Yesterday, after more than a decade of not playing my guitar, I had a lesson from my former teacher, Ray Reussner, who studied with Segovia in Spain and for many years thereafter. He led me to my familiar place by the window in the living room of his house, where he had set up two chairs with footstools and a music stand. Once again there was the familiar talk about fingernails, the stories about Segovia, the correction of technique, the beautiful sound of Ray Reussner on his guitar. I have at last returned.
|Ray Reussner playing at Mission San Antonio in California|
The beginning of what I had returned to was almost twenty years ago when, realizing at last that I would never have a piano, I thought maybe a classical guitar would give me the same pleasure. The glow I felt when I walked out of the music store with a guitar in my hand promised as much
I did enjoy it, but I became dissatisfied with my first teacher. There was something more I wanted from the guitar, but I didn't know what it was.
When one of my students at Rogue Community College learned I played a classical guitar, he told me his father was friends with a guitarist in Williams who had been a student of Segovia. What a golden opportunity if I could take lessons from him! I asked for the name and phone number, but my student demurred. The man wasn't giving lessons or playing concerts or having anything more to do with the guitar than playing in his own home. I begged and pleaded and did everything but guarantee my student an A in the class if he would put me in touch with this guitarist until finally he got permission from Ray to give me his phone number.
I called Ray at once and explained that I was new to the guitar and would like to take lessons from him.
"No, no. I'm not doing that any more," he said, but then he relented – a bit. "Come on over and bring your guitar, and we'll see," he said.
Was I going to have to audition for lessons from Ray Reussner? I worked up a piece to play for him, then put my guitar in my car and followed Ray's directions to his house.
He greeted me at the door and led me through the vestibule and dining room into the living room of his beautiful house, which, I learned later, he had built himself. The footstool and music stand were ready. We sat down, and I played my piece.
When I finished, he said, dismissively, "You play just like everyone else," and he took my guitar from me and played Mendelssohn's "Song without Words" on it.
I almost fell out of my chair. This was it! This was what classical guitar was supposed to sound like. This was the way I wanted to play. I was ready to do anything to get Ray to agree to give me lessons.
I think it was that reaction that did the trick: Ray accepted me as a guitar student. For years I came to his house for lessons. We would sit by the window in the living room and play guitars. He would tell Segovia stories. We would compare fingernails. He would play for me the latest piece he was working on. Taking lessons from Ray was like having a private Ray Reussner mini-concert at every lesson.
I was crazy about my guitar. I practiced religiously. Unwilling to go three weeks without practicing, I carried my guitar to Sweden with me.
I thought I would always be playing the guitar.
Even when I started a Ph.D. program at the University of Oregon, I thought that, of course, I would keep playing. Soon enough, though, I realized that I couldn't be doing everything I had always done in my always full life and just add graduate school on top of it. Some things would have to be left behind. The guitar was one.
Once I put the guitar down, it was difficult to pick it up again after graduation. I knew how badly I would play. I knew my fingers were out of practice, that I had forgotten everything Ray had taught me. I knew I wouldn't be able to start again where I had left off, that I would have to go back to beginner's pieces. My fingers had become unwilling, and my pleasure stifled.
Then at a gathering some time before Christmas last year, when people started playing music together, my son put a guitar in my hand. At first I couldn't remember a single chord. Then my fingers stumbled onto one or two. Other people left the room until only my son and I were playing together. As I played with him, the old pleasure began stirring in me. My New Year's resolution was to start playing my guitar again.
That's all it took. Once I wrapped my arms around my beautiful guitar, the one Ray had made and that I had bought years ago,
once I put my old music on my music stand (the one my son had made for me),
once I heard again the beautiful tones of my guitar, I knew I had returned. The musicianship is rusty, but I have the best guitar teacher in the country, and I love my guitar and the music within it. Gradually, as before, Ray Reussner will help me coax that beauty into the world.