(Updated July 2007 from SOUNDBOARD (1987) and The Examined Life (2003), listed in the Publications section of this website)

Advanced teaching and performance principles both call for professional commitment past the musical age of consent, and so are different names for the same thing. The first issue is always the dream, which informs our sense of duty, which in turn leads to broadening perspective on past and present role models who have preceded us to the stage. The performance dilemma illuminates the challenge of advanced candidates: they, like us, are a mixture of genuine aspirations and innocent illusions. The musical coming of age faces us with questions for which we find no final answers yet that is the beauty of it, for the finest answers come only in part, as glimpses. Put another way, it is said that in deepest darkness you look not at the desired object directly but off to one side; you look at something else in order to see what you really want to see.

Federico García Lorca was a great lover of the guitar, and he is reported to have observed that “music brings dreams to our tears”. Much has been written concerning our failure to preserve a common quotient of tragedy in this modern age. Guitarists, as practitioners of the instrument which is arguably the ultimate in enlightened melancholy, would do well to take note of this. What was going on as Mozart wrote his K. 310? What is going on, every minute in this world? Our effort, the quest of distilling toward harmony, must depend on the extent to which we reach outside of ourselves toward the continuing experiment. And this outreach, regardless of what it may or may not yield on the immediately tangible level, constitutes in itself a gift of the most precious and miraculous artistic immunity. And without it our experience, our perception of the experience of others, and whatever we can harness from nature and the cosmos will amount to little more than a secret but insidious, almost gratuitous manipulation of the otherwise spontaneous materials of the creative process.

We approach the stage in the path of players like Maria Callas, Rod Steiger, Simone Signoret, Constantin Stanislavski, Fritz Kreisler, Waylon Jennings, Louis Armstrong, Edith Piaf, Emil Gilels and Artur Rubinstein. (As guitarists we may of course say that our orientation might begin and end with the name of Andrés Segovia, yet for our purposes here it is held that Maestro Segovia would certainly have appreciated our devotion and respect but that he would have preferred that we concentrate our attention toward the wider circle of examples, as he was known to have done in the formative years of his great career) It remains that we all have our favorites, as do the advanced students with whom we work. The question, and the one we must help the students to raise for themselves, is how deeply do these relationships penetrate? The level of that depth will determine in large part our degree of success in measuring our own tentative steps. Are we in fact attempting to succeed these performers? Or is it something different? These issues best inform the direction and timbre of our time in the practice room, on stage, and in the teaching studio. For it is our great good fortune to be living in the long and accurately documented shadow of a host of giants who have given their all.

Guided thus, and nourished always by our love of the guitar, we will be mindful also of the tendency to fall to the automatic and facile use of concepts, the formulas of stylistic approach and current notions of taste which produce safer but less stimulating work; these concepts usually add up to nothing more than a cleverly disguised reflection of our abiding fear of uniqueness. Though this raises theological overtones which I do not wish to invite, it is nevertheless imperative that we acknowledge the urgency of unmasking and embracing this fear for it is the only durable spur toward enlightened action. Or, beauty and terror can be seen as the same thing at different points in time.

Faced with periodic creative instability, we must encourage relocation of the intangible: did chord “a” in fact go to chord “b”, did it really go there in an act of spontaneous discovery, or did it just happen afterwards? Here we assert and renew our escape from the cyclic spectre of tunnel vision.

We will benefit also from the deep and ongoing criticism which as an article of faith we owe to one another. I recall a New York Times byline of the early 1970s reporting the decision of the Leventritt Foundation to cancel its prestigious violin competition “until further notice”, citing a long succession of finalists who were found to be technically peerless yet musically interchangeable. The blame for this debacle was leveled squarely at the master teachers. No one need be snared into this circle of aimlessness. We may meet each other with corporate responsibility and in the desire of true connections. Inheritors of the fruits of Segovia’s lifetime of sacrifices, it is obvious that we now operate with tremendous artistic freedom. What is not so obvious is how we, now, are to suffer for the guitar. It is indeed our turn. If this is not defined, it will be all too easy to glide along indefinitely on two very broad sets of coattails, the first being those of our beloved Maestro; the second, those of what we all know to be the most mysterious and charming instrument in the Western World. Thank you.

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Phillip de Fremery has given annual summer master classes in performance at Mount Holyoke College since 1979. Four performers are admitted for the two-week session. The class meets ten times in all: five nights per week, two hours per night. Each player performs for one hour every other night. All aspects of preparation and performance are discussed, at levels appropriate to the players involved. A certain number of auditors may attend. The rate schedule is $600 for performers and $300 for auditors. There is no audition process; the first four performers who send the tuition payment in full will have their positions secured. Dormitory rooms are available on campus at nominal rates, and Mount Holyoke is known as one of the safest and most beautiful campuses in New England. Inquiries may be addressed in care of Phillip de Fremery Master Class, Music Department, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts 01075, or by email through the address listed in the "To Contact" section of this web site.

Phillip de Fremery