Photo Credit Ben Park
The Guitar and I
By Andre Feriante
In 1961 my favorite guitar players, Andres Segovia and Julian Bream were at the height of their careers. The Spanish guitar, flamenco music and the classical guitar were almost a part of mainstream culture, at least that was the case in Italy where I was born, Naples to be exact, Nov, 1961.
As a 7 year old in Naples I remember my brothers playing guitar, their friends coming over with shaky hair and singing Beatles songs. They were cool in my book, they rode motorcycles over through the crowded streets of Naples with guitars on their backs. I remember feeling a draw to the instrument at that point and in a dreamy way the sound was comforting to me.
At age 9 I had an unusual experience. Now that I look back it was actually a premonition of my life to come. I was at a summer camp with a friend, we had just been on a little row boat on a pond. We were contemplating and talking and the question came up, as it does with kids…. what are you going to be when you grow up? Without missing a beat I said “I think I’ll be a guitar player”. Mind you I wasn’t playing and didn’t really have plans to start playing. It was just something that came out.
It wasn’t until we were living in Rome some 6 years later that I was truly seduced by the haunting voice of the guitar, the sad yet mystical sound, the gut strings, a softer sound, the flamenco guitar. I was at the Overseas School of Rome, 1974. I heard a flamenco group, with the dance and the cajon and the singing. But it was the solo guitar that spoke to me. I began taking lessons at the school, but they didn’t offer flamenco. I took lessons from a teacher named Mr. Zimmerman. He was about 25, very tall, long hair, top hat, ripped jeans, it was 1974 and he taught me Alice’s Restaurant on the guitar.
There were several intersections and influences in my life at that time that lead me to my teachers and the style I was meant to play. Were we lived, 20 miles north of Rome in a little medieval town the was a gypsy, flamenco player named Emilio. He was the one who got me started in the Spanish guitar direction. He taught me some of the key techniques of the flamenco form. Then there was the American, from the south, Paul, a friend of my father’s who played Chet Atkins style guitar. He was also an inspiration and gave me much encouragement. Lastly there was another friend of the family who introduced me to the recordings of an 80 year old man with fat fingers. The Maestro Andres Segovia, I would listen to the recordings of Andres Segovia playing Bach for hours on end.
At that point my focus shifted from the flamenco to the classical sound and I sought out a classical guitar teacher. I found a young guy who was a med student in our town. I studied with him for a short time. One day at a youth gathering in Rome someone told me about a famous concert guitarist from Colombia named Henry Rivas. He lived in Rome and was also a teacher. I called Henry about lessons. He invited me to come and play for him, it was like an audition. Well I didn’t hear back from him for a while. Once I was accepted to study with Mr. Rivas I made the most progress of my early days. In a three year period I covered a good part of the classical repertoire and become steeped in the world of the guitar. Under Henry I played my first concert in Rome when I was 17, I was able to play concerts in other parts of Europe and South America. My time from age 14 to 17 in Rome was the pinnacle of my musical and cultural development as a student. My trips into Rome on the train, going to ancient theaters by my self to hear Segovia and Oscar Ghiglia, surrounded by the Roman socialites in tuxes and evening wear.. are some of my fondest memories.
Is was during that time at age 16 that I had another premonition. It was late one night, everyone in the house was asleep and I was up watching an old Brazilian movie. There was a beautiful scene in an elegant night club by the water. A man was sitting on a stool playing Brazilian music for the audience. In that moment I felt like I was there, or like the man was actually me. I felt a sense of transference and I had chills. Well fast forward 15 or 20 years. Seattle WA.. age 35.. I’m a working musician..I spent 12 years, sitting on a stool playing 5 nights a week in an elegant club that looked very much like the one that night in the movie. That evening at age 16 I saw a bit of my future!
When I was 17 I moved with my family to the US, It was a drastic life change, from the cultural mecca of Rome to a little town in WA called Yakima. My father was Italian/American and my mom grew up in eastern WA. Amazingly I was able to find a concert guitarist from NY who lived in Spokane, Leon Atkinson had studied with Segovia and moved west. He had a great guitar program happening
in the area and I was able to study with him. During my young adult time age 19 to 24 I got married, had two kids and had began my career as a teacher and concert artist. I taught at
Whitworth University, North Idaho College and Yakima Community College. I was also invited to play concerts at other colleges and concert series around the NW. It was during this time of my life that I was accepted to study with the great Andres Segovia. I traveled to Spain and played for Segovia in master class in Madrid. It was the highlight of my career to date. He was 91, I was 21. He was gracious, soft spoken, humorous and complementary of my tone and interpretation of Spanish music, I played a song that was written for him by Torroba. I was also able to perform in a master class with Segovia’s assistant Jose Tomas, he too was an amazing teacher.
At a pretty young age, probably 16, I know the guitar had chosen me, it was like I didn’t have a choice. I had to play for people to be happy. I also felt like I had something to offer. I have always known that the work would come in, as if there is no other way I should spent my time on the planet, and the guitar has been my sole source of income or occupation for all these years.
Around age thirty my marriage ended and I moved to Seattle. I began playing at the club I mentioned earlier, I was able to play there for almost 13 years. I left to pursue a concert career. This stage of my life presented me with a major shift. I experienced a coming in to my own, a personal awakening. I shifted from being a traditional classical guitarist to being a creative person with
a mission and philosophy behind my art. I began writing compositions for the guitar, I started painting and writing poetry. Being a communicator of sound and beauty became more important than the instrument, music or the song. The idea of offering something that opened the imagination and sparked healing and inspiration became my desired outcome.
In the past few years the guitar has taken me to many places around the world, I’ve been able to return to Italy and play concerts back in the Roman towns and in Tuscany. I have had the privilege of working with the tenor Steve Thoreson in Sweden, playing cathedral concerts. On several occasions I have played for the Jose Carreras Leukemia Foundation, at Benaroya Hall and once at Carnegie Hall in NY. For nearly 20 years I have presented a ‘Day of Love’ concert at Benaroya Hall. In 2018 it will be on Feb. 10th. I feel fortunate as guitar takes me to fun places like Sun Valley ID, the Caribbean and resort areas of California. My next tour will take me to Sedona AZ. to play at the Sedona International Film Festival Theater, two shows, Nov. 10 and 11. Living in the NW I ask my guitar to try to take me to the sun at the right time of the year.
Another major shift has happened in my life that is causing me to revisit core elements of my early life. Both of my parents have past on in the last two years. Bless their hearts they were 97 and 91. After 28 yeas of living in Seattle I made a major decision and moved to a very magical place, Whidbey Island. I moved here with my partner Molly and her children. I’m surrounded by the voice of nature and its apparent that I find myself living in the company of some great artists that also have moved here. After presenting a TEDx talk last year on the healing powers of music my focus is expanding. I have stated offering ‘sound healing journeys’ here on the Island and in my concerts as well. With the current state of our world I feel like we need any reminders of peaceful thought that we can get. My parents taught me to be kind and compassionate to people around me and I find that this intention has woven its way into my music. The simple act of a tender energy can cause ease and release of stress, playing a note in a way that says ‘be gentle with yourself’ can made a difference in our harsh and sometimes misguided world.
More and more I’m interested in the relatives of the guitar, her sister sounds, I have started playing many different stringed instruments recently, the ukulele, the banjo, harp guitar, charango, jazz guitar and now the new one, the oud, the father of the guitar, much like a lute but fretless. My new show that I’m working up with a local celebrity guitarist,Troy Chapman is called… ‘The History of the World According to the Guitar’. We will be presenting this show in small theaters soon. I will be playing a similar show as a solo at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts on Nov 4th. I will get to offer everything I like to say in one night. Some new songs on the classical, the harp guitar and the oud. I’ll present some intros to flamenco songs in poetry, new Italian songs, some standards and some stories from my travels with the guitar.
Thanks for reading my story, and I hope to see you at show sometime in the future. Lastly, my next talk is called ‘Ignite your Nature’ is speaks to being true to your nature and aligning your occupation with who you are and your life’s passions. Its a call out to young people especially to follow your heart and purse what truly fulfills you.