Sunday, October 30, 2005

Organizing Classical Guitar Set Lists

One of the things that distracts me about some classical guitarist's set lists (Well, a LOT of solo guitarist's in other idioms as well) is that there is no "rhyme or reason" to them. Much of the time, the pieces selected are seemingly arbitrary in both selection, and in the order that they are performed. Just having a slow, fast, slow scheme isn't good enough, in my opinion, and selecting nothing but highly technical "show off" pieces really chaps my butt: You should - again, in my opinion - take the audience on some sort of a musical journey.

There are many ways to do this. You could start off with Renaissance pieces, work your way through the Baroque era, and wind up in the twentieth century, or you could start with Baroque pieces, play some high-classical stuff, and end up with some Spanish music: The organizational scheme is only limited by your imagination and repertoire.

I'm in an unusual position in that I compose most of my own pieces, I have a pop/jazz background (So I play some contemporary stuff, and I like musical eclecticism). But, anyone can come up with a scheme similar to the one I use if they put some thought into it. Surprising left turns and contrasts are certainly allowed, if they are effective.

Since I wrote a series of Figuration Preludes that progress around the circle of thirds starting in A minor, I organized my set list around those. Since they naturally alternate between minor and major modes, so does my set list (With one exception, which you'll see). Here is the first hour or so of my program, which I perform continuously, only taking brief breaks to sip some iced tea or something between "suites":

01] Figuration Prelude in A Minor - Hucbald
02] E-Axis Study in A Minor - Hucbald
03] Sarabande in A Minor - J.S. Bach
04] Sonatina in A Minor - Hucbald
05] Six Variations in A Minor - Hucbald
06] Classical Gas (In A Dorian, basically) - Mason Williams

As you can see, all of the pieces are in an A minor mode, the tempi progress slow, fast, slow, moderate, fast, fast, and the final piece is a "crowd pleaser" type of deal. I replicate the basic pattern of this suite in all of the following keys. This little suite of pieces runs about fifteen minutes.

07] Figuration Prelude in C Major - Hucbald
08] E-Axis Study in C Major - Hucbald
09] Bourree in C Major - J.S. Bach (It's a tiny little piece from one of the cello suites which I think is better on the guitar)
10] Sonatina in C Major - Hucbald
11] G-Axis Study in C Major - Hucbald
12] Guardame Las Vacas - Luys de Navarez (The variations start in C and end in A minor, which prepares for the next piece)
13] Desert Song - Eric Johnson (Also in an A minor modality)

There are soooo many nice guitar pieces in A minor that I used the Navarez piece (Which I love) to transition back to A minor for the Eric Johnson "crowd pleaser": Going from a Renaissance piece to a twentieth-century jazz/fusion improvisation with some Flamenco overtones actually works quite well. At least, I think so. This suite is about twenty minutes in duration.

14] Figuration Prelude in E Minor - Hucbald
15] E-Axis Study in E Minor - Hucbald
16] Sarabande in E Minor - J.S. Bach
17] B-Axis Study in E Minor - Hucbald
18] Bourree in E Minor - J.S. Bach
19] G-Axis Study in E Minor - Hucbald
20] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen (People love this piece!)

All three of my axial study sets converge in E minor because the axes function as the root, fifth, and minor third respectively, and I have no Sonatina for this key (yet); as a result, I had to use a couple of Bach pieces here (Which is no problem, because they are both superb, and the Bourree is a crowd pleaser all on it's own). This suite is also about twenty minutes long.

21] Figuration Prelude in G Major - Hucbald (This piece is required to recover from the Van Halen tap stuff)
22] B-Axis Study in G Major - Hucbald
23] G-Axis Study in G Minor - Hucbald
24] Minuet in G Major - J.S. Bach (The little piece from the Anna Magdelena Notebook)
25] G-Axis Study in G Major - Hucbald
26] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani (Originally in A, I transposed it down to G so it fits on a classical fretboard)

The preludes get progressively longer and more difficult, and the G Major G-Axis Study and the Satriani piece are two of the three toughest pieces in the first half of my program.

27] Figuration Prelude in B Minor - Hucbald
28] Menuetto in B minor - Hucbald
29] B-Axis Study in B minor - Hucbald
30] Scherzo in B minor - Hucbald (The movement from Sonata Zero)

"All Hucbald, All The Time" here, but I am planning to add another Minuet from Anna Magdelena after the B-Axis Study: The bizarre little piece I analyzed here a while back (And, interestingly, I recently heard that new scholarship has shown that this isn't by J.S. Bach, but one of his contemporaries, and (Sorry, can't remember the name) that this person also wrote the earlier Minuet in my set from Anna Magdelena - which comes as no surprise to me because these are weird little pieces that would be out of character for Bach (The earlier Minuet even has a parallel ninth in it!)). But, I don't care if Bach authored them or not: I like them, and that's all that matters. The Scherzo is the most difficult thing I perform... period, and I'm pretty wiped out by this point. One of the nice things about having a prelude after the crowd pleaser type pieces is that it gives needed recovery time, which is something to consider. Especially if you perform 2.5-3 hours or more in a night!

I play through D major, F-sharp minor, and A major before my dinner break, but those suites are still a "work in progress": I'm working on - get this - Leo Kottke's arrangement of Bach's Jesu for the D area, since it and all of my pieces in that key use a drop-D tuning, and - ta, da! - Steve Howe's "Mood for a Day" for F-sharp. The A major suite currently ends with "Stairway to Heaven", but I'm planning to replace that (Or follow it, more likely) with Chet Atkins' "Yankee Doodle Dixie", which absolutely, positively cracks people up in the extreme (Including myself).

Some other cool pieces I'm doing for later in the set are Joe Satriani's "Tears in the Rain" (C-sharp minor) and Steve Morse's "Point Counterpoint" (E major). You get the picture. I'm not really a "classical" guitarist, I just compose that way (And I did stay at a Holiday In Express once or twice). LOL!

In my opinion, more nylon string players should take this kind of an approach versus being so stuck-up about playing only "standard rep" stuff: I get a lot of gigs because people like the eclectic variety of pieces in my set. I intentionally stayed away from jazz over the past ten years or so, but I'm now even thinking about adding some Joe Pass and Pat Metheny stuff to my set. Why the hell not?

And another thing! ;^) ...


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