One of the most recognized classical guitar pieces of the last 50 years, Cavatina started out as a short piano piece by English composer Stanley Myers. In 1970 John Williams encouraged Stanley to stretch it out and they put together an orchestra version with two guitars. It was first recorded for Williams’ 1971 album, Changes, and was used as a theme in the movie The Walking Stick in 1970. The movie The Deer Hunter then used the song as its main theme in 1978, launching the piece into the mainstream. Almost every classical guitar player since then has worked on playing the solo version, mostly as arranged and performed by John Williams.
After unexplainedly neglecting this beautiful piece for all these years, I finally figured I should put together a lesson on it for Totally Guitars. With some assistance and advice from my old friend John Dimick, I took most of John Williams’ fingerings and changed or modified a few for various reasons that I go into in the lesson.
Here is what I really consider a rough draft of Cavatina as I am still exploring fingering options and overall tone and continuity. I have a feeling this will always somewhat be a work in progress, or maybe a work in evolution.
Completing this series of Waltzes by Antonio Lauro, we have the last of the four. This one is more dissonant and dynamic than the other three, and not as commonly played or heard. I tend to take this slower than most of the versions I have heard as it is easy to lose the beauty and spirit of the melodies when played quickly.
Continuing our series of classical pieces played on the steel-string guitar, we have the third Venezuelan Waltz by Antonio Lauro. This one is also known as Natalia and is probably the most recorded and well-known.
Ragtime has always fascinated me,or at least since I first heard my grandmother play Maple Leaf Rag in the 1960s, and with the revival of the 1970s I started working on guitar arrangements of some Scott Joplin tunes. Most of what was out there were pretty heavily modified from the piano original to make them somewhat accessible on the guitar. As I started doing more of my own I could see why. They usually had parts that, while they may have been difficult on the piano, were downright impossible on the guitar. Or so I thought for many years.
Recently some questions came up on our Forum at TotallyGuitars about working through things that seem impossible, that sent me back to take another look at some things I had found particularly challenging. Heliotrope Bouquet was one that had quite a few parts that I was not happy with what seemed like the only possible way on the guitar. I decided to tackle rearranging the whole thing with the goal being to really capture everything I heard coming out of the piano version.
I then set to working on some very difficult parts, hoping I could get a handle on them with enough perseverance and practice. About 2 months ago I posted a Work-In-Progress video of where this was at the time and here is what it sounds like now.
This fascinating Prelude by Bach has captivated me since I was playing some of his music on the baroque lute, back in the 1970s. My lute playing days are probably over, having pretty much settled into playing the acoustic guitar with nails, but every once-in-awhile I like to revisit this piece.
The arrangements I found always left something to be desired as far as I was concerned, with a few measures seeming inconsistent with some of the rest. Many used hammer-ons in a few measures near the end that particularly seemed out of place. Most of those concessions made the piece a little easier to play but didn’t get the sound I remember from my old Walter Gerwig recording. I reworked those, along with a few earlier ones that had many possibly ways of fingering, and finally came up with an arrangement I am happy with.
I would guess that most of these have been found by other guitarists in the past but I usually like to take it upon my self to arrange, or rearrange things in the interest of being as true to the original as possible. This frequently makes the piece very difficult to play, but in this case I think I found a solution to the hammer-on problem that is easier, as well as musically more consistent.
It was a very cold night on December 30, 2014, well cold for Northern California, and I sat down with my guitar and a starting visualizing warmth and family, maybe sitting around the fire enjoying each other’s company. The guitar started playing this soft, gentle melody and wouldn’t stop. In less than an hour I had outlines for two sections. Very early the next morning I revisited and refined them a little, and it was done. I polished it up a bit over the next few days, mostly working on transitions between the sections, and this is what it sounds like now. One of my students suggested I should even call it Norman Rockwell but the title pretty much came along with the song as well.
I also thought it might be nice to experiment with multiple cameras as that is something I generally don’t take the time to do in most video lessons. In any case, I hope you like it.
My recent obsession with revisiting the world of Ragtime Guitar has had me playing almost nothing else for the past three or four weeks, much to the chagrin of my family. One of the pieces in heavy rotation is Heliotrope Bouquet, a hauntingly beautiful collaboration between Louis Chauvin and Scott Joplin.
There are many arrangements of this out there and most of them heavily modify the original as many passages do not translate easily to the guitar. I have tried to stick as faithfully as possible to the picture painted by the original, creating some very difficult sections.
I thought I would fire up the camera this morning as I was practicing and do a little Work In Progress video with some thoughts and comments on practicing challenging pieces. Much of this should be applicable to improving anything at any level and I hope to check back in in a few weeks with a more polished version. In the interest of full disclosure, most members of the household have been caught humming parts of this memorable melody.
Angi (Anji, Angie) by Davy (Davey) Graham has been one of the most requested songs for me to do a lesson on at Totally Guitars almost since day (over 5 years ago now!). Some obstacles with creating a lesson have been that there are so many different versions, Bert Jansch, Paul Simon, et al., most of which included a lot of improvising. I think I have a plan now that will be multi-faceted, and eventually will cover as many bases as possible. The starting point will be Davy’s original recording, as released on his 1961 EP 3/4 A.D., which also featured a blues improvisation with Alexis Korner.
In this video I tried to recreate a version as close to Davy’s original as possible, although it included a bit of my own improvising as well. There are at least recreations of the way Davy played each of the 3 sections, along with most of the licks and fills.
A lesson along this line is under construction and will be available at Totally Guitars soon.
One of my great loves as a guitar player is playing classic ragtime arrangements. I recently revived some Scott Joplin pieces I first started playing in the 1970’s. That got me interested in composing them again. I had written a few many years ago, a couple of which appeared on some of my solo guitar albums. This time I started with the goal being to write something playable by intermediate students.
The Good Life materialized over a couple sessions on October 25, 2014. Section A met my original plan of being somewhat easy to play, used some standard ragtime techniques, and included even cliché licks and progressions. Section B pretty much stayed the course until the last line, which introduced a moving bass line, consequently raising the difficulty level a bit. Section C followed the traditional “trio” model, with a little lighter texture in the sub-dominant key. By the time I got to Section D, the plan of keeping it easy was completely abandoned and it started with a cascade of descending chords, closing with a flurry of arpeggios.
In any case, I hope you like it and tablature will be available at Totally Guitars soon.