|Acoustic Guitar, July/August 1994|
Guitar Summit: A Roundtable with Joe Pass, Pepe Romero, Leo Kottke and Paco Peña
by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
How much do all of you work with written music?
Not me, not at all.
I do. It's a problem, because my luggage is so heavy with papers -- I bring so many scores.
You out to hear Pepe starting about 5:00, when we show up for the sound check. Pepe doesn't play fragments; he doesn't noodle around.
He plays the whole piece -- 20 minutes!
I don't use any music. I have picked up a lead sheet occasionally if I really wanted to learn a certain piece, or if it's very complex and I couldn't hear it on the record. For many of the pieces I play, you can't find lead sheets anyway. I just play from my ear.
But Joe is a great sight-reader.
No, am I?
Of course you are! On the last part of the tour that we were doing [in the fall of '93], one day we were just fooling around, and I brought out Sor variations on a theme by Mozart. I gave Joe the music, and he just took it and was playing away great on it.
It was a real easy piece. Third grade.
No it wasn't.
Paco, in your teaching at the University of Rotterdam, is the music written down at all?
Yes [pauses]. No flamenco guitarist that you've heard of has learned flamenco through reading any notes whatsoever. Nobody. However, I am trying to do something in the university in Rotterdam; I am trying to establish some way in which to build, to go forward. So I teach the people without any music at all, but I want them to learn to read music because I wish I had -- not to learn flamenco but to expand my appreciation and my knowledge about other forms of music. Therefore, they do exercises in writing and reading, and my colleagues -- not me -- write down all the material that I teach, so there is a record, and then the students can refer back to that. But it's not required to learn flamenco with the written music; indeed, it's counterproductive. You have to learn with your ears because of the nature of the music.
I feel the same way you do. I wish I had studied music and learned theory and everything just to expand, to pick up all the music that's out there. When I teach, I also tell students they must learn to read so they have access to everything that, for me, would be hard to find. I do it at Rotterdam too, and they have jazz teachers who have prescribed programs, and they teach standard tunes and jazz tunes. I go in and I don't use any music; I talk about playing with your ear. But I think it's better if you can have both.
I am very much a believer in a school of teaching classical music that actually goes back to Paganini and the way that he believed the violin should be taught: You should not learn how to read music until you are a virtuoso of your instrument, so that you first develop a relationship with your instrument, with your ears, with your fingers, with the feeling, with the music. And once you are a real player, then you learn how to read music, the same way that people learn how to talk and express ideas and listen to each other, and then the learn how to read words. This is very important.
In teaching classical guitar, in which everything is written and we depend very much on the music, it is very important for classical musicians to have that relationship with the guitar that, let's say, flamenco or jazz musicians do.
I started without reading, and I actually performed Concierto de Aranjuez before I could read.
How about you, Leo?
Well, that's the reason I don't play trombone anymore. I had a lot of lessons, I learned to read the bass clef, I played a lot of standards and orchestral music, band music, and I never got connected with the instrument. Also, I don't think it was the one that I was built for. I'm just now starting to read in the treble clef and to study some harmony, and the difference is huge between learning that now, for an instrument that I can play, and learning if for the trombone, before I had any real chops. I can make use of what I learn now. Back then, I was always tied to the page. I was really frustrated, and I was amazed by people who could improvise. I had no idea how they did that.
If you don't develop this relationship with the music, with yourself, with your feelings, you have the potential danger that you take a piece of music and you open it up and you play it, and you close it. If somebody asks you, "What did it say?" you say. "I don't know, I'll tell you again." And you open it up and you read it again.
Yeah, it doesn't register.
Many people believe that improvisation plays a significant role in certain styles of music, like jazz, and not in others, like classical music. Is that a meaningful distinction?
In classical music, we have the tradition to improvise cadenzas, which now is almost a forgotten art. I enjoy doing it, and I think improvising is something that really has to be developed and kept up by classical musicians. Almost nobody really does it in classical music, but I'll tell you, it sure has come in handy for me a few times when I've lost my place or forgotten where I am! I have fooled a couple of conductors; I was playing and I started improvising and they looked in the score -- "I lost him! Where is he?"
Improvisation is the same, I think, for all the instruments. Classical musicians used to improvise a lot -- I think Bach did it a lot -- and then it became fixed, because people started to write it and copy it, and then they started playing that way.
And as a matter of fact, there is so much music by great composers where you look it up and think, "This is not very good, it's very bare." But the composer intended for the player to embellish and to adorn it and to improvise on it.
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