Lawler wrote: ↑
Wed Aug 29, 2018 6:40 pm
We guitarists would certainly have an easier time sight reading if our typical reading material didn't require us to play two (or more) voices at a time.
Before loading up further par for the course (tomorrow Sat. 02/09), here is one last anecdote connected with Sight-Reading, fingerboard technique, an unforgettable man, and a historic guitar, which constitute some of my most indelible memories:
The first time I met Geoffrey Burgon was when he needed a guitarist who could, as the BBC Drama Department had put it, make a guitar sound like a lute. The guitarists Geoff had auditioned for the “purpose” had all said "Why don’t they get a lutenist?"
; it was explained to them that that was the sort of questions you learned not to ask the BBC who, in all things, moved in mysterious ways as, indeed, it still does. When I got to Woronzow Road (my first ever visit there) to meet the composer, the question regarding the metamorphosis from guitar into lute was put. Flummoxed at first, I had a sudden inspiration and said "I don’t have a guitar that sounds like a lute but I think I know where I might be able to get hold of something very special."
In a flash, the sound achieved by Romanillos had come to mind and, even if his guitars didn’t actually sound like lutes, I hoped their singularity would be persuasive ... if
I could get hold of one. So, I wrote to José Romanillos (I shudder at the insolent innocence of my extreme “flash” of youth and at its staggering presumption!). NEVERTHELESS, to this day, I am still astonished to have received this reply:
You can imagine it didn’t take me long to slide along the Western road to Semley – “Go West, young man!”
, indeed! On arrival at the Wiltshire “mansion”, from afar, I did see the legendary guitarist/lutenist (on whose grounds the luthier toiled in a makeshift side appendage) but didn’t speak to him as, ever the keen cricketer, he was – greyhounds in the slips - bowling tennis balls for his dog to retrieve. If I didn’t on that occasion shake the man’s hand, I did stroke his dog, perhaps hoping for some kind of osmosis. Romanillos, whose hand I did shake, warmly, was delightful, brimming over with passion for his timbers, his methods, and his tools. He presented me with a guitar which Bream had, apparently, “exhausted
” but which sounded absolutely gorgeous (although not like a lute, even when playing Dowland on it). Barely believing my luck, I drove off with this magical instrument on the back seat of my car. José hadn’t even wanted a deposit or anything in lieu of security, which really beggars belief; when I had tried to discuss terms for hire, he’d said he didn’t want anything after all and that he would think of something (perhaps I was emaciated in those days and aroused sympathy?).
Geoff had not heard of Romanillos but was impressed by the guitar and I was hired. Once I was given my schedule (we were to film inside Glyndebourne House and in the surrounding countryside) I went to see Geoff and asked if I could have my part of the score. He said it wasn’t finished yet and that he would bring it on the day. Being extremely young and as yet inexperienced, this sent me into a mild panic at the thought of having to sight-read with seasoned session musicians, rolling cameras, galloping horses, a screaming director, and famous actors, all intent on testing me to the very limits of my reading ability. I explained all this to Geoff whose first reaction was to laugh (he wasn’t really all that familiar with the “guitarist’s reading dilemma” – as a player [trumpet], he mainly did jazz sessions in pubs where improvisation was the thing, nobody ever read
! He “reassured” me, saying “Don’t worry, it’ll be really easy, just a few arpeggiated chords in C Major”
… I spent sleepless nights, practiced all the pieces I knew in C Major, as well as the Villa-Lobos Etude No 1 (E minor notwithstanding) for the sake of the arpeggios. In the event, I had nothing to worry about, Geoff had been true to his word and he handed me a score on which a few arpeggios in C Major snaked across the paper in his neat Daddy Long Legs handwriting.
But a problem arose nevertheless: costume drama, Shakespeare in particular, does not film easily, especially outdoors, specifically in Autumn: the sun constantly struggled to peep through capricious clouds as the DOP’s light meters went berserk, the wind played havoc with the tents whose flapping wings tearing the air to tatters saturated the microphones, horses refused to hit their marks, and when everything was going really well, actors forgot their lines. So, take after take after take, all being exacerbated by the fact that I was extremely worried that “my” Romanillos might get kicked by a particular horse who, on every take, and under little control from an actor who had been economical with the truth regarding his riding skills, insisted on brushing right past me; furthermore, the art director had decided that there should be a monkey in the scene and a white-headed capuchin had been cast as the leading lady’s pet on account of its photogenic qualities; the problem was that this ape had a penchant for music and had confiscated the oboist’s oboe and when the second assistant director retrieved it from him, the diminutive capuchin threw a colossal tantrum, made a beeline for me, when I thought my guitar might be next! It took another two A.D.s to restrain the wild beast. So, what is now, with the cosy filter of hindsight, a slice of amusing pandemonium was, at the time, cause for extreme concern; when eventually the simian diva was pacified and some order had been restored to the scene, we started recording again; this went on for ever and the arpeggios proved eventually not to be all that easy after all because, thinking quite rightly that nothing could be easier than I, V7, II, V, I, in C Major, Geoff had actually pitched the guitar notation with barres at Position VIII! By the time the merciful words “Print, that’s wrap” resounded around the Glyndebourne hills, my hand had virtually fallen off. When, months later, and having a good laugh about it, I related all this to Geoff, he said “Oh, you could have played that stuff anywhere you liked, as long as it was in tune! You can hardly hear the music in that scene, anyway.”
Back home, exhausted, nursing my hand, I wrote to Romanillos suggesting - since he had refused payment for the use of the guitar - that he might accept a collection of vinyl records which I would bring him when returning the guitar which, in October, I duly did with great sadness. This was his charming answer:
My eyes still moisten at the extraordinary act of generosity from a man who, at the time, didn’t know me from Adam! It continues to move and astonish me that José should, just like that, part with the instrument whose label had, through Bream’s hands, become a household name forever printed on the guitar’s world map! Here was a Caesar, when comes such another?
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