In the spirit of innovation and setting the pace in musical study, Mannes has been leading the way. As new traditions were coming to America from Europe, at the forefront of musical developments after World War II was the rise of the guitar as an accessible, multi-genre instrument embraced by the masses – it was affordable and a “ground up” bringer of more diversified styles, from folk to jazz to blues. The electric guitar was just becoming popular when Mannes launched its classical guitar degree program into the conservatory universe in 1956, the first college or university in the United States to offer such a program. It was new — it seemed exciting and creative in the 1950s for a top conservatory to embrace the guitar so boldly. As such, Mannes had a large guitar performance base, with 25 of 150 students in the program. With now over 2,000 guitar programs having developed around the country, Mannes was the trendsetter, and in the decades since thrives in its groundbreaking tradition, with a particular emphasis on ensemble work, outreach, improvisation and composition.
Frederic Hand and Michael Newman, both graduates of Mannes, co-lead the Classical Guitar department
“The guitar has a warmth to it, a versatility to it, I like to call it the ‘Universal Instrument,” Hand says. When asked what distinguishes Mannes, Mr. Hand notes the school’s more inclusive approach of using the natural creativity and authenticity of each individual student, what they bring as part of their development.
“We are looking at the ‘artist within’ rather than a set program imposed,“ Mr. Hand notes. At the beginning of the year, he interviews each student and builds on these interviews to customize the curriculum for each student’s background and interest.
“We want to offer students a chance to explore, grow and be exposed to new things.”
Michael Newman describes the program as a “carefully selected community” of high level international musicians, with 10-12 students in all, where their enthusiasm, diverse interests and sharing of personal artistry are highly encouraged.
It’s a fully inclusive program,” Newman says. “The one-on-one connection that can exist when class sizes are small and faculty come with combined centuries of experience gives the Mannes Guitar students connections to the full history of their instrument and potential for endless opportunity.”
While most conservatory guitar programs today offer solo lessons, chamber music and ensemble performance opportunities, Mannes also offers composing and arranging for the guitar.
In “Guitar Ensemble,” taught by Terry Champlin, students get to arrange and perform their original work, pair up in subgroups of guitars and other instrumental combinations. Students are encouraged to blend genres and bring their own musical interests to the work, across a large range of styles.
For example, Hand teaches a course in Early Music Improvisation of 16th- and 17th-century music that consciously draws on the parallel in jazz improvisatory techniques with the use of chords and a figured bass line to improvise.
Both Hand and Newman have a long legacy with the program and as world-class professionals in their own right. Hand has been at Mannes since 1973. Since 1984 he has been Lutanist/Guitar for the Metropolitan Opera. As a Fulbright Scholar to England, he studied with Julian Bream. He also plays music for film scores and improvises his own music, having won an Emmy. He memorably arranged music for Kramer vs Kramer, the Academy Award-winning film, by using Vivaldi’s Concerto for Mandolin, having arranged the score for the film in a single night.
Michael Newman came to Mannes in 1974 as a student after having studied in 1971 with one of its early guitar faculty, Alberto Valdes Blain, a Cuban guitarist who emigrated to New York in the 1920s and taught on 13th Street, down the block from today’s New School campus. Today Newman is founder and half of the highly acclaimed Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo, Ensemble-in-Residence at Mannes since 1987, and has nourished the guitar program’s emphasis on ensemble and outreach.
Together Newman and wife Laura Oltman, who teaches guitar at Princeton, have toured worldwide and recorded for over 40 years and collaborated through Master Classes and performance at Mannes to bring a particular focus for guitar students to working with other musicians, singers and soloists in tandem.
For the last 16 summers, they have pioneered the international summer program “New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes” as a way to share the Mannes approach to learning with guitar lovers around the world. Every summer for an intensive week of training, they bring top faculty and performers to work with participants of all ages. Participants have come from 50 countries and 40 states across the USA.
Each semester visiting guests, top artists from all over the world, lead students in Master Classes. Recent artists include Oscar Ghiglia, Roland Dyens, Benjamin Verdure (Yale Head of Department and a former student of Fred Hand), Eliot Fisk, and Scott Tennant and William Kanengiser, members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.
In addition to its curriculum, Mannes offers a range of performance opportunities for students. “Guitar Studio” has a concert at the end of every semester for student soloists along with one presented by “Guitar Ensemble.” Also the Chamber Music Program, Baroque Ensemble and the Contemporary Music Ensemble offer performance opportunities at Mannes, as well as performances around the city.
There are non-school concertizing opportunities, as well, including the Raritan River Music Festival and with guitar societies such as the New England Guitar Society and Mid-Hudson Guitar Society.
In addition, Mannes has a placement office (Betsy Aaron) for students to get professional gigs at all sorts of venues in New York.
Mannes places a premium on community involvement. From going to hospitals, health care facilities, residences for elderly and special needs individuals to visiting educational enrichment programs in elementary schools, faculty work with students proactively to consciously develop and create opportunities for connecting with diverse audiences.
“Community engagement should be at the top of any musician’s priorities for sharing their artistry in a meaningful way,” Newman says. “The Mannes Guitar Department takes pride in the community work that our students and alumni provide to bring the fruits of their labour to so many.”
Recent graduates of the guitar program include Adam Rogers, one of the leading jazz guitarists in the world; Adam Tully, one of the foremost practitioners of Argentinian tango; Joao Luiz, half of “The Brasil Guitar Duo,” who recently performed with YoYo Ma in Cuba; Celil Refik Kaya, who while a Mannes student won an international competition with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and was a top prize winner in Guitar Foundation of America International Competition and now records for Naxos Records; Yen Lee, who has won international competitions in Asia and recorded for Sony; and Giacomo La Vita, a brilliant solo guitarist, who works with Hand at the Met as second guitar.
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