This audio CD is the culmination of over 50-years of deep personal music study, capturing a body of music which has turned out to be unique and therapeutic in nature. It is a sonic reflection of the muse that speaks deep within us all, eternal music that unlocks the spirit; recorded on the only music instrument of its kind in the world that I know of that contains a great historical account of the Napa Valley in California. In today’s world, which seems to be evermore callus in recognizing the sensitive spiritual side of the human condition, it is comforting to know we have access to many means of advancing our inner being. This CD documents an encapsulated musical journey that can now be presented to you, the listener, for your benefit and enjoyment.
My music studies began before I could speak language. Music is a language of emotion based on organized sound and silence. Rarely is music thought of as a language, but I beg to differ. How is it that when I perform in public, it is always the children who turn to watch me playing and give me their full undivided attention? I believe it is because they don’t have those spiritual inhibitors yet established forming firewalls that block any such intervention. People today do not have the time to invest in their own spiritual well being. Everyone is vastly different from each other; yet, we all crave companionship, adulation, and personal satisfaction.
My first music teacher taught me the piano from ages 5-12. Beryl Thompson studied at Juilliard at one time; she also taught Greek to students of the New Testament Bible, and smoked cigarettes incessantly. She gave me a firm musical foundation, the kernel of truth I needed to springboard forward, and I still have my little Beethoven bust she gave me as a prize for learning my four-octave two-hands major and minor scales. I remember how she would gently slap the top of my hand with the eraser end of a pencil if I made a mistake. She loved me into becoming a musician for which I am eternally grateful. My mother, who played piano for the church choir, allowed me occasionally to stay at home from school to practice the piano. I recall her saying “Good-bye,” and she would return home from work after 5 p.m. to find me still playing the piano. And she would write me excuse notes to school that I was ‘sick.’ Unfortunately, at the age of twelve, rock ‘n roll diverted my attention to my piano studies as amps and guitars became the rage.
At the age of seven I took up the cello in elementary school only because, “It was an instrument that was taller than me,” and Mrs. Selvy said that all open positions for bass drum and trumpet had been taken and were now closed, so you could only choose between the violin and the cello. I also remember finding a piece of rosin in the back pouch of my school cello and biting into it thinking it was a piece of candy. It took a LONG time to get rid of the effects of my teeth sticking together. But, I grew to love playing the cello and coasted through high school in this fashion, all the while playing the guitar on the side.
But, then there was this single moment when I was stirred into believing that I should like to pursue the study of the cello seriously. That was when, by chance, I walked by an open door of a college orchestra rehearsing the Brahms Symphony No.3, with six cellos playing that haunting opening melody of the third movement, Poco Allegretto. I was immediately smitten and vowed that the cello would be my primary instrument from then on. It is still that way today.
As I was completing my senior year at The Conservatory of Music at the University of the Pacific I was given the opportunity of studying the cello at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland with Arto Noras, who placed second in the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition. So, I packed my clothes in my cello case, checked it into baggage and flew to Helsinki to study the cello! I remember having to memorize all my etudes and concerti and my lessons involved practicing four to fourteen hours a day. What else was there to do? I didn’t know Finnish and I had no money to travel with, so I just practiced and practiced every day for over a year. For example, at an early cello lesson I remember Arto telling me to play one note for two-hours straight, which I complied with and, consequently, learned a great deal about myself, not just how to play the cello. To relieve me of the tension and anxiety of practicing the cello, I had access to a Stella steel string guitar, that I played sitting in the corner on the little hexagon tile floor of the kitchen. There, I immersed myself in the blues and rock ‘n roll and charted the pentatonic patterns which I eventually expanded into a series of method books that illustrate the geometric tonal structural patterns of string instruments tuned in fourths and fifths that entitled TONIC TO CHROMATIC.
When I returned to the USA, I found it difficult, if not impossible to find work as a cellist. There weren’t the nine professional orchestras that Helsinki had to tap from and there wasn’t the support for the arts that I had felt in Scandinavia. Nevertheless, I continued to write, compose, practice, learned to play jazz cello and taught privately in addition to working other jobs to get by and make ends meet. After completing my first edition of my guitar method I then met my wife of thirty years. She helped to straighten my life out in terms of learning to work to create and mold your lifestyle. So, I went back to school, got my multiple-subject teaching credential with a supplementary credential in music and taught music and language arts/social studies classes to middle school aged students for twenty-two years. All the while I continued to play weddings, do recitals, and play corporate engagements as well as work constantly in defining myself as a solo-performing artist. My projects led me to design and build an electric cello, called a Cellektra, that I would play through a self-contained mobile amplification system with MIDI accompaniments that I arranged and assembled into separate catagories: Classical, Jazz, & Pop/Rock. In those early days I used cassette tape, then CD-Rs, and now I use iPods. I’ve commissioned specialists in their field to fabricate valve amps and effects pedals to compliment my electric cello, guitar and bass sound. I found that it is extremely important to network with others in achieving your intended goals.
THE GUITELLO AND THE BACH CELLO SUITES
In all of Western music, there is no work more influential to me than the six solo cello suites by J.S. Bach. Within these enigmatic pieces lies the essence of human existence, the DNA of human emotion scored for one soloist to play. They are open-ended works, written somewhere between 1713-1720. There exists no autograph copy; the earliest copy penned by Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife (some believe she wrote the suites). This music is eternal and it fascinates me how many interpretations there are of these pieces, both in score form and in recordings. They reach to the listener because they are French dance movements based in folk tradition, the music of the people.
The death of Jimi Hendrix on September 18, 1970 also focused my attention to the cello suites. I was in high school at the time and I came home from school, exceedingly bummed by the news, and just dropped the turntable needle anywhere on a side of the Are You Experienced? LP, just to hear Jimi’s voice speak to me. What he told me directly was, “I don’t live today.” And I remember standing there alone wide-eyed having just been spoken to by someone who’s no longer walking the planet. It was an epiphany of sorts, which caused me to dive ever deeper into my music, driven by Jimi’s creative energy, with the Bach suites being a big part of my regimen at the time.
For these reasons I decided to commission David Heitzman to build me an acoustic guitar-like instrument tuned as a 5-string cello, a violoncello piccolo, the instrument I needed to play the sixth suite in D-major. The sixth suite is the pinnacle work of the suites, a symphony all rolled up into one linear musical form. The music contained in the sixth suite has always eluded me because of the complex advanced technique required to just play this suite on a four-stringed cello! So, I found that by playing the suites on a flat-picked steel-stringed guitar/lute-like instrument tuned in fifths I was able to come up with a fresh and vibrant interpretation that communicates well to a listening audience. I found that I can play music phrases very delicately and with finesse, and that the listening public willingly accepts these suites interpreted on a plucked instrument instead of bowed. Don’t get me wrong; I also love playing the suites on a bowed four-string cello. When the instrument was finished, David and I began bantering about various names of what to call this hybrid of an acoustic guitar, cello, and the lute. It was David’s mother who finally came up with the name “Guitello.”
The historical connection of the Guitello to the Napa Valley comes from the fact that David Heitzman, through selective vintner connections, was able to secure some bottom planks of clear cut redwood that were the bottom floor of a 30,000 gallon cabernet wine vat built in the early 1940s by Cesare Mondavi, the father of Peter Sr. and Robert Mondavi. These 6″ thick planks were gummy on one side from over 60-years of vintage storage cycles and wormhole eaten on the other side. David had to extract the 1/8″ top from the center of the plank. Whether it’s the clear-grained redwood, the minerals impregnated in the wood from decades of holding wine, or a combination thereof, the warm vibrant tone of the Guitello’s sound is what strikes you first. What also struck me was how the interior of the body smelled like wine for a number of months!
RECORDING THE BACH SUITES #1, 2, 3
Coming to grips with the idea of recording the Bach cello suites is a daunting task. These pieces are so intimately personal to you. I kept putting off wanting to record them because there is no definitive way to play them, as they are such openly conceptual pieces. Every day you play them they change their sonic complexion according to the season, your demeanor, and the world you live in. I’ve read how Casals & Rostropovich refused to record them when asked, for years or even decades. And then, after recording them, their careers catapulted anew into the public limelight.
So, recently, it came to pass that it was now my time to record the suites. The situation came about through my association with an engineer friend of mine, Donald Setaro. Through Donald’s connections, we were able to rent a 444-seat auditorium on January 3-4, 2013 and record suites #1-3 on the Guitello. We pooled some nice condenser microphones, tube mic preamps, a Mac Pro tower with Pro Tools v.10, and built a mobile DAW system off to the side of the stage. I had intensely prepared for this recording session six weeks in advance by playing through those first three suites every day, by memory, until I could see the score in my sleep and play them through completely playing “Air” cello. I probably looked pretty funny like a person talking into the air through their cell phone headset.
Now, I have this excellently produced CD to distribute to listeners across the globe. Listening to this music causes the brain to rethink and remind itself to do unfinished tasks, make new contacts, and try out new methods of problem solving that weren’t previously implemented. It is music that is eternal in both scope and concept that will remain far beyond all other music we listen to currently. Presently, I am preparing to record the next set of suites #4-6.