Classical Guitar Orchestras: Another view II (Reloaded)
It has been a while. During this time, I have been fortunate to give a well attended lecture at the GFA Convention, visit this small event called the World Cup in Brazil, and while in Sao Paulo, attend the largest classical music camp in South America, the Festival do Inverno do Campos de Jordao. This time, instead of continuing with the article series envisioned for this outlet, this article will again focus on the last topic: Guitar Orchestras. The intense reactions of guitar orchestra enthusiasts deemed necessary an additional document to revisit some of the things that happened since its publication.
Warranted or not, the article ignited the zeal of the guitar orchestra enthusiasts, some of whom took the article as a direct offense to their ensembles and their lives. Regardless of names, lets state that the most avid criticism came from the leaders of established ensembles with selective membership. Responses were in the form of Youtube links used as proof of the musical capacity of the ensemble, as well as some disproportionate personal attacks, which we will disregard. After all, we believe in democracy.
It is important to stress that the previous article presented an alternate view of the effectiveness of using these guitar ensembles as a growth strategy for the instrument as a whole. At no point, regardless of the limitations listed, did the article put into question the existence of the guitar ensembles per se. To do so would be to condemn similar ensembles in Mandolin, Brass, and other groups of similar instruments. It was not the intention of the prior article to belittle the Art form, and for that we do apologize, although we stand by each of our assessments regarding the artistic characteristics of these formations.
Much of the discussions and experiences I have had over the last weeks have allowed me to see how guitar groups provide an introductory ensemble experience to their members, with the goal not centered in creating professional performers but in creating a sense of community. This is a commendable endeavor, although not directly related to the perpetuation of classical music as an art form.
However, many failed to see that the existence or not of guitar ensembles was not the scope of the article. One would hardly conceive of Ukulelists actively organizing with grandiose plans to push Ukulele orchestras (which exist) as part of the after-school curriculum, would they? What really motivates guitar leaders to do so, specially in the United States?
One plausible explanation is, taking the ukulele as an example, that other instrumentalists as a group have much less pressure to cover supply. Lets understand. Every month of May, hundreds if not thousands of guitarists graduate from Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral programs to an ever-reduced pool of job opportunities. Might this situation be connected to the sudden need to tap into every K12 School in order to legitimize the degree to which this profession (the guitar profession) has expanded? Mandolinists, Ukulelists and other instrumentalists have only a handful of places (if any) where one can obtain a professional Mandolin or Ukulele degree, and thus, the number of ‘professionals’ to cover the demand for that instrument is lower.
In two words: Its SUSTAINABLE.
Where is the guitar? Concert opportunities and university professorships have stagnated or reduced over the past 20 years for an exponentially growing number of guitarists. The artistic fees of even the top artists is at an all time low and there are more substitutes than ever for even the most ‘successful’ acts. There is a recent Article by Overgrown Path that puts it simple, and which (with a few edits) fits perfectly the guitar situation:
“Classical [Guitar] is one of the glories of our civilization, but it is not exempt from the fundamental law of economics which states that when supply of a commodity outstrips demand, the value – both real and perceived – falls.
Without value an art form has no future; so when will the classical [guitar] industry wake up and start tackling the problem of oversupply?”
The outcome of an exponential expansion of guitar orchestras is the potential creation of demand, and the certain creation of supply. Reach your own conclusions.
The “unspoken” reactions:
However, the first article did more than just piss people off. During the GFA Convention, previous GFA Competition finalists, competition winners, established university guitar professors, colleagues, and guitarists from different ages and backgrounds approached me to agree (yes, AGREE) with every point made. That alone deserves a follow up article if it weren’t that in 100% of the cases, they requested their names stay in anonymity, and so they will.
Why would this happen? Maybe because the community is under such pressure, that any outspoken opinion against the ‘guitar zeitgeist’ plays against the already limited chances each of these individuals has to make their musical dreams come true. We are not talking about Red Tape or Censorship, but an ‘unspoken’ rule to set aside anyone who does not conform to the tacit norms and beliefs of the community, whichever they may be.
Nowadays, those beliefs take the form of 100 kids playing rock-like tunes with guitar orchestras in after school programs. They dream of an America covered with guitars, with hundreds of thousands of clients (excuse me, students) buying guitars, attending concerts, and buying CD’s. None of the other areas of development in the classical guitar (Marketing, Cash Prize amount of competitions, Publicity, Institutionalism, Self Governance, etc) have been pushed as much as guitar orchestras in the last 10 years. They are sure this is the way. They are sure this is the future, and that’s why they concentrate their efforts almost exclusively on the idea of ‘guitars in schools’. What if they are wrong? What is the opportunity cost of putting all our efforts as a community to build guitar orchestras?
That’s where this blog comes in, not to create controversy, but to challenge some things we take for granted in the guitar community. If they are solid propositions, then putting them into question will only strengthen the need for such initiatives.
The next articles in this blog will explore potential alternate areas of development that may shed light on other areas of development for the community as a whole.