Guitarist Makes Segovia’s Spirits Sing
Playing a guitar once owned by world-renowned Andres Segovia, former student Eric Henderson will perform with the world-famous concert instrument for the first time publicly at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, in Bridge Hall at the Neighborhood Congregational Church, 340 St. Ann’s Drive.
“I can’t believe what a difference this guitar has made in my tone,” Henderson said of the instrument he spent hours painstakingly tuning, playing and finally selecting. “I’m a different guitarist because of this. I didn’t know what I was missing.”
At 13-years-old, Henderson was one of few to privately train with the inimitable Spanish classical guitarist Segovia, which he did for a nearly year. In a phone call last May, Carlos Segovia, the virtuoso’s son, encouraged Henderson to select his personal favorite from a collection of the world’s finest classical guitars. The guitars had been assembled over 30 years by renowned guitar importer, Jim Sherry, in Chicago.
“He heard me on YouTube,” Henderson said of his conversation with Carlos, “and told me he didn’t like the sound o f the guitar I was playing. He was brutally honest. He said I needed a proper concert instrument.” Henderson first met Carlos, then 3-years-old, while studying with the young boy’s world-famous father in Madrid.
After their conversation, Henderson and his wife, Virginia, flew from Laguna to Chicago in August. They were joined by lifelong friend and former concert guitarist Chris Amelotte, who had worked with Sherry and initiated the exchange, and his wife, Kathleen. Their mission: to pick the best from a collection of 24 premiere classical guitars, some valued at well over $100,000, personally selected by Sherry out of more than 500 guitars at the Antigua Casa Sherry-Brener private museum.
The team entered “the vault,” a legendary room where eminent classical musicians would come to make their selections of precious instruments from Stradivarius and Greiner violins to Herman Hauser, Santos Hernandez and Jose Ramirez guitars. Having the finest concert guitars ever made played by the greatest classical guitarists to choose from was wonder enough.
“It would blow your mind,” said Henderson. “They’re historic guitars. It was overwhelming.”
Henderson and Amelotte spent three hours tuning each guitar. “Then we started going through the guitars one by one,” Henderson said.
“It was arduous; it was horrible,” recalled Amelotte. “It was 95 percent humidity and 90 degrees. It’s called a vault but it’s just a room with no air-conditioning. They were all untuned.” The men called on their women for help. “We actually had our wives helping us turn the winders on the guitars because our left-hands were becoming very, very tired,” said Amelotte. “The poor ladies; we just put them to work.”
They brought the selection down to nine then, finally, two. “I asked to take the two back to my hotel room to make my final decision,” Henderson said, where he tested the guitars until midnight.
Henderson had last seen his master teacher in 1975, a few months before Henderson’s first European tour when he was just 17. “He was basically lecturing me about repertoire,” said Henderson, remembering a strict taskmaster he always felt timid around. But he noticed the guitar Segovia was playing that day, and the luminous Brazilian rosewood back.
While making his final selection in his hotel room, Henderson purposely had not looked at the backs of the guitars. “I didn’t want to prejudice myself,” he said. When he flipped his chosen guitar over, it was the same 1974 Jose Ramirez-crafted instrument Segovia was playing at their final meeting. Henderson said the maestro played this guitar until he died in 1987.
“To be honest with you, I’m thinking about buying the other one,” commented Amelotte, who was the first student to receive a degree in guitar from USC. “But Eric got the best guitar he ever could’ve gotten, a magical guitar.” Amelotte was instrumental in getting Henderson his first concert tour in the U.S. in 1977. The prodigy was signed with Columbia Records the following year.
Henderson will also introduce a difficult left-handed technique he has been practicing eight hours a day since he found the treasured instrument.
“I’m a different guitarist because of this. I didn’t know what I was missing,” he said. “You’ll hear the difference.”
The new technique requires articulating (making your guitar speak) with the left hand, which is usually done with the right, by holding one string to sustain the sound while quickly releasing another string for a short sound at different intervals with four different fingers. “It’s a trick. It’s like I added a whole other range of possibilities to my repertoire,” he said.
Henderson isn’t new to difficult techniques. In 2002, at age 44, he was suddenly overtaken during a concert in Oceanside by a severe strep infection that escalated to necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as flesh-eating disease. Three days later, the disease was disintegrating his right arm.
After a skin-grafting operation, Henderson regained consciousness briefly during a nine-day coma only to stare into the gouged cavern of his splayed right arm. He panicked to the point of needing sedation, overcome that his arm, his purpose and his career were destroyed.
When he fully regained consciousness, playing his guitar was the first thing on his mind. After years of excruciating practice, Henderson regained full use of his right arm and hand. Along the way, he developed unique techniques for his left hand, the most difficult of which he said he is now perfecting.
“I’m obsessed with it,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.” He promises, as always, to provide a unique and mystifying experience.
Billy Childs & The Calder Quartet Find a Common Groove
Grammy winner and recipient of 2011’s jazz album of the year, Billy Childs, performs in a special concert with the Calder String Quartet on Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Laguna Beach Artists’ Theatre at 8 p.m.
The concert will be filmed for future broadcasts at public television station KOCE PBS-SoCal Channel 10.
Performing will be the Billy Childs Sextet including Bob Sheppard, Larry Koonse, Carol Robbins, Carlos del Puerto, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Benjamin Jacobson, Andrew Bulbrook, Jonathan Moerschel, and Eric Byers.
Tickets are $35 and $25 for adults and $15 for students, 21 years of age and under. A limited number of prime seats that include a meet and greet with the artists are available for $50, which includes a tax-deductible donation to Laguna Beach Live! Tickets are online at www.lagunabeachlive.org or by phone at 800-595-4849.