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A Spanish Adventure: Learning from the Masters in Alicante - by Marc Rosenberg
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Marc Rosenberg earned a scholarship to study classical guitar studies at the collegiate level with Chip Christ at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. After receiving his Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance, he earned another performance scholarship to attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he received his Master of Music in Guitar Performance under the tutelage of Professor Jim Ferla.
 
Rosenberg has played in concerts throughout the USA as both a soloist and as apart of chamber groups, including a performance with a singer at an event honoring the world renowned soprano Renée Fleming. He has also participated in many competitions and masterclasses with such notable names as Pepe Romero, Roland Dyens, Dale Kavanagh, Bill Kanengiser, and Lily Afshar, to name a few.
Rosenberg has just completed his second Master’s Degree in Alicante, Spain, where he worked with world-renowned guitarists and lutenists David Russell, Ignacio Rodes, Hopkinson Smith, Roberto Aussel, Manuel Barrueco, Carles Trepat, and Nigel North.

 


 

 

In 2013, a colleague asked to interview me about a unique experience I had at a seven month master's program in classical guitar performance and interpretation in Alicante, Spain. Her questions forced me to reflect deeply on the unforgettable memories, friendships, and sense of accomplishment that came from being surrounded by an immense amount of beautiful music and inspiring artists while taking in the sights, the sounds, and the lifestyle of Spain.
 
“I'm exhausted,” I began to reply. “And to me that's a good thing. Because to me it means I did everything I set out to do and then some.” “What would you do differently, if anything?” my friend inquired. I had to think about that carefully.
 

 

A year before this moment, I received an email  advertisement that guaranteed lessons with Manuel Barrueco, David Russell, Ignacio Rodes, Nigel North, Roberto Aussel, Carles Trepat, and Hopkinson Smith in Spain. I couldn't believe what I was reading. An all-star list of guitarists and teachers all in one program occurring in the country known for classical guitar? It all sounded too good to be true, but I had nothing to lose. I had just graduated with a master's degree in guitar performance from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and besides a few gigs here and there, I had no real reason not to at least attempt getting into this once in a lifetime opportunity. I gathered the required materials, sent my application information. The day I found out I was accepted, I was in the middle of an unbelievable week taking private lessons with Pepe Romero at the Celedonio Romero Guitar Institute in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was all almost too much to take in.
 
Six months later, I was on my way to Spain. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I was headed to a foreign country not known for speaking English to meet and study with some of the best guitarists and lutenists in the world. And, I would be joining the first group of students ever for this new program. So we all really had no idea what to expect.
 
I had arrived in Spain about two weeks before the program was set to begin to enjoy sightseeing Barcelona and visit friends in Girona. When I finally traveled south down the eastern coastline to Alicante, the city that would be home for the next seven months. I was excited of course, but still nervous. I had never heard of this city before applying to this program, but as soon as I took a stroll down the beautiful esplanada across the street from the harbor and the beach, I immediately felt comfortable and at home. It was at this moment that I began to shake off the remnants of my nerves and knew I was on the cusp of something special in my life. I suddenly didn't care if I was the only one who spoke English in the program (a thought that had crossed my mind since we weren't given a list of names and nationalities of the other students beforehand). I didn't care if I was to be the worst guitarist in the program. I was determined to make the best of this unique experience I had been given despite what circumstances lay ahead.
 
I was the first student to arrive at the house that was designated for the students of the program. The house, located in the heart of the historical old quarter of Alicante, is a newly renovated church from the 19th Century called San Roque. It is connected to the San Roque Chapel that dates back to the 16th Century (and still holds weekly Sunday morning services). The outside still carries some of the character and charm of the past, and the inside contains all of the modern luxuries needed to feel as comfortable as possible. Each of us had our own rooms, so we got the best of both worlds: a space to ourselves and a kitchen and dining room area designed for community living. The third floor also contained a very comfortable lounging area with cinema seating, projector and screen that we used to watch films, and a gorgeous view of the city from a terrace.
 
The idea of community living, I feel, was a very important aspect of the program. Under one roof lived twelve guitarists (one student lived in a separate apartment as he brought his wife along for the adventure) from ten different nations and ten different cultures, held together by the love of the classical guitar. As the weeks turned to months, we truly did become like a family. We communicated as best as we could with each other as not everyone spoke Spanish and not everyone spoke English. We exchanged ideas, joked around, laughed, ate, drank, and, at times, annoyed the hell out of each other. But any shortcomings that came about from the communal living were minute at best and pale in comparison to the wonderful moments we shared together.
 
The reason we were all there was to study, learn, and improve our guitar playing. January 11, 2013, brought about the opening ceremony for the University of Alicante's first Master of Guitar Performance program. We were greeted by some of the administration and staff working for the program, the mayor of Alicante and other government officials that helped contribute to the creation of the program, and we were all star-struck when our eyes fell upon David Russell, our teacher for the first week. I remember sitting in the audience the next night during Maestro Russell's concert in the  Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante (ADDA) thinking to myself, “I am in Spain listening to David Russell give a classical guitar concert in a beautiful auditorium. It doesn't get better than this.”
 
The week of lessons (masterclasses really, as we were all able to sit in and learn from everyone else's lessons) with Russell was a glimpse into how the rest of the program would be. His wealth of knowledge and years of teaching and performing experience was able to shine through each lesson as he explained each tip and technical improvement with such clarity and simplicity. Subsequently, each teacher that came after followed suit as they awed us with their performances and pushed us to better our playing in the realms of each subject they were there to instruct.
 
All major time periods and subject matters were addressed: David Russell advised us on making and interpreting transcriptions. Ignacio Rodes guided us for 20th century and chamber music. Hopkinson Smith inspired us during a week of Renaissance and baroque guitar music. Roberto Aussel helped us feel the rhythms of South American pieces. Manuel Barrueco brought out the soloists in us as we tackled guitar concerti. Carles Trepat brought alive the Golden Age of 18th and 19th century classical guitar repertoire, and Nigel North rounded it all out with the music of J.S. Bach.
 
On top of this we received two added bonuses. We spent a week with Maestro Jose de Eusebio, a Latin Grammy Award winning conductor, who not only taught us proper etiquette when working with orchestras and conductors, but provided a vast amount of helpful tips to try jumpstart our musical careers. We also had the privilege of meeting the legendary Spanish luthier Jose Romanillos who allowed us to test one of his guitars, taught us about the inner-workings of the art of guitar building, and invited us to his beautiful hometown of Sigüenza where we were able to view his collection of vihuelas and guitars from the 19th and early 20th century that he had just donated to a museum in the town. We were almost constantly surrounded by prominent musical figures in formal and social arenas, allowing us not only to learn from them but also to learn about them and who they truly are.
 
But I would be lying if I said I was there ONLY to take lessons and learn about the instrument and the music I love. I also wanted to immerse myself in the Spanish culture and language as well as meet others from around the world who aren't necessarily musicians. So I took advantage of all of the resources available to me every chance I got. From typical Spanish foods and drinks, to the many holidays and festivals that occurred, to the two weeks I took traveling from Portugal by train and bus back to Alicante touring ancient worlds and modern achievements. I took Spanish classes at the University of Alicante where I met people from all over the globe. I did my best to live my seven months in Spain as though I might never return to the country.
 
Amongst all of that, I do promise that I practiced guitar a lot. I was given several opportunities to perform, and I improved my level of playing well beyond I could have ever imagined. The cherry on top was traveling with a fellow guitar student to England in July after the program had finished to witness one of the legendary guitarist John Williams's last concerts, an event we were only able to be a part of because we were already in Europe. All of this added up to an experience and memories I will never forget for the rest of my life.
 
After considering all of this, when I was asked what I would change about my time in Spain, I unequivocally responded that I wouldn't change a thing.
 
At David Russell's advice, I and my fellow students in the first Master of Guitar Alicante program, created a little booklet where we wrote down important information each teacher uttered, silly occurrences and jokes, and other little scribbles that who knows if we will be able to explain them in the future. As David Russell told us one of the first times we met him, every time we open our little diaries, every time we read from it, we will be transported back in time to each of these moments that are locked away forever in our memories, where they will be cherished for the rest of our lives.
 
I encourage all that might be interested in the program to check out the website at http://www.master-guitar-alicante.com. Additions to the program for next year include lessons with Japanese guitarist Shin-Ichi Fukuda, a lecture by a neuroscientist discussing the physiological aspects involved in instrumental performance and practice, and the lutenist Paul O'Dette. The city and the teachers are dedicated towards this program, which will only expand and improve. And I assure you, if you get accepted into the program and do it right, you will become a better guitarist and musician. And if you REALLY do it right, you will get a lot more.

 

 

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