’s Music in Kent, Ohio. He smiled when I told him about the theory headaches and how hard ear training was for me. I really wish we hadn’t lost touch, but the years in between were long and unkind. But he was my first music teacher and certainly made the deepest impression on me of anyone outside of my family until my college years.

Going through a box in my closet I found some half-finished manuscripts from over 10 years ago. That was a different person in a different lifetime. But I may dust them off and see if I can do something with them in this life.

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