Heavy Metal, Classical Guitar, and Dig That Swinging Lute

I posted last month about Ronn McFarlane, the lutenist who was teaching a virtual master class for the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society on February 28. (The class was great, by the way—a whirlwind history of the development of the instrument, the tablatures used for notating its music, and the evolving methods of playing it.) On Saturday, March 6—tomorrow night, that is—at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, McFarlane and classical guitarist Matt Palmer will perform in a two-for-one virtual concert presented by the BCGS.

I’m extremely interested in the pairing of these performers. In the fall, Palmer taught a BCGS master class, the first of two, about using the a-m-i right-hand pattern to increase your speed when playing scales. (If that phrase is confusing to you, just know that most classical guitarists, upon hearing those letters, in that order, will automatically twitch the ring, middle, and index fingers of their right hands. They can’t help doing it.) In his discussion of how he developed this technique, Palmer referenced his youth as a heavy metal guitarist, with its emphasis on speed, noting that he didn’t begin his study of the classical guitar until he was eighteen.

For the record, that was the first time I ever heard a classical guitarist declare heavy metal as an influence on his or her technique. But these master classes can bring such surprises. I didn’t expect McFarlane to say that lute players need to swing when they perform the early repertoire. Not only did he say it, he also picked up his lute and demonstrated the difference between straight lute playing and swinging the notes. I had no choice but to think, Oh my god, the lute really does swing.

Tomorrow night’s concert will include three parts: a solo lute performance by McFarlane, a solo classical guitar performance by Palmer, and a final duet performance of “Night Rose,” a new piece for lute and guitar that was commissioned by the BCGS and written by McFarlane. (If you’re wondering how lute and guitar sound together, the BCGS has posted a sample from this work on YouTube.) I’ve bought the season pass for this spring’s virtual BCGS concerts, but even if I hadn’t, I would buy an individual ticket for this performance. It will cover a lot of ground, from early standards to modern repertoire to the final newly commissioned piece. Oh, and the performers are a swinging lutenist and a metal classical guitarist. By any measure, that sounds like a good return on the ticket price.

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