Guitar Foundation Of America Convention 2016
Summertime is one of our favorite times of the year. Not only do we love the weather and going to the beach, but we also look forward to one of our favorite events, the Guitar Foundation of America International Convention and Competition! We have been attending GFA for the past five years and we never want to miss one. This year GFA took place at Metropolitan State University in Downtown Denver, Colorado. We attended a lot of amazing concerts from inspiring performers this year. We also purchased the lesson package and received lessons from world renowned performers. This year’s vendor fair did not disappoint with an endless amount of guitars. The lodging was also convenient and comfortable. Denver was also a fun place to explore and see all the amazing sights the city has to offer.
The concerts at GFA this year were amazing and inspiring! Concerts take place multiple times a day during GFA. There are usually concerts at eleven o’clock, four o’clock, and eight o’clock. The performances feature solo and ensemble guitarists from around the world. The concert hall at Metropolitan State University was beautiful and had a surplus amount of seating. The hall had upstairs and downstairs seating. No matter where you sat in the recital hall the performers sounded great. We were able to attended performances by: Raphaella Smits, Thibaut Garcia, Fabio Zanon, Jason Vieaux, and Duo Melis. Thibaut Garcia, who won the prestigious GFA competition in 2015, performed a clean and flawless concert. He is an expressive and accurate performer. He changed the order of his program during his concert but he told a few short stories about some of the pieces before he performed them. Thibaut is touring Canada and the United States this year for his GFA tour and we would definitely recommend attending one of his concerts.
Jason Vieaux performed the opening GFA concert this year. He performed pieces from a variety of composers such as Mauro Giuliani, Isaac Albeniz, Pat Metheny, and Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. Jason was musical and the audience loved him. He projected well and we could hear him from where we were sitting upstairs. Jason also talked to the audience in between the pieces and provided us with information about the composers and the pieces.
Duo Melis was one of our favorite concerts during this GFA. They are phenomenal performers and a very inspirational duo to us. Duo Melis has great communication when they are performing and a perfect amount of expression. Their concert was very exciting and energetic. The audience gave them a standing ovation. Their program kept everyone entertained and amazed. We would highly recommend seeing them perform if you ever get a chance.
The lessons at GFA are always extremely helpful. It is a great opportunity to meet professional guitarists and receive lessons from them. It is also great to receive a different perspective on the pieces you are working on. We have purchased the lesson packages the past few years when we register for GFA. It is a great experience and we would highly recommend taking the lessons.
This year, Alex had lessons with Alexis Mazurakis, Tillman Reinbeck, and Michael Nicolella. In his lesson with Alexis and Tillman, Alex played the first movement of Sonata Romantica by Manuel Maria Ponce. Alexis and Tillman both gave different advice and suggestions about the piece. Alexis made suggestions such as, be careful not to accent slurs as much, and use the left hand to mute the last two chords of the piece. Tillman made a right hand suggestion to help improve tone, which was to make the index and ring finger knuckles even so that the ring finger would not have to overreach and compromise the hand position. He also suggested making a larger difference between the dotted 8th and regular 8th notes to help distinguish the two.
For his lesson with Michael Nicolella, Alex played the first movement of Suite Castellana by Federico Moreno Torroba, Fandanguillo. This lesson was geared more towards artistic interpretation and the many ways in which the piece or certain phrases could be played. Some differences he suggested were, playing in different positions, using a closed string instead of an open one, and focusing on accents and articulation. Each of these professional musicians gave a different insight into the pieces and were incredibly helpful.
Caroline also purchased the lesson package this year and received lessons from Susana Prieto (from Duo Melis), Marco Sartor, and Andres Hernandez Alba (from Aleph Guitar Quartet). All of the lessons were extremely helpful and the teachers were kind and fun to talk to. Caroline performed Tarantella by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco for all three lessons and each teacher worked on a different section of the piece with her. Some of the topics the teachers worked on with her were, tone, accents, bringing out different characters of the piece, fingerings, practicing hands a part, and slurs. All three teachers liked Caroline’s musicality and phrasing.
The lectures we attended this year were our favorite ones out of the five Guitar Foundation of America Conventions we have gone to. Throughout the week we attended four lectures, all of which had fantastic speakers. The first lecture we attended was held by Garrett Lee. The topic of his lecture was how luthiers optimize sound. Garrett’s presentation was fun, informative, and interactive. He passed around two pieces of wood, one spruce and one cedar, so we could tap on them and hear the difference in pitch between the two. Garrett’s lecture gave the audience more understanding on the stiffness, arching, and pitch of wood. All of this insight was meant to help us have a more in-depth conversation with the many luthiers at the GFA vendor’s fair.
The second lecture we attended was presented by Jim McCutcheon. Jim talked about an important topic, post- college survival in the guitar world. This was a popular lecture since all guitar majors need to find a way to make a living. Jim discussed different career paths such as teaching both privately or at the college level. He also discussed his experience starting his own business. He went into more detail about each way of teaching such as, how to build your brand, where to teach, what about your teaching makes you special, full-time and adjunct teaching, and building a teaching studio.
Not only did Jim discuss all the different ways we can make a living by teaching, but he also told us his story of how his studio went from teaching students in his house to a huge retail store with 400 plus lessons going on every week! Jim had a lot of knowledge as a teacher and as a businessman. He was passionate during his lecture and his story is inspiring! Jim had great energy and he seems to be a jack of all trades! A lot of audience members, including us, talked to him after his lecture. He was kind and answered any questions that were thrown his way.
The third lecture we were able to go to was given by Matthew Nishimoto. Matthew discussed the blind spot effect and how that impacts our teaching and our students. He taught us that we need to be aware of what the novice sees when we are teaching. Matthew also talked about how when we explain information to our students, we need to make sure that we are not making the information even more expert. He suggested that we all add an eye to our teaching and have someone observe us. By doing this we can find out if the outside observer can understand what we are trying to teach the student and give us suggestions on how to make our information clearer.
The last lecture we attended during GFA was a guitar society round table. This round table interested us since we just completed our first year on the Board of Directors for the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society. There were Presidents and Directors from four different classical guitar societies throughout the country. Each of them discussed a different topic. Topics included, fundraising, publicity and marketing, new technology platforms, collaborations, and educational outreach. This round table was insightful for us and many audience members that are involved in classical guitar societies. Not only did each of these round table members have a great understanding on each topic but they also answered plenty of our questions. The audience and round table members were also able to discuss new ideas and solutions to problems other societies have had. This round table gave both of us some good ideas that we can put to use at the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society.
This year’s vendor fair was held in the beautiful St. Cajetan’s Church, which was just a short walk away from the music building. There were so many guitars to play and so little time! We were able to play some guitars but definitely not as many as we wanted. There are always so many events going on at GFA that it can be hard to find time to try out guitars. We would absolutely recommend setting aside the time play a lot of these fantastic guitars from around the world. We did purchase a lot of music and accessories from D’Addario, Strings By Mail, Mel Bay, and Alfred Music. Whether you are looking for guitar strings, sheet music, accessories, or method books you will find what you are looking for at the vendor fair.
When you attend GFA you have two options for lodging, the campus dorms or a nearby hotel. The hotel for this year’s GFA was the Marriott SpringHill Suites at Metropolitan State University in Downtown Denver. Caroline stayed at the SpringHill Suites and loved it! The lobby was clean and beautiful and breakfast was included with your room rate. The hotel rooms were modern, clean, and spacious. Savarez hosted a fun reception in the upstairs lobby and dinning room of the SpringHill Suites The hotel had their own restaurant which was located right across the courtyard. The SpringHill Suites was a close walk to all the GFA events and to Downtown Denver. We were always a 5-10 minute walk away from a restaurant, bar, GFA event, or coffee shop.
If fortunate, the GFA host will offer their dormitories to the convention attendees. This is a great way to save a few bucks and meet some new people. When registering for the convention, there is a choice to stay in the dormitory, if available. There are options to stay in a room by yourself or with someone else. You can request a specific individual but you may get a complete stranger. At least you know that they will be a guitarist. The price per night adjusts with how many occupants there are in the room. This year Alex opted for the single, which cost him $40 a night. This is much cheaper than even the discounted rate offered at the local Marriott.
The room itself was quite pleasant. The dorm was an apartment style. Walking in, there was a common room with a table and chairs as well as a couch. There was also a small kitchen with a sink, refrigerator, and microwave. On each side of this common room were the bedrooms. Each bedroom had two beds, two desks with chairs, as well as a full bathroom. Fresh linens are on each bed but basic toiletries such as hand soap, shampoo, etc… should be brought with you.
Downtown Denver is a fun place to visit if you have never been there before. A lot of different restaurants and shops were within walking distance of the SpringHill Suites. There are also a lot of locations to visit that are within a twenty minute drive of Downtown Denver. A few of our favorite places to walk to were Larimer Square and the 16th Street Mall. There is a free shuttle that drives up and down the mile long 16th Street Mall. There are many places to eat and shop at the 16th Street Mall and riding the shuttle makes it easy to see everything the street has to offer. Larimer Square is very cute and has boutique shops and higher end restaurants within the block. One of the shops, Goorin Brothers, asked us to perform duets at their happy hour! It was a lot of fun to get a gig out in Denver and to perform at a hat shop!
One afternoon we decided to take out rent a bikes and bike around downtown. On the last day in Denver we decided to do a little more exploring and we drove to Red Rocks Amphitheatre. If you are ever in the Denver area you have to visit Red Rocks. It is a breathtaking, naturally occurring amphitheatre! People explore and work out in the amphitheatre during the day and they have concerts on most nights. Unfortunately, we were not able to attend a concert there but it is still an amazing place to visit. There are also many trails you can hike throughout the park. We ate lunch at the Ship Rock Grille inside the visitor's center. Lunch was delicious and they serve a variety of food for everyone. After exploring Red Rocks Amphitheatre we drove to the Coors Brewing Company, which is another great place to check out if you are in the Denver area! The Coors tour is free, fun, and they serve you three free glasses of your choice of beer!
Each GFA there is a local bar that is a designated hang out for the people attending the convention where they can meet the performers or other people after the 8pm concert. This year’s after hours hang out was at the Rhein Haus on Market Street. Rhein Haus is a German style beer hall that has unique beers, sausages house made pretzels, and even Bocce Ball courts. It’s a great way to meet some top notch performers in a casual setting and the after hours bars usually have great deals while the convention is running.
The Guitar Foundation of America Convention in Denver this year was full of fun, astonishing performances, and informative lectures. We have a terrific time at every GFA convention and this year was no exception.. This year we went to a lot more lectures and we are glad we did because they were very informative. The concerts were inspiring. It can be hard to see everything GFA has to offer so you have manage your time and pick certain events over other ones. We love that the GFA convention moves to a different location every year because we are able to see and explore so many cites. Denver is a great city to explore and the mountains surrounding the city are breathtaking. If you are visiting, definitely take some time to check out Red Rocks Amphitheatre, you will not be disappointed! We are always sad when GFA comes to an end but are also excited for next year! We will be attending GFA in Fullerton California next year and we hope you do too!
Until Next Year,
Caroline Kubach & Alex Pollock
Dulcet Guitar Duo