Studio News

March 24th, 2012 Our Day at The Loyola Marymount Classical Guitar Festival

Donna Zitzelberger

I am beyond exhausted, but couldn’t wait to get up this morning and write an account of our day at the Loyola Marymount University Classical Guitar Festival, hosted by Martha Masters, guitarist and chair of the classical guitar department at LMU. .   I found out about this amazing event about three weeks ago and asked the advanced classical students if they would like to attend.   I got an enthusiastic response, and the plan was set into action.  Jeremy Elder, Thomas Lukasiewicz and Andy Slavin started learning new parts and rehearsing.

Yesterday, morning (Sat March 24) we left St. Judes at 7:30 am and got back at 11:15 pm (yes, the kids were keeping time because they were so struck by the long day and how they made it through!).

We were the first to arrive, got ourselves signed in, and took our seats in the first class. It was quiet in the auditorium.   Then the doors swung open and masses of kids with guitars came swarming in, unloading, and began tuning.  Close to 200 classical guitar students from all over – some as far as Washington, D. C.

Our class was led by Risa Carlson She led us through a wonderful warm-up that reviewed technique of the right and left hands and also spent time throughout talking about how to practice. .She spoke loads about playing slowly and carefully. I thought to myself:  “Yeah! I nag about the right things in lessons and classes!”  She had great exercises – lots coinciding with my curriculum of focusing on good sitting position and good hand position. I also got a lot of new ideas for exercises that I’m thrilled about.

Jeremy, Thomas, and Andy were to perform in the Young Artists Ensemble Concert; so when the class was over, we were sent to our pre-concert warm-up room.  A student in the college classical guitar program (Ryan) was assigned to help us find our way through the day.  Ryan is a sophomore in the guitar program at LMU.  We were in one of the faculty’s music offices – small room filled to the brim and overflowing with the stuff of music – great atmosphere.  The kids got to work rehearsing their ensembles.  For the first time, I noticed that they were listening to each other and not just focused on their own parts.  One student had a glitch in his timing and the other students just followed him, working it out without a hitch.  This was such a breakthrough!  When they were done, I pointed it out emphasizing how they had matured in their playing.

Ryan came back and directed us to the “green room”.   Before the boys went on, two 9-year olds were to go on.  One was Martha Master’s daughter and another was a private student of Martha’s.  They were so cute I could hardly stand it.  I told the boys, “Welp – this is going to be a tough act to follow – hard to compete with the cute factor.  Is there some way you can shrink your almost six-foot height down?”  The little ones giggled and the boys cracked up as well as the stage crew. We all then started to relax and enjoy the moment.   Soon, it was time for our group to take the stage.  The boys walked out to a loud applause – I walked into the audience, stage right (the theatre is shaped like a bowl with the stage at the bottom and the seats above — my favorite kind of theatre), so it was easy for me to slip off to the side and watch.  They played a Renaissance Dance called Bransl Double as a Trio and Bach’s Minuet in G as a Trio.  They had  a little glitch that they sailed right through because they were listening to each other so well!  The audience applauded loudly and they took their bows beautifully.

Then we went out to watch the rest of the show.  There were kids from small private teaching studios to music schools to High Schools for the Performing Arts.   I cannot tell you how incredibly inspiring it was to see all these kids playing classical guitar.  The kids in the high schools were very inspiring –  they were just so cool, so grown-up looking, and so dedicated.  Lots of the boys had long, rock hair; and I just smiled to myself as they sat and played amazing classical guitar ensembles.

The concert ended at 2:00 pm and we were crazy hungry.  Martha had arranged a BBQ for everyone.   So we woofed down our hamburgers and set off to our next event: a private ensemble coaching session.  Our coach was Ricardo (Ricky) Escobar – a great player, graduate of Loyola, and now a teacher assistant for USC’s guitar program.  We also later found out that Ricardo is a semi-finalist in the Christopher Parkening International Classical Guitar Competition this year at Pepperdine University.

Ricky listened to the kids play and the first thing he mentioned was that they sounded “seasoned”.  He went on to say, “Do you guys play together all the time; because you listen to each other really well”.  This was so exciting to hear in light of the fact that I had just noted before their performance how they have turned the corner in ensemble playing.   Ricky went on to talk with them about Bach and the ins and outs of playing Bach.  The boys and I were really engaged and learned a lot.

After that, the boys had “food” on their mind again.  They managed to raid the BBQ area and get some left-over hamburgers for another good meal.  We set down in the courtyard.  We were surrounded by kids hanging out, playing guitar, relaxing, talking, and having fun.  There was an exhibit area for guitar makers, sheet music, supplies, etc.  I purchased Andrew York’s new music that he will be recording; then sat down at our table to work on it.  Jeremy had his guitar out and played music while Thomas and Andy took a break to fly a Frisbee back and forth.  I was very glad the boys were content with figuring out ways to spend their time, as we now had 2 hours of free time before our next event.

I saw Ryan (our student rep) sitting down listening to an iPod and asked to talk with him about higher education in music.  He gave me a load of information about college programs and classical guitar auditioning processes.  Ryan got a full-ride at LMU based on excellent grades and classical guitar – very impressive.  I gleaned great information and realized I’m on a good track in providing my students with a solid foundation in technique.

Then I saw Bill Swick – the head of the guitar program at Las Vegas Academy Guitar Program (a high school for the performing arts). .  Bill must have brought close to 50 high school kids.  I introduced myself to Bill and told him that I have been researching his program and looking over his curriculum to get new ideas for my curriculum.  He was excited to share information.  Then he asked which High School I teach for.  When I told him that I teach elementary school level, and my high school students are private students, he was thrilled that I was teaching classical guitar at the elementary school level.    Then when I told him about starting the little ones out on ukulele, he said that he has a whole theory that ukulele is the way to go with the little kids and was thrilled I had infused it with the program.

Soon, Martha ushered us in to the Murphy Recital Hall for a group picture.

At 5:00 pm, my friend and guitarist Perf de Castro arrived.  I found out he was planning on coming to the festival in the evening, so I arranged a small private master class for the kids.  Martha graciously allowed us to use one of the music classrooms. Perf plays the 10-string classical guitar and the kids were excited to see it!

Each student had time with Perf to play their solo piece and have him give coaching on it.  The boys were very cute – they were incredibly nervous.   Perf is such a great teacher.  He is very laid back, yet very firm.  He immediately honed in on their problem areas – I nag about the right things in lessons!   After the class, Perf spent time talking about the 10-string guitar and then performed Tarrega’s “Carpricho Arabe” for us.

The boys were now hungry again, so we headed to a campus diner.  Perf had time, so he came with us.  It was fun for the boys to sit down and chat with this great player.

By 7:30 it was time to head to the evening concert with Andrew York Andy is my teacher – an amazing guitarist and teacher.  I am beyond blessed to study with him. I couldn’t wait for the boys to hear his compositions and the way he plays with such ease and beauty.  The concert was astounding – Andy seemed very inspired to play before this audience filled with young people.  The high school students from Las Vegas as well as Hamiliton High in LA were there; and they did all the “high school” kinds of woots and hollers.    Andy really connects with the audience and describes the process of writing his music, and gaining inspiration.  So in addition to the amazing music, one also learns quite a bit at his concerts.  He played pieces from his soon-to-be-recorded next CD – some of the music was being performed for the first time.  The boys and I loved the concert.  Afterwards we hung out for a bit in hopes that Andy would come out front.  And, he did!  I introduced him to the boys, we snapped a picture, and then he talked to them about playing guitar and writing his music.  The boys had purchased some of Andy’s sheet music and were ready with pens for him to autograph it.

Next stop:  The drive home!  I really thought the boys would fall asleep, but they didn’t.  They were animated in talking about the concert.  They said, “When we were at the diner we heard ‘Funky Town’ playing and said that now we’re going to have that song stuck in our heads all night!  But after Andrew York played just a few notes, he washed ‘Funky Town’ away.”   I cracked up!    On the way home we talked about different ensembles we could perform, and our upcoming recital, etc.  And, before you knew it, we were back at St. Judes – parents waiting for us.

We had an amazing, inspirational day at LMU and I am so grateful to Martha Masters for being a teacher that cares greatly about bringing the classical guitar to young people.  Apparently, this was the biggest showing yet at the Festival-196 classical guitar students!  Looking forward to next year!


  • Le (5 years)

    It’s so heartwarming when the little birds grow up and fly out of the nest, isn’t it??? 😉 Love the new website- it’s all growed up!

  • Perfecto (5 years)

    Hey Donna,

    Thanks again for letting me coach your kiddos! I had a great time with them and hope that they were able to come away with something positive about the whole experience.

    Love the new site!


  • Carol (5 years)

    What a fabulous opportunity for your students!!! I hope they know how fortunate they are to have teacher who searches for these events and then takes time out of her life to attend with them. And what special young men/musicians they are to dedicate a whole Saturday to broaden their talents!

    Thank you for writing about your day, I felt like I was there! BTW Congratulations on the new website! It’s awesome! I’m so proud of you!!!


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