BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - A flourish of cascading notes emanated from Studio 18 at Wharton Music Center this afternoon where guitarist Andrew Nitkin, energetically preparing for his upcoming performance on April 13 for the Sunday Guitar Series, kept the casual audience of parents and students loitering in the nearby hallway hypnotized by the vibrant sounds issuing from the room. Awaiting music lessons and drama classes in nearby studios, his impromptu audience may or may not have realized they were listening to the works of John Dowland, Erik Satie, and Heitor Villa-Lobos.
The Sunday Guitar Series concert will be held on April 13 at 3:00 p.m. at 60 Locust Avenue in Berkeley Heights. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.
Typically the journey to the corner studio of Wharton Music Center’s 11,000-square-foot facility in the heart of one of New Jersey’s most popular bedroom communities, ranked 6th in the nation in Money magazine’s 2013 Best Places to Live, occurs to inform faculty member and Director of Admissions, Nitkin, that a student has arrived for a lesson or a potential family needs help navigating online registration for one of the Center’s many classes. Today’s visit, however, arose for an entirely different purpose: to talk about the music, styles, and history of one of the world’s most popular instruments.
Nitkin, a graduate of New York City’s Hunter College and Mannes College The New School of Music, has been performing and teaching guitar for nearly four decades. He lists his most influential teachers as Leonid Bolotine, Howard Fraidkin, and Tiberio Nascimento, and believes that music can have an all-encompassing, positive impact on an individual’s life. A zest for the pursuit of music is a passion that can be carried throughout one’s life, he explains while holding his Felipe Conde nylon string classical guitar, and the guitar is the perfect instrument to carry such a torch.
This widely held notion is evident by the sheer popularity of the instrument across continents and cultures; touted as one of the most favored instruments in the world with nearly three million new guitars sold every year in the United States. Adding to the instrument’s mystique is its age and origins. The guitar is considered one of the world’s oldest musical instruments, tracing its roots back to a 3,300 year old stone carving from the Black Sea region of Turkey believed to be the oldest image of a guitar-like instrument.
The modern classical guitar, like the one played by Nitkin, experienced a long and dramatic evolution, taking its present shape in nineteenth-century Spain with at least five predecessors including the lute and vihuela. Guitar-like instruments can be found in nearly every civilization from Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to the Vikings of Scandinavia. The electric guitar emerged much later when the American company named after luthier Orville Gibson introduced the ES150 model in 1936. Popular in jazz orchestras, it sold for around $150 through two fashionable retailers of the time, Montgomery Ward and Spiegel.
Nitkin, whose goal is to teach music through the guitar, answers questions about the instrument and the Sunday Guitar Series, a five-part concert series from February through June at Wharton Music Center. Nitkin, who curates the series, is the featured performer on April 13.
Q: How unusual is it to have an entire series of concerts programmed around a single instrument, like the guitar? Are there certain attributes to the instrument--or the music written for the instrument--that lend themselves to a dedicated concert series?
A: The guitar is a unique instrument in that it stands alone when it comes to performance. Other instruments are not needed. It cuts across many styles of music that are fused and connected. For instance, classical, Spanish, jazz, flamenco, and bossa nova, although having different rhythms, harmonies, and undulations, all come from the same technique and historical influences. This makes for an interesting mix for the audience. It’s amazing—and oftentimes veiled—how greatly differing styles share the same organic roots.
Q: Describe the various styles of music the audience can expect to hear at the Sunday Guitar Series. What was behind your choice of repertoire for the concert on April 13?
A: I will be playing bossa nova, flamenco, music of the Renaissance period, and classical pieces in the Western European tradition. I wanted a varied choice of repertoire and the challenge of performing music that I had not programmed previously. Also, I wanted the concert to be interesting for both myself and the audience.
Q: The guitar is one of the most popular instruments, both to play and listen to. Why do you think that is?
A: The guitar appeals to all age groups, all nationalities, all styles of music. Its versatility makes it accessible to virtually everyone.
Q: You mentioned one of your favorite guitarists was Andrés Segovia. Tell us more about him. Why do you enjoy his playing so much?
A: Andrés Segovia is a legend in his own right and the musician who really established the classical guitar as a serious instrument as seen today, from the concert hall to its place in conservatory education at the college level and beyond. In addition, his choice of repertoire and the sound he produced on the instrument was astoundingly beautiful. Listening to his recordings is very inspiring.
Q: In addition to performing, you're also a veteran music educator. As a teacher of the guitar, do you feel that your work as a pedagogue influences you as a performer? Are there fruits of teaching that can be reaped on the concert stage?
A: There absolutely is a connection. To be a good teacher you have to follow what you preach to your students. Aside from the actual practicing your instrument, you have to practice performing as well. Those are the two kinds of practice that I try to communicate to my students and they require different approaches. As well, I am still under the belief that studying music, and classical music in particular, has a profound impact on one’s character and quality of life. I’ve seen evidence of it over and over again. Sharing your talents is very rewarding.
Q: And finally, what do you hope audiences take away from the Sunday Guitar Series?
A: I hope they enjoy the performance and have a relaxing afternoon. After that, I hope their ears are opened to what the guitar can do stylistically and technically, and they hear sounds that they haven’t heard before. Many people are not aware of the guitar’s capabilities and range.
The Sunday Guitar Series continues on May 4 with Rob Heinink playing rock and pop favorites and concludes with legendary jazz guitarist Gene Bertoncini on June 1. All concerts begin at 3:00 p.m. and are held at 60 Locust Avenue in Berkeley Heights. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. For tickets and more information, call Wharton Music Center at 908-790-0700.
Wharton Music Center, located at 60 Locust Avenue in Berkeley Heights, provides music, theatre, and dance instruction, educational programs, and performances for children, teens, and adults. In addition to instruction in all instruments and voice, WMC offers classes in musical theatre, dance, drama, vocal music, music theory, audio recording, early childhood music, and music for children with special needs. Offering a range of musical genres including classical, rock, jazz, and blues, WMC is one of New Jersey’s largest independent non-profit community performing arts center serving students in Union, Morris, Essex, Somerset, and other surrounding counties.
WMC offers orchestral and ensemble music education for grades 3 through 12 through New Jersey Youth Symphony (NJYS) located at 570 Central Avenue in New Providence. NJYS, one of the foremost youth orchestras in the state, has eleven orchestras and ensembles for which auditions are held annually. NJYS’s premiere orchestra, Youth Symphony, has performed in internationally renowned concert halls such as Carnegie Hall in New York City and Musikverein in Vienna.
The mission of Wharton Music Center, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, is to advance excellence and education in the performing arts. For more information, visit www.WhartonMusicCenter.org or www.NJYS.org.