I love playing musicals, but after a run of shows is over, I often feel a letdown. The musicals that I've played demand a lot of focus. I typically spend a couple months drilling the difficult guitar parts over and over (and over and over), and then my schedule and energy are both taken up by dress rehearsals and shows. When a show is over, I often feel directionless, because I've been concentrating on the show music so much that I almost don't know what to do when it's done.
After my latest musical, Once on This Island, I felt the usual letdown. To give myself a break, I didn't touch a guitar for two days after the last show. I couldn't rest for long, though, because I was scheduled to provide the music for NWUUC the following Sunday, and Tea for Two has a couple gigs coming up.
When I got back into a normal practice routine, I didn't want to do the same old thing, so I'm shaking things up, stretching my guitar playing in a couple areas.
Lately, I've been spending as much time playing my nylon string guitar as my electric. That's because I'm practicing quite a bit of classical music, plus some guitar parts for a number of Celtic songs that I arranged for flute and guitar a couple years ago. I'm having a lot of fun with this. I had originally intended to focus on Irish folk music before a jazzer turned me to the dark side, so it's a blast to return to a style of music I've always loved.
As far as classical music, I'm practicing parts for flute/guitar duos. While I enjoy this type of playing, I'm also working on this music for practical reasons. I have a wedding gig in September with a flute player friend of mine, Julie, who's flute playing is so far beyond my level guitar playing that it's kind of intimidating, and my main goal is to not fall on my face! Also, my Tea for Two partner, Lynnette, and I are adding classical flute/guitar duos to our repertoire to make us more attractive for wedding jobs.
Classical guitar is a totally different animal than jazz guitar. There's a little bit of crossover with my personal style, which involves a lot of fingerstyle solo arrangements, but there are also big differences. Jazz guitar involves a lot of improvisation. You're free to embellish melodies, you make up the accompaniment as you go along, and you need to be familiar with a huge array of chords. With classical guitar, the chords are usually much simpler, but then there's the discipline of reading exactly what's on the page and being able to play two independent lines at the same time.
While I'm playing a good bit of classical music these days, I'm not switching camps. Jazz guitar remains my number one pursuit. I'll be stretching in this area, too. Lately, I've felt that my jazz playing has gone stale. I need some new ideas and challenges. I've made it pretty far on my own these past few years, but I felt it was time to find a teacher again to push me along. This week, I'll begin taking guitar lessons with Charles Williams, who is one of the best guitarists in Atlanta, is an excellent jazz player, and is particularly good at Gypsy jazz (a la Django Reinhardt). I'm really looking forward to getting together with him and pushing my jazz playing to the next level.
Whether it's Broadway, classical, Celtic, or jazz, guitar playing offers an endless array of challenges. I don't think I'll ever be bored with this instrument.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.