ASU guitar ensemble takes over TCA with classical rock

Guitar Performance students Henry Bayless and Robert Greenwald concentrate on their music while performing Roland Chadwick's Flowers for Jerome. This was part of the Performance with a View series featuring the ASU Guitar Ensemble which took place on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. (Photo by Micaela Rodriguez) ASU Guitar Ensemble students Henry Bayless and Robert Greenwald concentrate on their music while performing Roland Chadwick's Flowers for Jerome on Tuesday, Jan, 21 at the Tempe Center for the Arts. This was part of the "Performance with a View" series by nonprofit support group Friends of Tempe Center for the Arts. (Photo by Micaela Rodriguez)

The 24 members of the ASU Guitar Ensemble had a chance to showcase their guitar talent on Jan. 21 at the "Performance with A View" event at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

"Performance with A View" events are put on by nonprofit support group Friends of Tempe Center for the Arts. Gail Fisher, the founder, past-president and current secretary of the Friends for the Tempe Center for the Arts, created the event five years ago and said the goal was to provide a free music show for the people of Tempe.

“This is a public outreach program to show our appreciation to the citizens of Tempe who help to make this building possible,” Fisher said. “We have this wonderful relationship with the ASU School of Music, and what we do is, once a month from September through May, we get performers from ASU.”

The show started at 10 a.m. with free coffee and breakfast snacks available an hour beforehand for audience members. The guitar ensemble drew a large crowd, and all the seats were taken in the TCA orchestra practice room.

Guitar ensemble musicians embodied all the attributes of classical guitarists. None of them had picks or steel string guitars, and no guitar was plugged into an amplifier.

Instead, all members finger-picked nylon string, hallow-bodied, purely acoustic guitars. It produced a much lower sound, but when the members played in unison, full, vibrant and stunning music took over the room.

For the first musical number, the entire ensemble performed tango composition.

While orchestras normally consist of a large array of instruments, the ASU Guitar Ensemble effectively produced diverse tones, even though all of the members played the same instrument.

Jonathan Crissman, pursuing a doctorate in musical arts, conducted the ensemble. Crissman said he was pleased with the group’s performance and enjoyed leading the group of guitar players.

“Being a conductor, you’re in charge of so many different guitarists,” Crissman said. “And as long as they're watching you, you can do a lot with the different dynamic shaping and with articulations and things like that. Hopefully some of that came out today."

While the entire ensemble was guided by Crissman in the first and last songs, the five songs in between were featured duets, trios and quartets.

One musical number stuck out as two guitarists paired up with a violinist and clarinet player.

Guitar performance graduate student, Cheyne Fehser performed in the guitar orchestra, a guitar duet and played along with the violinist and clarinet player.

He said playing with the violin and clarinet accompaniment presents a different challenge for a classical guitar player.

“Their idea of being soft is probably our idea of being as loud as possible,” Fehser said. “So it’s like a challenge for them, too, because they have to remember to play quieter and us, we have to play as loud as possible.”

The crowd, consisting of mostly senior citizens, was very quiet and appreciative of the music to start their day — an important quality for this audience to have, because the quiet nylon string guitar needs a tuned-in audience to be heard.

Patricia Brandt, 80, comes from Chandler to every "Performance with A View" event. She said experiencing the talent of the ASU students is what brings her back every month.

“I think that that’s ASU’s gift in a way to the wider community, and it gives us a chance to see what’s going in the ASU music department and enjoy that,” Brandt said.

The next "Performance with A View" event featuring ASU students will be on Feb. 18, and the ASU Violin Studio will join in.


Reach the reporter at or on Twitter @Edmund_Hubbard

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