My Alhambra 5P, September 2020 Harry Taunton

The guitar held very little place in my life until I unwrapped one on my thirteenth birthday.

Music had, until then, meant a year of piano lessons, or a pleasant noise to hum along to in the car or through an iPod. But now it had become something tangible and creatable. And it was this addictive satisfaction of making music and improving every time I picked up the instrument which carried me through my first eighteen months of self-instruction: mastering Wonderwall with Marty Schwartz, developing calluses and braving barre chords.

However, when I found myself ready to progress beyond the stage I had reached independently, I was unsure how best to develop my newfound skill and which musical genre to opt for. Upon hearing a recording of the late, great Julian Bream playing Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, I decided to find a teacher who could introduce me to the music of the classical guitar: Bach’s Minuet in G, Tárrega’s Lágrima and Adelita, Sor’s Study in A minor, John Williams’ Cavatina... Grades and thousands of hours of practice followed, my motivation and enjoyment never flagging. I was hooked.

After the masterclass with Ana Vidovic, 28th Oct 2018 Harry Taunton

A few years later, now in the throes of university life, and having already played in my first concert at Downing, I had the opportunity to play in a masterclass held by world-renowned classical guitarist Ana Vidovic. There were seven or so other amateur players like myself, each with prepared pieces to play for Ana. I chose to perform the same tricky, tremolo-based, Tárregan tune with which Bream had wowed me five years previously – an endeavour made doubly daunting by a room full of music enthusiasts, fellow performers and, of course, Ana herself. 

After one recital of the piece, Ana and I discussed it at length before delving into issues of interpretation and technique, but principally of volume and tempo. Having only practised this piece alone, I was not used to playing in front of an audience and my little beginner’s guitar sounded like cardboard and string compared to Ana Vidovic’s custom-made, Jim Redgate model. 

We went about remedying my mousey sound, paying close attention to increasing the power and control of my right hand. This involved slowing my pace considerably and focusing on pressing the strings into the guitar instead of scratching the surface of them – a bit like pushing a piano key down into the keyboard, rather than just literally ‘tickling the ivories’.

"The masterclass inspired a real vigour and meticulousness in my practice, as well as an increased sensitivity to the relationship between the production and reception of the music itself."

The masterclass inspired a real vigour and meticulousness in my practice, as well as an increased sensitivity to the relationship between the production and reception of the music itself. But the class also left me questioning the quality of the guitar I had unwrapped six years before. To achieve the quality of sound, tone and colour that I wanted and needed to progress, I felt a new guitar was needed. So, after copious research, abacus adjustment, and advice from my guitar teacher, I visited the London Guitar Studio in July 2020 and, protective mask on, purchased my first bona fide classical guitar for my twenty-first birthday. My new Alhambra 5P spruce model has ballooned my ability, confidence and love for the instrument and its music. 

Classical GuitarPhotograph: Nat Warren

My future with the classical guitar looks bright. My repertoire has grown even since July and I am composing my own pieces as often as time-off from work permits. One of these compositions was inspired by losing my grandfather in Spring 2019. The month before he passed away, my family and I went over to Spain to say our final goodbyes and six months later, while in Paris on my year abroad, I had completed a piece in his memory. 


Mountain View

In Unaccompanied Company

I find the process of composition enormously rewarding. When I first started I would scribble the notes down pell-mell on bits of paper. Nowadays, I draft online using free score-writing software and then write up the final drafts on fresh sheet music. I hope to do my grandfather’s piece justice, along with my other musical doodles, by recording them properly and releasing them in album form at some point. 

Until then, I am still enjoying the everyday process of learning and improving. Throughout quarantine and beyond, the classical guitar has been a very welcome escape, even if I am just listening to my favourites: Barrios’ Un Sueño en la Floresta (in fact, the entire album John Williams Plays Barrios is incredible); Quique Sinesi’s El Abrazo (played particularly well by Carles Herràiz); and Isaac Albéniz’s Granada from his Suite Española op.47. Apart from these, my ‘to-learn’ list includes a piece by one man whose music I have not yet braved beyond one or two simpler pieces – Bach. Segovia’s transcription of his Chaconne in D minor is definitely on my bucket list. However, this will have to wait its turn behind those pieces mentioned above and, of course, all the university work piling up in the corner next to my guitar stand.