Classical guitar comes to Riffs Acoustic Music
February 16, 2016
Salt Lake City-based guitarist Jon Yerby played in rock bands and he studied the licks of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The guitar style he makes his living with, however, is different.
Yerby plays classical guitar, and Park City will get an opportunity to see him in action when he plays Riffs Acoustic Music on Feb. 20 as part of the Full Moon Concert Series.
"I’m looking forward to it," Yerby said. "I don’t get up to Park City often, so this will be fun."
The performance will feature Agustin Barrios’ "La Cathedral," "Bardenklänge" by J.K. Mertz, "Torre Bermeja" by Isaac Albéniz, "Fantasia Sevillana" by Joaquin Turina and J.S. Bach’s "Chaconne BWV 1004."
"Barrios was known as the Paganini of the guitar who lived in Paraguay from 1885 to 1944," Yerby said. "The ‘Chaconne,’ which was originally written for the violin, is about 15 minutes long, and is an epic journey through all aspects of human emotions.
"Bach wrote this piece after hearing the news that his wife had died," he said. "He was out of town and came back home and wrote this piece. It takes the listener through the process of suffering and grieving."
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The Albéniz pieces were originally written for the piano, but have been transcribed for guitar and have become some of the most famous guitar pieces in the world, according to Yerby.
"I’ll also play some of my own arrangements of some popular tunes like Jeff Buckley’s version of (Leonard Cohen’s) ‘Hallelujah,’" he said. "I want to give the audience something they will be familiar with."
The initial challenge of performing a classical guitar concert is to keep the audience engaged on a mental level.
"The guitar is so familiar to everyone, but not all of us have been exposed to classical music," Yerby said. "So, from what I can tell, the word ‘classical’ in front of the word ‘guitar’ can also put some people off. They think they won’t connect with it or be interested in the music."
That misconception is one reason why Yerby loves the instrument so much.
"I’m not a guy who grew up listening to classical music, but it was something I grew to love as an adolescent and when I began to study the instrument in college," he said.
Yerby also appreciates how hard the instrument is to play.
"It is such an expressive instrument and we play it with our fingernails," he said. "Since everyone’s fingernails are different in sizes and shapes, each player brings out a different tone on the guitar.
"I remember when I was an undergrad at the University of Texas, my teacher was Adam Holzman, and one of his private students was a neurosurgeon," Yerby said. "The surgeon has been through several years of guitar lessons and told my teacher that playing classical guitar was the hardest thing he’s ever done."
Like a violinist faces the challenge of not having frets on the neck and having to stay in tune, the classical guitarist faces the challenge of striking the strings in a way that produces the correct sound.
"If you don’t play a note at the right time and the right way, sometimes you don’t even get a sound," Yerby said. "You have to pluck the strings in a way that produces a nice sound and that can take years to master."
However, these challenges enticed Yerby.
"I started out playing folk and pop guitar when I was 10 because my dad is a self-taught guitarist and singer," he said. "When I was five, he did what no sane parent would do and bought me a drum set."
After banging on the drums for a few years, Yerby began playing with his father’s guitar.
"My dad showed me the basics and then my parents enrolled me in lessons," he said.
After five or six years of lessons, Yerby heard a classical guitar, but didn’t know what it was.
"I told my teacher I wanted to play something Spanish and he taught me Carlos Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman,’ which was great, but it wasn’t quite what I was thinking about in my mind," Yerby said. "I remember getting a CD of the guitarist John Williams, not the movie composer, and hearing him play the music of Agustin Barrios. I had no clue how this guy was playing what I was listening to and I wanted to learn."
One day his teacher pulled out a classical guitar.
"He played this little piece called ‘Romanza,’ which is the quintessential classical guitar piece," Yerby said. "He was using his fingers to pluck the guitar strings as opposed to a pick and that was exactly what I wanted to learn."
After showing Yerby a few things the teacher refereed him to a classical guitar master.
"I had been playing rock, blues and all of that, which I still love, but to hear someone playing the guitar with their fingernails and getting the bass lines and the melody all at the same time, I felt there was so much more that could happen," Yerby said.
Throughout his career, Yerby has taught workshops and master classes at Berklee College of Music, Bridgewater State College, Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.
He was also the founding member of the Utah Guitar Trio and is the president of Utah Classical Guitar (http://www.usgs.org), a nonprofit, which was established in 1981 with the goal of advocating classical guitar music education and outreach.
"Playing classical guitar has many incredible rewards," he said. "But I think the mysterious quality is what draws people to the music."
Classical guitarist Jon Yerby will perform at Riff’s Acoustic Music, 1205 Iron Horse Dr., as part of the Full Moon Concert series on Saturday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person. RSVP by calling 435-647-1940. For more information, visit http://www.riffspc.com . For more information about Jon Yerby, visit jonpaulyerby.com.
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