The website of Chris Anderson, Classical Guitarist
"Masterful play from an
animated performer who is a
man of few words and
plenty of guitar playing
made for a great entertaining evening"
The Washington DC Guitar Society
Born in 1953, Classical Guitarist Chris Anderson is one of those Baby Boomers that was caught between cultures. He's old enough to have been raised in the neat and tidy world of the Eisenhower years, but not quite old enough to have been on the front lines of the messy social revolution of the 1960's.
That sense of not easily fitting into recognized molds explains a lot about who he is and how he got here. For outsiders trying to get handle on who he is, the contradictions can be a little confusing. And although he had the most unforced introduction to Music imaginable, he had to make his own, sometimes messy path to the Classical Guitar.
At the age of seven, his parents moved from Canada to a new house in Hagerstown, Maryland. It's a small town in the western part of the state. The music store across the street quickly became his second home, and its owners generously took him under their wings. In an effort to put his constant presence to some good use, they showed him how to set a sound-post on a violin, how to change the head on a drum, and how to replace pads on a saxophone. And of course playing a little music on instruments to test them out was an absolute necessity.
Beyond the basic introduction to musical instruments, crucial music concepts often came casually as a ten minute discussion during a lull in the retail traffic. He had one such encounter with the owner's daughter in front of a piano about the difference between Major and minor chords. Teachers waiting for the next student to arrive and customers trying out instruments gave him impromptu lessons. Out of that informal environment, the guitar emerged as his instrument of choice and he took to it very quickly.
When the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan show in February of 1964, music stores across America immediately began reallocating the bulk of their floor space from pianos to guitars and drums. Suddenly many of his friends were guitar players as well. Everybody taught everybody else what they knew. Hours were passed lifting and resetting the needle on and off vinyl discs trying to capture the sounds coming out of their record player.
Jimi Hendrix's first album came out a few years later in 1967. Most of Chris' guitar playing cohorts hurried off chasing eleven on their amps. It was around this time that Chris' musical interests started to separate him from the pack.
His passion was ignited by the sound of unamplified instruments. Fueled largely by an older brother's interest, Chris dived deep into the recordings of the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Dave Van Ronk, and the Reverend Gary Davis. All of that was always accompanied by a healthy side of Bob Dylan, whose first ten albums he still regards as amongst the most significant ever released. And although he was quite proficient at playing the guitar with a pick, plucking the strings with his right hand fingers consumed more and more of his efforts.
As he moved through high school, the guitar had become his third arm, occupying many hours of his daily routine. Chris was working at the music store and playing in church three times a week. A trio he was in with some classmates started playing at events beyond their school assemblies. He was also appearing more and more frequently as a solo performer at folk music venues normally reserved for older artists.
Despite his obvious consuming interest in the instrument, no adult ever suggested that he study the guitar after High School. At the time, there where less than a dozen schools in North America that offered college degree programs in Guitar Studies. None of them were ever brought to his attention.
It was a very different time back in the late 1960's for the Guitar in American Secondary Education. In 2011, when the Curtis Institute of Music finally got around to establishing a program of Guitar Studies, John Mangan, it's Dean and a Classical Guitarist himself, had this to say in that institution's newsletter, "The Classical Guitar has always had an uneasy relationship with major American conservatories. When I took my first guitar lesson in 1972 ... the idea that the guitar would ever be taught at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music - the holiest of holies, the quintessential conservative conservatory, what many considered the most elite music school on the planet - well, colonizing Mars would have seemed like a more likely undertaking."
The closest thing Chris received resembling Guidance Counseling was the advice from a Church Organist who had heard him play. She made a point of taking him aside to urge him, "to switch to a serious instrument such as the violin or piano." Like most advice he has received from others about what to do with himself throughout his life, he dismissed it without a second thought.
In an article posted on the website of Guitars International entitled, "Jose Tomas, Memory and Legacy", Washington DC Lutenist Howard Bass states that , "In the 1950's anyone who knew anything about Classical Guitar knew one name: Andres Segovia. By the 1960s, the immensely engaging English lutenist and guitarist Julian Bream was touring the U.S. and Europe, and Australian phenom John Williams had begun his illustrious career. Half a century later, the proliferation of superb guitarists - and, not coincidentally, superbly crafted guitars - is nothing short of astounding. In the middle of the 20th century, however, if you wanted to study guitar your choices were few: Segovia master classes in Spain and Italy, a handful of conservatories, mostly in Europe, private study with teachers who may have been just a few steps above beginning level themselves."
There are of course a number of notable Classical Guitarists of Chris' age that earned a college Guitar Degree as a foundation to a successful career. The winners of the legendary 1975 Toronto International Guitar Competition (Isbin, Barrueco, Leisner, & Fisk) were the beneficiaries of College degrees. It's difficult to imagine now but at the time, they were an exception to the rule and on the leading edge of a huge change in American Guitar Education.
On the other hand, Chris' story is by no means unique. It is closer to the rule for guitarists older than Chris such as Micheal Lorimer, Oscar Ghilia, or Christopher Parkening. It is interesting to note that Chris was 23 years old when he met another classical guitarist for the first time.
Chris arrived as a college freshman in January of 1972 at Bethany College, a small campus near the Ohio River between Wheeling, WVa and Pittsburgh, PA. History seemed like a great choice of study. He was an avid reader, and it had been his favorite subject since he was in grade school. As he had a head start on the topic, the courses left a lot of time for his guitar playing.
Coincidentally, the area was a hotspot of several top notch coffeehouses featuring live folk music as entertainment, as well as a thriving acoustic music scene in the local bars. He was immediately recognized as a hotshot multi-instrumentalist that could do a jaw-dropping set at the snap of a finger. He quickly became the go-to backup player who could sit in with any solo performer that was passing through, with little or no rehearsal. Local bands recruited him and it wasn't long before he was playing up and down the Ohio River from Stuebenville, OH to Huntington, WVa.
It was the morning after one of those gigs that he woke up in Columbus, OH while his midterm exam in English Literature was taking place. A few days later, the Dean of Students called him into his office to offer Chris his congratulations on all the success his music was earning him locally. In a very nice way, the Dean reminded him that he was attending college because of a generous financial aid package that could not be extended any further unless his grades kicked into high gear immediately.
As it turned out, the Dean's message coincided with a growing feeling on Chris' part that his talent had taken him about as far as it was going to without some in depth formal music training. He had recently discovered a recording of Bach's Double Violin Concerto in d minor. It was a "Paul on the way to Damascus" listening experience that left him enthralled and baffled. That led him to other Bach recordings which only increased his sense that there were other ways of making music that he knew nothing about. He enrolled in a multi-semester series of Music Theory courses and started to hit the books.
When a friend gave him a recording of Bach played on the guitar, his future path revealed itself to him. Within a few days, he had sold his steel string instruments, acquired a classical guitar, and had gathered up a few books of classical guitar music from local music stores. After several months of independent study, the college's piano professor agreed to oversee his classical guitar efforts. He gave his first recital to a small group of fellow students in December of 1975.
Back in his hometown after graduating, Chris started a twelve year stretch of teaching and performing. While he was away at college, the classical guitar's broad acceptance into America's colleges and universities was just starting to gain some traction. An hour's drive down the interstate from his hometown, the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music (now Shenandoah University) in Winchester, Va. had just started a new guitar program under the supervision of Glen Caluda, from whom Chris took private lessons for a couple of semesters.
Chris also discovered a Classical Guitar scene in Washington, DC. In addition to concerts and shops, there were Master Classes. These were conducted in a manner that is strikingly different from the typical two-hour Master Classes commonly offered today.
These took place for four hours each day from Monday through Friday. Ten students took turns performing pieces and receiving lessons from the Master as everyone else observed. The week culminated in the artist's Saturday night concert. Chris participated as a performing student at classes given by Michael Lorimer and Jose Tomas.
The format was an intense, immersive experience that had been well honed over the previous decades by the globe-trotting Maestro Segovia. Now coming towards the end of a life that spanned over 90 years, Segovia had dominated rivals and successors alike, leaving very little room for anyone else in the public's Classical Guitar awareness. However, when he died in 1987, the small number of university level guitar programs that had existed in the USA when Chris was in high school had multiplied to well past a hundred with more and more opening every year.
As Chris' efforts in his hometown started to yield results, he was being asked to perform. His recitals were the first solo Classical Guitar performances to be offered in Western Maryland. He was featured on Maryland Public Television.
He also was a highly sought after teacher who worked with very young beginners, serious young adults preparing to study music at college, as well as other music professionals who where looking to sharpen their instrumental skills. For five years, he taught as a Lecturer of Guitar Studies at Shepherd College (now Shepherd University). He wrote the Curriculum for the first Guitar Performance Degree that was offered in the state of West Virginia. It was adopted by the Board of Regents for the entire state.
In 1989, Chris stopped teaching and began the first of several "day jobs" that he held over the next 30 years. They included stints in the Pipe Organ and Wood Flooring industries. It also began a pattern of extended alternating periods of intense private study and public performances. (He's currently serving as a Substitute Teacher in the local school system when it is is session.)
As a new century dawned, audiences' expectations of a player's skill level had risen as more and more people had the opportunity to hear well-played performances. Manuel Barrueco, one of the world's great guitar virtuosos, had been teaching at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, MD for about a decade. He was attracting many extremely talented students from around the world, several of whom remained in the Baltimore area after completing their studies. Barrueco was also offering week-long Master Classes during the summer in which Chris had the opportunity to participate.
Through contacts he made at those classes, Chris began private studies with two of Barrueco's former students. Franco Platino directed his studies for three years. He also worked with Ana Vidivic for another two years. During this time, he was a performing student at more than three dozen Master Classes taught by twenty of the world's leading players and educators, including Sharon Isbin, Pepe Romero, Raphaella Smits, Nicholas Goluses, Martha Masters, & Bruce Holzman.
From 2004 through 2009, Chris performed a series of thirty-five, well-received solo recitals throughout the Mid-Atlantic states. His appearances included concerts in Washington DC, Baltimore MD, Richmond VA, Pittsburgh PA, and Wilmington DE. Interviews were featured on WAMU 88.5 FM, NPR from the Nation's capital, as well as the stations of the West Virginia Public Radio Network. He was included in concert series at several college campuses including Princeton University in Princeton NJ, and James Madison University in Harrisonburg VA. His writings were published in Classical Guitar Magazine out of England.
For Christmas in 2009, he received the generous gift of a piano. He had never lived with a piano although he had always wanted to learn to play one. It wasn't too much time before the piano was occupying his musical energy. He started private studies with the local leading teacher of keyboard studies, the late Clair Johansen.
Over the next five years, his piano studies yielded some unexpected results. Using all ten fingers in the same way on the piano for an extended period of time brought a renewed vigor to his hands. And the relative ease of playing the piano at faster tempos without sacrificing any tone quality also elevated Chris' expectations of his guitar playing.
The 2020's will bring Chris to the point that he will be looking back on six decades of guitar playing. Currently, he is preparing for yet another return to the public arena. He's making plans to resume playing concerts and teaching. He is also eager to share his work as an arranger and transcriber. Over the years, he has accumulated many works ranging from a book on the Fundamentals of Making Music With a Guitar, and arrangements of Jazz standards, to dozens of transcriptions of lute music.
Percussionist Steve Wright, Chris' longtime friend and collaborator, was recently asked by a younger local musician what it's like to play with Anderson. He replied, "The thing about Chris is that you never know what's coming next. A Duke Ellington tune, an English lute Pavan or maybe a Bach Sarabande, improvisations, some hot twelve bar blues or some original works ... the variety is staggering and it's all well played. He's a musician's musician."
If predictability is what you are looking for, it's safe to say that what comes next for Chris is more of his free range curiosity. And that will most likely be accompanied by his unchecked point of view, a continued deep connection to his inner voice, and a fearless willingness to follow it wherever it takes him.
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