#40 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #5

(Continue from Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #4)

p.46-47

Madame Pratten came from a musical family, with her dad Ferdinard Pelzer being a renowned teacher and sister Giulia also a child prodigy (the Los Romeros of 19th century England?). Why didn’t she use her family name? I wondered about why did she keep the name “Madame Sidney Pratten” throughout her life. Out of devotion to her husband? The Archlute.com gave a different perspective:

“…The denigration of the guitar by 19th Century writers and music critics is well known. Often the denigration appears as a form of backhanded flattery to the artist. To wit, artists such as Regondi, Ferranti, Giuliani, and Sor were often held to be the greatest of virtuosi but then it is speculated such a pity that they play the guitar and not some instrument of higher regard…

…Catharina Pratten would have been well aware of this negative attitude some had toward the guitar. Her father worked hard to champion and disseminate the music of Giuliani and had his fair share of critical reception both as a guitarist and a publisher. During her lifetime the prevailing attitude changed only slightly. Using her husband’s name served the dual purpose of legitimizing the guitar and more importantly his fame would help in extending the audience exposed to the music…”

Going sidetrack, I recall reading something about the different names of the American composer Amy Beach (1867-1944). A quick internet search jogged my memory of yet another story about female musicians (or whatever profession?) who had to change names to gain recognition: born as Amy Cheney, the marriage to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach in 1885 gave her the name “Mrs. H.H.A. Beach”. Discouraged to be a performing artist, she shifted gears to compositions (would she have composed as many great pieces if it wasn’t for her marriage?). After the husband’s passing in 1910, she toured Europe, and began using the name Amy Beach there, but

“…returned to using Mrs. H. H. A. Beach when she discovered that she already had some recognition for her compositions published under that name. She was once asked in Europe, when still using the name Amy Beach, whether she was the daughter of Mrs. H. H. A. Beach.” (from Thought Co.)

In the last section her essay, To the Girl Who Wants to Compose, published in the Etude Magazine in November 1918, Amy Beach wrote,

“Just one point more. I believe it was Rubinstein who said, “To compose is a pleasure—to publish is a responsibility.” When we think of the tons of music which have been already issued in print, perhaps it is as well for us to pause and remember Rubinstein’s remark before rushing our compositions out to the public. Still, “there is always room at the top,” and always a place for good music in any form or of any kind. Keep on writing, young people, as much as you like, so long as you realize both “the responsibility” and “the pleasure,” and so long as you are willing to give only of your best in every respect.”

As a [forever] music student, this excerpt resonates with me much, especially when one replaces “compose” and “publish” with “play” and “perform” respectively. Too often are we tempted to perform a piece that needs much more polishing, but we can’t hold back our desire to perform a master work before it is ready. But, when is a piece ever ready?

Amy Beach’s change from a performing pianist to a composer reminded me of a similar narrative, Robert Schumann was set to be a pianist, but rumor has it that he messed up his hand by training with a finger-strengthening device. Schumann therefore shifted his energy to composing. These hand strengthening devices reminded me of torture devices… No pain, no gain, right?

Here is a picture of one such device, from an issue of Etude Magazine from 1897 :

This conveniently ties me back to the excerpt above, where Madame Pratten recounted the story of a young singer who paid her hard work and earned her credentials, but failed to gain the approval of the press. Such a telling paragraph. It’s hard to be a musician, who puts immense amount of time and resources into training, and still could not deliver a pleasing result, either to oneself or the audience. Be nice to artists, okay?

(continue to Reminscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #6)

#39 First time

Do you remember when was the first time you swear?

Growing up, my brother and I watched a lot of TV. Not only that, we would record movies on VHS and rewatch them over and over. The Back to the Future I was part of that rotation. Not too bad if I learned my first swear words there?

I might be somewhere between 8 to 10 years old. At the dinner table,

Me: I learned a new English phrase today.

My dad: Yeah? What is it?

Me: Holy Shit! That’s what Marty said in Back to the Future.

I don’t remember how my dad responded. He might have just not responded and saved it for me to find out in the future. I didn’t know English back then, and I was misguided by the Chinese subtitles: 該死, which literally means “should die”. Nothing positive here, but at least not curse words?

And that’ my first bad English word…

I picked up my first bad Chinese words from Chow Yun Fat. I was (again) somewhere between 8 to 10 (maybe even 7?), and the TV was showing a series from early 80s (could be late 70s though) that starred Chow. In the show, Chow was talking to two gangster-type characters. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but I remember he called those guys 木嘴 . Of course I didn’t know what it meant. It just sounded cool.

Fast forward a few days, I was at a park playing with other kids. Suddenly, I called one of the kids 木嘴. I wasn’t particularly angey, nor I wanted to scare him. His mom heard what I said, looked surprised, and took her kid away without saying a single word. My mom noticed something was odd and asked what happened.

I have not been saying that much since then, as I realized that is such a dated term!

#38 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #4 – Frederick Hymen Cowen

(Continue from Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #3)

Chapter 3 of the book provded details to a few concerts Madame Pratten played after the passing of her husband. One of them describes her playing Giuliani’s third concert for terz guitar, with the piano accompaniment by Giuliani’s niece:

p.36

p.37

As mentioned in my previous post, it doesn’t seem like Madame Pratten composed any pieces for guitar and flute. I wonder what this piece was? Did she compose a guiar/flute duet for this occasion? If not, whose piece did they play? Did she have some unpublished virtuosic guitar/flute duet that she used to play with Robert Sidney Pratten? Just for kicks, I looked up Olut Svensden, and found one piece of news:

Seems like the guitar/flute duet being performed was not an amateur piece. What about “Patten’s Concertstuck movements from Macfarren’s Concerto and Doppler’s Channt d’Amour?” – which Pratten are we talking about…?


p.39

Looking up Cowen and The Corsair complicated matters quickly. Frederic Hymen Cowen (1852-1935) was a forgotten British composer who composed many vocal works. Born in Jamaica, he followed his family to England at 4, showed high aptitude in music, and had his first piece published at the age of 6:

From Musical Times, November 1, 1898

(The Jstor link that contains the short biography of Cowen from 1898 wrote completely in the lens of the imperial England…)

For better or worse, Cowen was called the “English Schubert”. Although not the most reliable source, Cowen’s name appeared in Philip Bone’s The Guitar and Mandolin: Biographies of Celebrated Players and Composers, in Moritz Hauptmann’s entry :

Bone, p.146

This excerpt reflected a few interesting things:

1) I have come across Hauptmann before, but mainly as a music theorist. I didn’t know he actually played and composed for the guitar. And there is indeed a piece of his for guitar and violin on IMSLP.

2) Although Cowen is largely forgotten today, it is great to see him being listed amongst celebrities such as von Bulow, Sullivan, and Joachim.

3) I have come across Joseph Joachim in my 19th century performance practice class. His Bach recordings were amongst the earliest recordings ever made, and gave us a glimpse into how to play in a 19th century manner. I love his Romance in C. And there is nothing more romantic about the F-A-E Sonata and its relationship with Brahm’s 3rd Symphony – all a big-in-circle game between Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, Joachim, and Albert Dietrich. I have never known Joachim played the guitar before switching to the violin though. All I could find was “Joseph’s interest in music was stimulated by hearing his older sister, who studied voice and accompanied herself on the guitar. He became fixated on the violin when his father brought him a toy violin from a fair.”

Thanks to the internet, one can find the reduction to The Consair on IMSLP. The Consair is a cantata for four soloists, chorus, orchestra, and the guitar. Since there’s only a reduction, the specific instrumentation is unclear. The reduction is divided into 5 PDF files, and a few guitar entrances marked, on p. 19 – 21 of segment 1, and p.19, 20, and 26 of segment 5 – a bit of symmetry there?

Segment 1, p.19 of PDF
Sengment 1, p.20 of PDF

I only listed the above two excerpts, because that’s basically what the sections marked “guitar” do – chordal accompaniment and arpeggios. I assume the guitar would be playing during the recitatives and tremolo (with continuous strumming, not the Recuerdos de la Alhambra-type).

Cowen’s autobiography, My Art and My Friends, is also available on IMSLP. I only quickly glanced through it, and although The Corsair was mentioned a few times, there was not any references made to the guitar part or Madame Sidney Pratten. Why did Cowen incorporate the guitar in a work where it would be so difficult to hear? I am not aware of any 19th century large choral work that employs the guitar with an orchestra and/or a chorus (maybe Mahler’s 7th Symphony from 1904-5 is one, if we extend the 19th century to the 19th century style), so The Corsair is quite a special work. Why did Cowen not mentioned it at all? Because of the guitar’s bad reputation? Because it’s not worth mentioning? Or maybe Cowen deliberately left it out in his autobiography? Perhaps the commissioner of the piece asked for a guitar part?

From Musical Times, November 1, 1898

(continue to Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten #5)

#37 Why Reggae – episode #2

(continued from Why Reggae – episode #1)

Although I went to Indiana University Bloominton to pursue a business degree, my mind was on music, and every semester I would look for music classes to take. As a non-music major, there weren’t a lot of classes about music making and analysis that I could join, so almost all music classes I took were history-related: history of blues, history of jazz, rock in 70s and 80s, Latin American Music. I got to know Professor Andy Hollinden well, and sat in his class on Jimi Hendrix too. There were not enough music classes to take, and I ended up taking classes from outside the music school (it was renamed to the Jacob School in my junior year) – the Motown class through the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, the Hip Hop class through the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and Black Music and Identity through the Anthropology Department. The Motown class brought everyone to the gym and we learned particular dance moves related to motown songs. Sadly, I have forgotten all the moves except for “the shotgun”. The Hip Hop class had everyone writing our own verses and rapping in front of the whole class. I couldn’t have been more embarassed.

The Black Music and Identity class was where I learned about reggae: how hip hop was originated by the Jamaican DJ Kool Herc, the dub poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson. I was most fascinated by the Japanese reggae and dance hall scene, and the level of authenticity in the music they produced. On a side note, I recall my professor from this class told me he did not receive one of my papers. As the best student one could ask for, I was sure I had turned it in, and I remember rushing over to office hours after class to talk to him. I tried so hard to persuade him that I had turned in my paper on time. He seemed convinced and trusted me (maybe he just wanted me to shut up). It must have sounded so funny to him how serious I was?

As all serious business students should do, I planned ahead for my summers and looked for internships. That’t where I saw an ad by Rockpaperscissors, a local world music publicity company (they do more than music now). They were looking for interns, and I remember reached out almost immediately after I saw the word “reggae” in the description. My internship continued even after regular semester resumed, and I worked there as much as I could. Although I was trying to learn more about reggae, I got so much more out of this job. I did put on Dub Side of the Moon a lot when I worked there (looking back, it must have been extremely annoying for everyone else), but I was exposed to many musical acts and cultures unknown to me: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Samarabalouf, Ska Cubano, the Balkan Beat Box, Daara J, Seu Jorge, Samite, Habib Koite, the Slackers, Zuco 103, Bole 2 Harlem, Marcelo D2, Lura, Marisa…

Working at RPS was also the first time I encountered a small business (at the time about 5 people) that was making a national impact. I learned a lot of different basic tasks – packing promo CDs into envelops, keeping inventory, but the most important skills I picked up was how to use Photoshop. I can’t say I am a pro, but I have designed my fair amount of flyers for events over the years.

Ebay was also a source of my reggae education. I was trying to listen to reggae other than Bob Marley, but I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t have a lot of money either. So I would go on ebay, type “reggae”, and the prices from low to high, and buy the cheapest CDs there were. I ended up buy a few 3-CDs reggae compilations that way, which introduced me to a lot of classic songs very quickly.

One more thing that cultivated my love for reggae was when I worked as stage manager at the Lotus Festival (2006?), hearing Inner Visions play live. That’s also where I saw the Brazilian band Curumin (first time learning about the sound of the fender rhodes and the electric cavaquinho) and the Balkan Beatbox. (Is that where I saw and met Dudumaia too?)

Bloomington was also where I saw my first reggae shows, as I turned 21 there – Burning Spear, the Wailers, and Matisyahu. All were essential to shape my view of reggae before I came to Rochester.

#36 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #3 Robert

(Continuing from Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #2)

p.30

Robert Sidney Pratten was a talented flautist and a perfect match for Mademe Pratten. Unfortenately, he died quite young – at the age of 44, after 14 years of marriage with Mademe Sidney Pratten.

Would they have played (or even performed) as a flute/guitar duo? If they did, it would have been quite special – at least by today’s standards, since I can’t think of a contemporary guitar/flute duo that has a female guitarist and a male flautist. Why are flutes and guitars assigned to specific genders?

My teacher once said that he would organize a tango dance lesson between the guitar and the flute studios. I could not tell if he was serious or joking but I am always serious. I am still waiting for that dance session to happen.

One can find a few compositions and method book by Madame Sidney Pratten on IMSLP. These compositions bear sentimental titles: Forgotten, Sadness, A Lost Love, A Lament, Sehnsucht – are these all composed for Robert? A few letters mentioned about these compositions:

p.84
p.85-86

This website showed a list of Madame Pratten’s compositions. I wonder where can one find all her other compositions, and the Instruction for the Guitar tuned in E-major? It also doesn’t look like there are any compositions for flute and guitar.

Of the few scores that are available on IMSLP, the set Sadness, Lost Love, A Lament bears a dedication: “To her friend and pupil Dr. John Lindsay Leckie. This reminded me of a recent purchase I made: Dr Walter Leckie & Don Francisco Tárrega: The unlikely tale of an English Gentleman and a Spanish Guitarist, a fascinating book that details the relationship between Tárrega and Dr. Walter Leckie, an English physician and amateur guitarist. Leckie was a memeber of high society, and he took lessons from Madame Pratten before meeting Tárrega, and therefore this book also included a biography of her. It is from this book that I found out John Lindsay Leckie was Walter Leckie’s older brother. Another thing I found out from this book answered a question I had from my previous post: how did Madame Pratten notate her compositions in open E tuning? Did she notate the music at pitch? Or did she notate the music as if the guitar is tuned in standard tuning?

Hungarian March, a piece dedicated to Walter Leckie, in the open-E tuning, provides the answer:

From Dr Walter Leckie & Don Francisco Tárrega: The unlikely tale of an English Gentleman and a Spanish Guitarist, p.28

So Madame Sidney Pratten’s students who learn both open E and standard tunings would have to learn the notes of the freboard on two different tunings!


A female music virtuoso whose husband was Robert – it’s hard for me to not think about Clara and Robert Schumann. Not much was said in Reminiscenes of Madame Sidney Pratten regarding the love story before the Prattens, but Robert and Clara Schumann’s engagement was strongly opposed by Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck, who was their piano teacher. Allowed by the court, Robert and Clara got married the night before she turned 21.

Robert and Clara.

Madame Pratten remained devoted to her husband throughout his life.

p.34

The story between the Schumanns seemed to be more complicated, but the truth would never be known. Relationhips… always complicated. Let’s just watch something simple here? This clip of Widmung, taken from the movie, A Poet’s Love, is a clip I always show in my music theory class. Clara heard Robert’s song for the first time, and she immediately joined him in playing the melody on the piano. That’s the level of aural skills we should all strive for.

(Continue to Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #4)

#35 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #2 the Crimean War

(Continuing from Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #1)

p.26-27

Many people teach, but not many begins teaching at the age of 17, and even less would have their apartment being paid for!


p.27

There is a detailed wikipedia page on the life of Lord Fotzroy Somerset, who was the commander of the British troops in Crimean War (1853-1856). At first glance, I thought the “Lord Raglan’s March” might be a composition to celebrate Lord Somerset’s victory in the Crimean War, but Somerset actually died in June 1855 before the Siege of Sevastopol was concluded in September of the same year. So the Lord Raglan’s March might actually be composed to celebrate Somerset’s promotion to Baron Raglan of Raglan on October 1852. It was just my fantasy that the Lord Raglan’s March was composed for the Crimean War. I wanted the fantasy to be true though, as that would make the Siege of Sevastopol the inspiration of two guitar pieces – the other being “Sebastopol: A descriptive fantaisie for the guitar” by Henry Worrall.

According to Old Time Party, Henry Worrall was born in 1825 (one year later than Madame Pratten), and moved to the States in 1835. He was a guitar performer, teacher, and composer, and he was responsible for filing copyrights to two open tuning songs: his arrangement of Spanish Fandango (in open G), and Sebastopol (in open D). Sebastopol was a march inspired by the Siege of Sevastopol. Both of these tunes were influential in the development of the country blues:

“During the latter 1800s, the Lyon & Healy company in Chicago pioneered the mass production of acoustic guitars. By the turn of the century, their many models were sold under various names in catalogs issued by companies such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward. Many of these catalog-bought guitars arrived with a tutorial pamphlet featuring tuning instructions and music for rudimentary instrumentals. Two of the most common of these instructive instrumentals, “Spanish Fandango” and “The Siege of Sebastopol,” predated the Civil War. The music for “Spanish Fandango” required that the guitar’s strings be tuned to an open-G chord (the strings tuned DGDGBD, from low to high), while “The Siege of Sebastopol” was in open D (DADF#AD). “Spanish Fandango” in particular served as a starting point for countless rural players.”

– an excerpt from Talking Guitar, by Jas Obrecht, found on WBUR.

Spanish Fandango and Sebastopol might be easy to play, but they prompted a lot of thoughts. For one, the way they were notated is interesting: they are notated as if the guitar is in standard tuning. If one plays the music as notated, the outcome would not make sense.

Madame Sidney Pratten apparently had quite an output for music tuned to an open E chord. Was the Lord Raglan’s March in open E? She even had a method book for Open E – Instructions For the Guitar tuned in E major (see the picture below, taken from the last page of one of her pieces. Did Madame Sidney Pratten also notate her open-E music as if the guitar is tuned in standard tuning? (More on this on the next post)

The idea of using openings as a pedagogical tool is growing on me: what about a beginning guitar class that only studies songs in open D and open G tuning? Students can get chords with just one or two left hand fingers (no need to worry about chord shapes and transitions), and maybe it would be easier to teach harmonic functions (I, IV, and V share the same shape, so position alone would indicate harmonic functions)? Moreover, open tuning songs lend itself to a lot of discussions related to history, society, and culture: music and life in 19th century, country blues, folk music, rock and roll, etc.

I have always wondered why are opening tunings not more popular. Because it is associated with music of “simple harmonies” (folk, blues)? Because the music is not serious enough, since it only takes one finger sliding up and down the to play different chords? But what’s wrong with things being simple? Moreover, guitar music in opening tunings can actually be quite sophisticated. Or maybe open tuning is too difficult: learning notes on a standard-tuning fretboard is difficult enough, let alone learning notes on a fretboard of non-standard tunings?

(Continue to Reminiscenes of Madame Sidney Pratten #3 )

#34 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #1 child prodigies, the terz guitar

From Wikipedia,

“Catharina Josepha Pratten (15 November 1824* – 1895) was a German guitar virtuoso, composer and teacher, also known as Madame Sidney Pratten.  She was born Catharina Josepha Pelzer in Mülheim on the 15 November 1824, the daughter of the German guitarist and music teacher Ferdinand Pelzer.  On 24 September 1854, she married the flautist Robert Sidney Pratten.”

* many other sources said Pratten’s birth year was 1821

The internet is so great because there are new resources being made available every day. One such resources are old books that are digitized. I am referring to my friend Daniel Nistico again, as I learned about this short and sweet book from 1899 – Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten by Frank Mott Harrison – from his website. Daniel has provided highlights of the book on his site. I would like to do the same, and hopefully I am not repeat too much of what he has already mentioned. Of course, the best way to learn about Madame Sidney Pratten is to read this book yourself.


p.19-20

I have always wondered what kind of a childhood did famous music prodigies have – Mozart, Clara Schumann, Edward and Leonard Leonard Schulz, Giulio Regondi, and of course, Madame Sidney Pratten (coincidentally, Leonard Schulz, Regondi and Pratten were all based in London?!). I can’t speak for sure if all of these musicians had a rough childhood, but Clara had “an unyielding father“, Friedrich Wieck (who was teacher of Clara’s future husband Robert Schumann), and Regondi’s self-proclaomed father treated him harshly after learning about the kid’s musical talent. Pratten had probably received rigorous training as well. But she had a strong mind:

p.24

p.20

What can be more adorable than the image of two “little” virtuosi, with angelic look (Regondi) and locks (Pratten), playing guitar duets on a table (some say a piano top, could that be a different concert?)?

It made a lot of sense that Pratten played a terz guitar – a 19th century guitar with shorter scale and tuned to G, and mostly featured in chamber music. Today (or even back in the 19th century), one can put a capo on the third fret of the guitar to mimic a terz guitar (see details of terz guitar at earlyromanticguitar.com and Tecla).

Many questions here:

  • terz guitar was used a lot in guitar duets – the terz guitar usually plays the first part, and the standard guitar the second. Did Regondi played a standard guitar while Pratten played a terz guitar? I have never heard any accounts of Regondi performing on a terz guitar. And from the picture below, Regondi’s guitar didn’t seem to be too big?
Giulio Regondi at the Royal Adelphi Theatre in London in 1831
  • Perhaps both Pratten and Regondi were playing terz guitars? If so, the guitars would be in the same tuning, and that would open up a lot more options for their repertoire (although they probably could learn music very fast…)
  • Unrelated to Pratten – from the Regondi picture – was he reading music that is placed on the floor?! It might be seen as unprofessional today, but that’s acceptable (perhaps, cute) for a child, especially for a prodigy? Moreover, using a music stand might just completely block the audience’s view.
  • (there are a lot more questions about Regondi I would like to discuss. See here)
  • To echo an earlier point – many guitar duets were written for terz/standard guitars – it makes perfect sense then that Pratten and Regondi played the terz guitar, as they both played duets with their fathers.
  • It was mentioned that Pratten performed Giuliani’s Third Concerto – a concerto for terz guitar. So lucky that the great Giuliani wrote a terz guitar concerto, and it happened that your daughter could play it? I have flipped through issues of the Giulianiad in the Special Collections of the Sibley Music Library, and faintly remember there were much praise on Giuliani’s third concerto. Is it trying to perpetuate Giuliani’s legacy and prasing the concerto? Or was it really trying to praise the little Pratten? And the editors of the Giulianiad were believed to be… Ferdinand Pelzer (Pratten’s dad), Leonard Schulz (who also performed Giuliani’s third concerto), and Felix Horetzky (a student of Giuliani). I should go re-read the Giulianiad to find more clues…

p.24

And now, a few questions regarding Madame Pratten’s harmony lessons:

  • Often times, I find students (music majors) uninterested in learning figured bass (maybe I sensed it wrong and they actually loved it?). Is it because it doesn’t matter to most of them, since they do not play a chordal instrument?
  • “matter-of-fact’ solutions” – was the instruction not good? There are multiple ways to realize the same figures and a complete bass line, no?
  • Was figured bass included in Pratten’s training, because that was part of a “complete” music education for a “music major”? Or did she learn it because she was a guitarist?
  • Has the curriculum and students’ attitude toward the curriculum not changed since 1830s?

Concluding chapter 1 of the book, the author wrote:

p.26

It’s a pity the author decided more detail s of Madame Pratten’s childhood would be boring… I want to know more! Perhaps that’s why this book is so great, short and concise. Just like the guitar solo of Little Wing?

(Continue to Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #2)

#32 All By Myself

Over the years, I have compiled a list of music called “music that makes me cry”. On the top of the list is Glenn Gould’s arrangement of the Prelude to Act 1 of Meistersinger by Wagner.

Toward the end of the piece, Gould overdubbed a second piano part to the prelude. In a Rolling Stone interview, he explained:

“The Meistersinger is not a problem because it’s so contrapuntal that it plays itself, although I must say it’s the only place where I’m going to have to cheat, because I’m going to have to put earphones on for the last three minutes, for the place where he brings back all the themes, and you have to play it four hands. It’s a piece that I’ve played just as a party piece all my life, and you can get through the first seven minutes fine, and then you say, “OK, which themes are we leaving out tonight?” — there’s just no way. So I will do it as an overdub.”

It was certainly possible to feature a guest artist to play that second part. But Gould did it himself anyways. In a way, it makes sense – why involve another pianist for just 3 minutes of music? What if Gould wanted to play this live? Would the other pianist just sit there and wait? And maybe this was not meant to be performed live? And sure, it’s fun to play with others, but you know yourself best (or, do we really know ourselves?) and it was a good chance to carry our an entire concept all on your own.

It’s quite easy to “make music with yourself” today, with a loop pedal or an app. But back then, why would artists go to studio and record a full album all by themselves? For maximum control? Because it was a novel idea and not many have done that? It’s a challenge to play with oneself? An opportunity to reflect different sides of the artist?

I don’t have an answer (what do I have answers for?). And different people do the same thing for different reasons. I do hope to make an album all by myself in the future. I will let you know how it feels when the album is finished. But until then, I would like to share a few older recordings I know of that are studio productions, with artists performing with themselves.

Sabicas – Flamenco Variations on Three Guitars from 1960. The album cover is pretty clever, right? An album review from the April 1960 issue of Billboard says the following:

Should flamenco be categorized as folk…? If not, what should it be labelled as? Should music be categorized? I went to far… Let’s just say, three guitars playing tremolo sounds amazing, and it is great to see it was a guitarist who made a trio recording with himself?

(See the April 1960 issue of Billboard here, and see another post about a few things I found interesting from the same issue here.)

And allow me to digress – the solo guitar album Ole, La Mano!, by Juan Serrano:

I just find it funny that these two flamenco albums have the same color scheme and overlay image… The Sabicas album was released by Decca, and the Serrano released by Elektra. Was there a consensus for flamenco album covers?

After the Sabicas “trio” album, Conversations with Myself by Bill Evans from 1963 “followed”:

Like the Sabicas album, this is also a “trio” album, with Evans overdubbing two tracks over himself. Sure… while you were in the studio, why not? Evans would later release two more albums with self-overdubs: Further Conversations with Myself (1967) and New Conversations (1978).

Another guitar album came in 1966: Music for Two Guitars/Music for One Guitar by Rey de la Torre (released by Epic Records):

My friend Anthony LaLena told me about this album. I was so glad to know yet another “play-with-yourself” album made by a guitarist. This album has a very long descriptive (but not very poetic) title, because one side 1 of the album contains three duet pieces, and side 2 has the solo pieces. Must Spanish guitar albums all share the same color scheme and “repetition” aesthetics for their covers?

The aforementioned Wagner arrangement by Glenn Gould came from the 1973 album Glenn Gould Plays His Own Transcriptions of Wagner Orchestral Showpieces:

Jimmy Raney album, Solo, from 1976 is the last “self-duo” album I would like to mention:

This album has the best title…! The back cover explains the rationale:

Bonus: this one is not really a full recording. It’s a video of Julian Bream (RIP) playing Luigi Boccherini’s Fandango with himself. Musicality aside, it is very dramatic – two Breams in suits of contrasting colors, throwing dirty looks at each other, as if they were in a competition, trading licks and trying to out play their opponents. The footage comes from the documentary, ¡Guitarra! from 1985.

#31 How it all started – 6

I eventually got my first acoustic guitar as my 16 year old birthday present at 新星堂, a Japanese music chain that had a store in Hong Kong – Japanese rock was really popular back then, thanks to the many Japanese tv shows. I drew the John lennon self-portrait this dreadnought-style guitar. I grew up watching the Beatles Anthology – watched them when they were first broadcasted on TV, recorded them, and rewatched them many times. Forward a few years, when I came to the States, I lent this guitar to a friend – we played in the same band back then, and I thought it would be easy to get the guitar back in the future. I never saw it again.

Beyond was a legendary band from Hong Kong, and I spent much time and effort learning songs on their double live album “Beyond 的精彩LIVE&BASIC“. It was a very emotional album, as it was the first live show after the passing of the frontman man, Wong Ka-Kui. I spent a lot of time learing the solo of 太空 and Love. I had the VCDs of the concert, and I just keep rewinding until I got the solos.

(The VCD is a “weaker” version of the DVD – lower resolution, and each disc can only store video of about an hour long. It’s a transitional format between VHS and DVD. I don’t think the VCDs were ever used in the US)

Back then, I didn’t know the opening track of the concert was an arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird! Well (I still don’t know about a lot of things)! As I started learning these songs, I quickly realized that there was such a thing as a cutaway guitar, and mine was not a cutaway. It was hard to learn those electric guitar solos.

I picked up many loose melodies and licks here and there. I also learned 愛我別走, and 我的知己在街頭 (now, I would ask my more advanced guitar students to learn the latter). I remember making tabs of 愛我別走 in class. I was improving, and could learn melodies by ear faster. There was also the Japanese arcade game, Guitar Freaks (precursor of Guitar Hero in US). My friends would be playing Happy Man in the game, and I would be playing the same tune on a real guitar. At the time, the most difficult song I was learning at the time was Eric Johnson’s Song for Life.

A friend in 5C and I made a pact – we would go buy electric guitars together to start a band. We went back to 新星堂 on their annual “sale day”, waited in the long line, and bought the cheapest guitars in store. But I actually bought a bass. Yeah, if we start a band, someone had to play bass, right?

My friend ended up not playing his electric guitar much, and I borrowed his electric guitar too. Now I have an acoustic guitar, and electric guitar, a bass, and the J-rock band scores. Naturally, I was learning mores, and really wanted a nice electric guitar. I was a huge fan of X-Japan, and was dreaming about his guitar. I would ended up getting something quite different.

Hide, and my dream guitar

(To be continued in How it at started #7)