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EnrichedCultural Views

October 19, 2015

Today is a guest post dealing with issues of bi-musicality with respect to the role it plays in the life of the marvelous guitarist from Calgary: Brett Gunther. I first met Brett when he was starting a Master’s program at University of Calgary, then sometime last year I began noticing him posting pictures from various pop music venues with bandmates. I started thinking about the relationship many of us classical guitarists have with popular music. Since I have never had the band experience it seemed natural to ask questions of someone who had. The questions I posed to him were:

1] what changes do you notice in your classical guitar practice [playing of teaching] that result from your experience  working in in another musical context i.e.  a pop music band?


2] in what ways has you classical background helped/hindered your growth as a popular musician?

The following is Brett’s response:

Both of these questions are difficult to answer: both styles have been a part of my life since I’ve been playing guitar.  In many ways I’ve found myself feeling almost embarrassed about my background as a popular musician when I’m performing in classical music circles and audiences, and I’ve had the exact same feeling playing in bands in bars and clubs trying to explain to people that I play, perform, and study classical music as well, trying to explain to them why it’s just as fascinating and exciting to me.

I think itimgres-1‘s easier to understand my interest in both worlds by first considering myself as a music lover before ever considering myself a musician.  I hadn’t been playing guitar long, perhaps only a couple of years, before I started playing in band with friends.  At the same time I was already studying classical guitar quite seriously with a teacher.  Through playing with bands I was very quickly introduced to the “all ages” music scene in Calgary and exposed to non-mainstream music and musicians in these sort of sub culture scenes and venues that were very far removed from what was being played on radio and television.

As my interest in seeking out non-mainstream music was developing, I was getting exposed to classical guitar compositions that I quickly realized were a sub culture of classical music itself.  Going to a classical guitar concert was just as obscure and off the beaten path as going to see some independent punk or hardcore band.  The term DIY (do it yourself) was always thrown around in the punk rock scene, but when a performer is playing a concert with nothing but a guitar and a chair to and audience of 20 people in a rented out church… DIY can you get!?

I think my entire musical life has been really just looking for the next “fix” and everything I listen to sends me down another path wondering what else is out there.  Right now I have to say that I’m spending most of my time listening to Glenn Gould, and complete collections of orchestral compositions from figures such as Mahler conducted by Bernstein and Bruckner conducted by Karajan, and then trying to enrich my playing on our funny little instrument with this in my ear.  Will I ever find that feeling I got when I first heard the Serenade for Horn, Tenor, and Strings by Britten with Peter Pears’ voice, or the chills I got hearing Ives’ 2nd Piano Sonata?  What about the first time my dad put Led Zeppelin IV on the turn table or time I saw my first punk rock show with I-Spy?  Or how about the first time I heard Segovia play Ponce’s Sonata Romantica and Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra?

I realize this is becoming a bit of a long answer, but I think it’s the only way I can really explain how both are part of my life.  I wish many more people would discover classical music for themselves, and I wish many more classical musicians couimgresld go a little out of their way to discover ‘popular music’ outside of the mainstream.  I certainly don’t mean to say that I’ve balanced both worlds or have all the answers, or even come close to listening to it all but I’ll certainly try, just like I’ll try to figure out how to play guitar one of these days!

So to answers both of these questions all I can say is that I firmly believe that both worlds have enriched my playing on either side of things.  I could say some long boring things about how one has improved my technique, while the other has improved my ear (could be either one by the way), and although maybe at times I’ve felt that I’ve needed to identify with one over the other I think I’ve settled on the fact that both are a part of my life.

I will be posing more questions to Brett in the future, and wish to thank him for his generous response.


Some audio and video clips of his playing are to be found here:

The local religious leader invited Nasrudin over for dinner one night. Nasrudin, having not eaten that day, was famished when arrived. For two hours, the religious leader spoke nonstop about a variety of topics and had yet to offer Nasrudin any food. He grew more annoyed with each passing minute, until he finally interrupted, “May I ask you something?”

“Indeed!” the religious leader answered, hoping for a question to prompt him in his virtuoso verbosity.

“Do any of the people in your stories ever eat?”



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