The Classical guitar station on Pandora has been a bit of a saving grace for me the last few months. It’s my go-to relaxation and motivational background music these days. The score of my internal monologue if you will and the lullaby of my dreams as I attempt to shush my synapses into submission. The calming powers of classical guitar aren’t something I’ve always gravitated toward though. I’ve sort of matured into it over time, thanks in large part to the tireless work of the South Bay Guitar Society.
SBGS is a powerhouse of an organization, relatively small in the number of major donors and staff, but incredibly mighty when it comes to bringing top-notch guitarists to the Bay Area and exposing the local masses to tremendous talent.
For their 27th Concert Season (yes, 27, you’ve missed a bit if this is the first time you’re hearing about them) SBGS has invited some of the finest solo classical guitarists from around the world, including Mexico, Sweden, Russia, Cuba, Switzerland, Bulgaria and the USA. Among them, last month, was a much-lauded Russian artist named Vladimir Gorbach who I was lucky enough to hear play, and boy did he ever.
SBGS often times plays at the charming and acoustically friendly Le Petit Trianon in Downtown San Jose, so I was a bit concerned when I heard this particular concert would be in their alternate space, the Foothill Presbyterian Church. In addition to being worried the venue wouldn’t be up to snuff sound-wise, I can tell you, I very rarely step into a church for fear of bursting into flames upon entry.
For the acclaimed (and admittedly, incredibly easy on the eyes) Vladimir Gorbach, I was willing to risk instantaneous combustion. You’ll be pleased to know and perhaps not so surprised to hear that all worry about bodily flammability ceased upon hearing the first crisp note. The acoustics of the church (which also hosts its own Foothill Community Concert Series) were surprisingly brilliant and the program was diverse and beautifully played. And, why wouldn’t it be. SBGS is the expert, how and why would they ever lead me astray? They proved me a silly doubting princess indeed. And, I shall never doubt again.
I will also never understand how a single instrument can sound so wildly different from song to song and even within the same piece, but it does delight and he made is look entirely too easy if you ask me. Scarlatti Sonatas and Astor Piazzolla tangos floated and hummed through the space with magical resonance and reverberation. At times I was quite certain my own heart strings were somehow entangled in the strumming and plucking taking place on the modest stage. And, my jaw was permanently ajar during the encore piece when I would swear there was a harp, a music box and at least two other guitars on stage with him as he demonstrated the amazing transcendental properties of harmonics.
While I am certainly no expert at all (I took exactly four guitar lessons myself before deciding to postpone my concert career for a tad longer) I think that’s what is so enchanting about these concerts. They allow me to see some of the best musicians in an environment that is free of snobbery or judgment. I can enjoy and take away so much on my very basic novice level of understanding while the person next to me is picking up an entirely different, more advanced and nuanced experience. SBGS takes away all the borders and boundaries, quite literally from this genre of music and presents classical guitar in a fabulously unpretentious and uncomplicated format.
From a full season of concerts, to master classes, to a very supportive monthly open-mic for all levels of players at the Vineland Branch Library, and numerous free concerts year-round at Veterans and Senior Homes, there really isn’t anything this organization doesn’t do in the name of the classical guitar. Which brings me to my next point.
The 9th Annual GuitarFest is happening this weekend, March 8-10th and it’s pretty much everything guitar you could possibly want. And, then some. And, then some more. And then…a bit more. And, it is a great opportunity to introduce, reintroduce, or just simply enjoy a variety of guitarity. That’s right, guitarity. It’s a word, because I made it up, and I think you know exactly what I mean by it. Sat and Sun daytime (and mainly free activities) are taking place in the Evergreen Valley High School theater at 3300 Quimby Road in San Jose and Fri and Sat evening concerts will be offered at Le Petit Trianon Theatre with tickets priced at just $15-$30.
In addition to all the great guitar provided at very affordable prices, served with a smile, year round, SBGS has really embraced their online technology and I really have to give them a shout-out for that. Their website is a fantastic resource for those wanting a bit of education before and/or after each concert. Concert artist’s video clips, pre-concert radio interviews, links to relevant guitar websites and blogs, links to buy CDs, social media links and even program notes are all incorporated into an easy to navigate site that further enriches your guitar experience.
There’s nothing like live music and certainly the South Bay Guitar Society is one of the most prolific organizations ensuring that there’s plenty of live music to go around for everyone. So much so in fact that I find it flat-out shocking that I have yet to actually complete a review for any of the events of theirs that I have attended.
In a departure from my normal format, I shall bestow the first organizational review upon the SBGS. An inspirational, professional and wonderful group, SBGS gets a well-deserved 5 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for excelling in just about everything they do. Give yourself the gift of guitarity and attend an SBGS event this year. I wager after a single helping they could become a regular part of your balanced arts nutritional intake!