Working on Andrew York’s “Quiccan”

For the past several weeks I’ve been working on the fourth guitar part of Andrew York’s quartet “Quiccan.”  I am working on it for the purpose of performing it with three other guitarists, two recent graduates of a music school and the third is currently pursuing his degree.  All three are good players and I am very happy to be working with them. “Quiccan” is one of those pieces that doesn’t really have an easy part to play, unlike some quartets or ensemble pieces where there are distinct differences between the parts’ degrees of difficulty.  In this case all four parts are decidedly challenging because many of the motifs circulate through all four parts at one point or another.  That being said, there are a few in there that don’t come through my part that I must say I’m relieved that I don’t have to pull off at this point!

            Thirty years ago I was finishing my degree in music and my classical guitar technique was excellent, far far better than it is currently.  Then I would have found the piece challenging and I have been finding it to be quite a challenge now.  However, working on it has been tremendously rewarding and while I don’t expect to be able to perform it at the same concert speed as the LAGQ or the Aquarelle Quartet, I do believe we’ll do it justice, because all four of us are enjoying the process and are capable players.

            The things that I find most challenging aren’t necessarily the physical playing requirements, but rather the various time signature changes and tempo changes, largely because it has been quite awhile since I’ve had to deal with them.  Once I’ve heard what I’m supposed to do, and have internalized it sufficiently that I can feel it, it’s starts to become fluent.  I’ve found that actively listening to other folks perform it has been a great help, as has our quartet leader’s, Shaun Zimmerman, patience in re-running the passages to give me the opportunity to feel the inner dance within the parts.  It really ends up being more of a connection to the pulse of the section.  When I end up feeling it in my core, I nail it.  I’ve also come to grips with the fact that while my sight-reading is still quite good, I can’t rely on it to carry me through these areas and some of the more demanding sections.  I need to devote time to working through, and even memorizing sections so that I reliably hit what I need to, when I need to, and with the musicality that they deserve.

            Working on demanding pieces like “Quiccan” does require investing time and effort into both laying the ground work and polishing the parts to create the whole, but it is very rewarding work when it all comes together.  At our most recent rehearsal, we ran the whole piece for the first time and while it still needs much loving attention, just making it through with it all being definitely recognizable (hee, hee), was an excellent experience in itself.

Our first public performance of the piece is scheduled for mid-April, so we still have just short of a month to further knock it into shape.  It’s going to take more time and concentrated effort, but we’ll get it there.  I am heartily looking forward to it!