World-class Classical Guitar in Wilmington, Delaware

Convention Report – 2015 GFA Convention and Competition

Thanks to contributors Caroline Kubach & Alex Pollock for this report on their experiences at the 2015 GFA Convention and Competition!

Oklahoma City University
The Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) held its 2015 Convention and Competition at Oklahoma City University (OCU) from June 23rd-28th. The five day long convention had many activities for its attendants including concerts, lessons, master classes, technique workshops, lectures, and a large vendor fair with everything from guitars to sheet music and accessories. Also taking place throughout the week was GFA’s International Concert Artist Competition. The 1st prizewinner at the GFA competition receives a fifty-concert tour across North America, a publication with Mel Bay, recordings with Naxos and GHA Records as well as various other prizes from GFA sponsors. This year’s winner was Thibaut Garcia of France.

The week was full of great concerts. The VIDA Quartet, made up of various U.K. guitarists, performed the opening concert on Tuesday night. It was a great way to start the festival with superb pieces, many of which the quartet arranged themselves, including Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin and the Simple Symphony, Op. 4 by Benjamin Britten. They also played the Carmen Suite arranged by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s William Kanengiser. The performance was nothing less than mesmerizing and entertaining to say the least. One thing of interest was that the players were all reading their music from tablets. The players were able to move to the next page by using foot pedals connected to the tablets.

The Assads
There were many other fantastic concerts that took place during the convention: Pavel Steidl, Ekachai Jearakul (playing in Wilmington in March!), Traiq Harb, the Assad Brothers, and The Kupinski Guitar duo to name a few. Steidl captivated his audience with modern pieces such as Hommage a Jimi Hendrix. Last year’s competition winner, Ekachai Jearakul, played a very expressive and musical set of pieces by Mertz, Legnani, and Brouwer. Other notable performers were Tariq Harb, a violinist turned guitarist whose love of music is obvious through the musicality that comes from his guitar in addition to the expressions on his face. The Assad Brothers, whose level of ensemble skills is of an extremely high caliber, put on a great concert. With pieces by Albeniz, Piazzolla, and a piece composed by Sergio Assad it was clear as to how their names have become so illustrious in the world of classical guitar. The Kupinski Guitar Duo performed the closing concert of the week starting with a wonderful arrangement of Rossini’s La gazza ladra – Ouverture. Their playing was well balanced and remarkably beautiful.

Merch
One advantage of going to the GFA convention is the chance to go to the vendor fair and peruse through the thousands of pages of sheet music before making any purchases. There are many companies such as Mel Bay, Strings By Mail, D’Addario Foundation, and Les Productions d’OZ selling strings, sheet music, and other accessories. There are also always plenty of luthiers who have brought guitars to sell. Whether you are looking for a new guitar or not, it is a great opportunity to try out many different guitars. It gives you a chance to find what kind of sounds you like or dislike in a guitar. You are also able to meet the luthiers and learn everything about what went into the building of each guitar. Besides sheet music and guitars, there are plenty of accessories for classical guitarists such as, strings, nail files, guitar stands, music stands, orchestra lights, and guitar supports.

One of our favorite vendors this year was Barnett Guitar Supports. Their new support utilizes rare-earth magnets that are safely and carefully placed in the body of your guitar. The magnets inside your guitar attract to the opposing magnets in the support. The support is extremely adjustable, very sturdy, and does not harm the guitar at all. There are two models available. The Umbra, which is a straight black plastic-like material and the Original which is made of Rosewood. We both bought the Original and have found it to be a great support.

The past few years that we have attended the GFA convention we have taken advantage of the lesson package that is offered. Fifteen of the concert artists are registered to teach and anyone who has signed up for the convention can enlist themselves to take lessons while registering for the convention. First you rank your preferred teachers from the given list; then you find out who your three 30-minute lessons will be with when checking in at the convention. This year Caroline received lessons from the 2014 GFA Competition winner Ekachai Jerakul, Fernand Vera of Kithara Duo, and had a surprise lesson with Martha Masters because her originally scheduled teacher’s flight had been rescheduled. Alex had lessons with Amanda Cook of the VIDA Quartet, Issac Bustos of the Texas Guitar Quartet, and Dimitris Kotronakis. It is a wonderful opportunity to take lessons with such great musicians and it is always an educational and inspiring experience. We were also lucky enough to be able to receive a duo lesson from Fernand Vera. He was even willing to help us out with a duet we were working on! Fernand gave us exceptional advice on the piece we were working on and spent an hour with us making sure we could convey our musical ideas.

The Guitar Foundation of America provides multiple accommodation options for its convention attendants. This year there were two hotels, the Marriott and Renaissance, which were located about fifteen minutes away from Oklahoma City University. A special GFA rate is provided for each night the convention attendants stay in the hotels. Caroline stayed in the Marriott where she had a delightful stay. The lobby was clean and the restaurant had a great menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The room that Caroline stayed in was especially tidy and spacious. The downfall of staying at one of the hotels was having to follow the shuttle’s schedule that started at 8am and ran until 11pm. The shuttle came every fifteen minutes except during concerts. Previous conventions such as the ones held at Fullerton in 2014, Louisville in 2013 and Charleston in 2012 all had hotels within walking distance of where the convention was held. Having to plan our time around the shuttle made us realize how convenient a hotel near the convention is.

For those who wanted a cheaper alternative to staying at a hotel, some of the convention universities in the past few years have been able to open up the dormitories. By staying at the dormitories, convention goers can stay for less than half of what the hotels charge. Alex chose to stay at the dorms of OCU and was pleasantly surprised at how nice they were. Alex stayed in a two-person dormitory that had a common area with chairs and a couch. There was also a small kitchen that held a sink, mini-fridge, and microwave. Each side of the common room had a lockable door that led the bedrooms that had a desk, dresser, queen-sized bed, and a full bathroom.

Practice Rooms!
The rest of campus was just as accommodating to the convention goers. On the bottom floor of the Wanda L. Bass School of Music Building you could find a wing of practice rooms that were a musicians dream. Many of the rooms had upright pianos or keyboards with a shelf built into the wall above that could fit two guitar cases. There were also large mirrors built right into the wall so that students can watch themselves practice. A thick material lined the majority of the walls to work as sound proofing and each room even had its own thermostat. There were two large rooms on the main floor where the vendor fair was located and the lectures and master classes were held. The Kirkpatrick Auditorium where the main concerts were held comfortably sits up to 1,000 people. The room had nice acoustics and helped to make the concerts even more enjoyable.

Rent-a-Bike
While there is so much to do at the GFA convention, there are also fun things to do in the city surrounding the convention. We took our last afternoon to explore Oklahoma City on rent-a-bikes. We had the opportunity to ride through the botanical gardens and the surrounding park that was only a few blocks away from the Marriott hotel. From there we rode across the city to the solemn ground that was the Oklahoma City bombing memorial and museum. We then rode to an area near the Marriott called Bricktown, where many restaurants, bars, coffee shops and a movie theatre can be found. All of these attractions reside along a canal which offers boat rides and tours.

Tapwerks
At every GFA convention there is an after-hours location that everyone is welcome to go to. The shuttle would be done for the evening so anyone staying at the dorms would have to take a taxi to the after-hour’s location. This years after-hours was held at TapWerks Ale house. TapWerks is an old world style pub with a rich atmosphere that boasts more than 100 bottled beers and 106 beers on tap. Many of the performers and convention attendees would go there after the evening concert and have a great time hanging out, meeting new people, making new friends, or catching up with old friends.

The Guitar Foundation of America convention is certainly one of our favorite vacations of the summer. This year’s convention at Oklahoma City University marks our fourth consecutive year attending the GFA convention and it will most certainly not be our last. The opportunity to see some of the world’s top classical guitar performers, take lessons with them, and to play some world-class guitars is a chance you should not miss. We both highly recommend this amazing convention and will definitely be attending it for many years to come. We hope to see you in 2016 when the next Guitar Foundation of America convention will be held at Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado.

Until then,
Caroline Kubach & Alex Pollock

To learn more about the GFA Convention and Competition, and to sign up for next year’s convention, please visit the GFA Website at http://www.guitarfoundation.org/.


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WCGS

Started in June, 2009

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