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USING ALL FIVE FINGERS

Webzine Interview with Charles Postlewate, RE: MB21290


Mel Bay Publications recently released the second of two innovative and historicallyimportant anthologies of guitar music for five fingers of the right hand, both edited by the pioneer in this field, Charles Postlewate. Anthology of 19th Century Studies for Five Fingers of the Right Hand (MB21153), compiled by German guitarist Leonhard Beck, contains 27 Easy and Intermediate-level pieces and was released in February of this year. The Contemporary Anthology of Solo Guitar Music for Five Fingers of the Right Hand (MB21290) was released in August and contains 57 new compositions written especially for this publication by renowned guitarist/composers from different parts of Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean. Music by Ernesto Cordero, Carlos Dorado, Jim Ferguson, David Flynn, Gerald Garcia, John Hall, Ricardo Iznaola, James Lentini, John Oliver, Charles Postlewate, Mirko Schrader, Burkhard Buck Wolters and Luis Zea show the advantages of a five-finger technique for speed, accuracy, strength and balance in the playing of scales, chords, arpeggios, tremolos and harmonics. All of these compositions are edited and fingered by Postlewate and I asked him some questions about these works as well as a particularly interesting composition in this collection, his own Rondo Bout Five. What led you to pursue this massive and groundbreaking publication for Mel Bay? Mel Bay released my first two books, Right-Hand Studies for Five Fingers (MB98710) and Homage to Villa Lobos, Music for Five Fingers (MB98711), along with the accompanying Homage to Villa-Lobos CD (MB98711CD) in 2001, 16 years after I began my work to add the little finger to the standard right-hand technique for guitar. The works received excellent reviews from all over and elicited letters of support from many important figures in the guitar world. But I received suggestions from guitarists/teachers Stanley Yates and Sonia Michelson that easier music was needed for not only beginning guitarists but also more-advanced guitarists that want to add the little finger to their already-developed pima. They correctly pointed out that the pieces that I had written, adapted, arranged and transcribed for the Homage to Villa-Lobos book and CD 14 pieces lasting 58 minutes were very difficult. Back in 1985 I stopped my concert career for what I thought would be just a year or two and worked on developing these pieces over a 14-year period before I finished the recording. I wanted to impressingly show what was possible and believe that I did a very good job, without realizing that for someone without my experience with the little finger, these pieces were similar to throwing a beginning basketball player into a training camp for the NBA! So, it was back to the drawing board to solve this problem and develop an easier repertoire for five fingers. How did you get started? A German guitar professor, Leonhard Beck, heard about my Right-Hand Studies for Five Fingers and Homage to Villa-Lobos books the year after they were released and contacted me about my work. Leonhard is also an advocate on the use of the little finger and had published a small book on the subject with some basic arpeggio studies back in 1975. I sent him complimentary copies of my work, as I have done for any professional guitarist that shows an interest in my work, and we have become good friends by mail while working for our common cause in the ensuing years. In 2003, Leonhard sent me a simple Trrega study that he had adapted for five fingers, similar to what I had done with the two difficult Sor studies in my Homage to Villa-Lobos book and CD. This was shortly after Stanley Yates suggestion and I wrote back and told Leonhard that I had been thinking along this line and looking at similar easy pieces for adaptation to five fingers. I said that I would help him develop an entire book of such studies from the 19th century and help him get it published when finished.

The next year I asked several prominent guitar composers whose work I liked, and who supported my work on expanding RH technique, if they would write some short, easy pieces for five fingers with me guiding them along in the proper use of the little finger. Again, I promised to help them get their works published if they turned out successful. These first pieces came out so good and the experience was so exciting that I began asking more composers and the whole thing kind of snowballed. I had hoped to eventually get about 20 to 30 good compositions for a book and I wound up with 57 in all! And I rejected about a dozen pieces that just didnt fit my goals for one reason or another. What kind of goals did you set? After the first compositions came in I sat down and wrote a set of guidelines for the project things like length (with two to four pieces per composer, one to two printed pages each), level of difficulty (Easy to Intermediate, avoiding difficult left-hand stretches, extensions, barres, slurs, uncomfortable chords, etc.) and a concentration on one or two RH techniques. Did this project involve any unusual or unexpected problems that you had to solve? Several! The first problem was the amount of time that it was taking me to edit and suggest alternatives to difficult or impractical passages. I had never written music on the computer and when suggesting changes to better utilize all five fingers within their styles, I had to write out detailed explanations measure-by-measure, beat-by-beat, note-by-note. After the first few pieces, I purchased Finale in late 2004, since my first composer, John Hall, used Finale and told me that most composers he knew also used it. I then began the arduous task of learning something that had been suggested to me 14 years earlier when I bought my first computer and that was suggested several times since. I always told the persons that made this suggestion, I just dont have time to learn to set music on the computer. Realizing how time consuming it was going to be editing by hand, I decided that it would be more efficient in the long run if I just took the time to learn something new. Once I got past the hump in that time-consuming learning curve, I quickly saw how easy it was to edit with Finale. And then I started composing in Finale and saw how much easier and quicker it was to make changes, move things around, expand on ideas, etc. instead of having to erase, cut and paste. I now wonder why it took me so long to get around to using this great compositional tool. Of the 12 composers with whom I worked, 7 used Finale, 3 used Sibelius and only two (Ernesto Cordero and Ricardo Iznaola) still wrote their music by hand. I re-set the Sibelius compositions into Finale and put the pieces by Ernesto and Ricardo into Finale from their manuscripts. When I asked these two fine composers why they didnt use the computer, they each replied a familiar refrain, I just dont have time to learn to set music on the computer. Did you experience any other major problems along the line? The other big problem was just keeping the playing level down to Easy or Intermediate. I would have preferred them all at the Easy Level, but they all came out at Intermediate, and that was after considerable efforts with many of the pieces to take them out of the Difficult range. Thats not a knock on these fine composers. I never realized just how difficult it is to write Easylevel music that is also interesting. We have the Simple Studies by Leo Brouwer (b.1939) for guitar and the piano repertoire has excellent Easy level pieces by major composers like Bela Bartok (1881-1945), Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) and Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). When you think of it, there is more of a demand for Easy-level music on any instrument because there will always be a bigger concentration of beginning and amateur players, as opposed to the small minority of instrumentalists that make it to the virtuoso level. How did you choose your composer/contributors and did you have any problem getting contributions for this project? I really didnt have any problem getting contributions and, as I said earlier, I wound up with about twice as many as originally expected. When those first two books and CD on the five-

finger technique were released at the GFA Convention in 2001, I immediately started sending out comp copies to major guitarists around the world to publicize my work and to get opinions as to its value. I received many complimentary comments from some highly-respected and wellknown guitar composers such as Ernesto Cordero in Puerto Rico, Gerald Garcia in England, Ricardo Iznaola here in the US, Buck Wolters in Germany and Luis Zea in Venezuela. So I immediately asked them for contributions when I began this project and they gladly agreed. I told them up front that there wasnt going to be much monetary gain from this project, since this would be an esoteric work and the royalties would be divided. But I do feel that this book will eventually sell. To my delight they all saw the historical significance and importance in extending not only the technical capabilities but, also, the compositional limits of our beloved instrument. During the two years that I worked on getting this project to the submission stage, I either learned about other composers or they learned about this project and wanted to participate, and it just kept growing, right up to the end when I finally set a limit for submissions. Since submitting the finished manuscript to MBP in February, 2006, I have met other composers that have expressed an interest in what I am doing and have offered to participate in any future projects of this sort. How did you get Mel Bay Publications involved with your work on the little finger? As these two projects quickly grew from the beginning, I went to Bill Bay, President of MBP, and told him of this need and what I was doing to fulfill it with these two anthologies that I had begun. Bill has been very helpful in my work on using the little finger, dating back to the mid1990s when I was applying for grants to do the recording work and prepare the manuscripts for the accompanying books. Bill saw the historical value of my work and always supplied letters of support way before he ever saw the early manuscripts or heard any of the recordings. Over these many years, I received three research grants, five travel grants (to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Spain & within the US) and two sabbaticals (1985/86 and 2003/04) from The University of Texas at Arlington, and Bill wrote strong letters of support to help me secure most of them. When the recording was completed I drove to Missouri in May, 1999 and gave Bill a preliminary copy of the Homage to Villa-Lobos CD and showed him the rough draft of the manuscript to accompany it, with the RH studies for five fingers up front and the musical examples in the appendix. He immediately said, This is a project that needs to be published. And it needs to be two separate books, one for the RH studies and one for the music scores to accompany your CD. How did the DVD version of your first two books and CD come about? Pretty much the same way that these two anthologies evolved out of suggestions. I was in Spain for the summer of 2002 and stopped to visit the renowned performer Ernesto Bitteti, Professor of Guitar at Indiana University, at his home in Madrid, where he lives when not teaching at IU. Ernesto had seen my works and suggested that I do a video version, something that others had suggested earlier but which I reluctantly viewed as a difficult, time-consuming project, especially since I had just finished the lengthy 16-year journey of getting those first works published and released. Ernestos respected advice finally pushed me into doing it. I applied for and was granted a second sabbatical at UTA (the first one got me started on this quest in 1985) and worked on it for an entire year in the planning, writing, practicing, recording, dubbing into Spanish for a bilingual presentation, editing and final production. By the way, I did all of my own dubbing in Spanish, thanks to the help of my wife, Marisa, a native Spaniard who did the translations and then coached me on the Spanish recording. What luck to have a wife to help you in this aspect! Thats right. I met Marisa at the beginning of this project in May, 1985 when I asked her if she could teach me Spanish in six-weeks for that first research trip to South America. Actually, for two years prior she had been my upstairs neighbor to whom I had never said more than Hi

and Bye in the parking lot of our apartment building. She thought I was crazy at first I mean, what idiot decides to learn how to read, write and speak a second language in six weeks! But she saw I was serious and soon became my best friend and, four years later, my wife. She has helped me with the Spanish presentation of all my works and to this day is still being my Spanish tutor. From the beginning, I conceived that all of my work should be bilingual because of the importance and size of the Spanish-speaking guitar world. Bill Bay readily agreed when it came time for the publications. Did your unusual background as a former jazz guitarist and mechanical engineer help in this work for classical guitar? I have always believed that everything you do today prepares you for tomorrows work, and you should thus do your absolute best in every endeavor. My engineering studies at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint, Michigan gave me discipline, confidence and a strong work ethic. GMIs standard credit-hour load in those days was a back-breaking 25 hours per semester! If you could do well in that work load you could survive in anything and if you didnt, your sponsoring GM plant would drop you (kick you out of the program). When I graduated in 1964 I had a good-paying job at Buick that allowed me to save enough money to return to college two years later and study my first-love, music. And, Buick gave me a leave of absence for six straight years to obtain both my Bachelor and Master of Music degrees at Wayne State University in Detroit. This meant that I could maintain the GM health insurance for me and my young family during the school year and return to work at Buick in the summers, making as much money in three months as the normal college student made all year. I was lucky to have been a tool engineer whose expertise was badly needed during model-changeover period each summer. My work as a jazz guitarist gave me the ability from the young age of twelve to play by ear, improvise, hear intricate jazz harmonies, and to understand basic harmonic progressions and modulations skills that I took for granted until I began studying music formally and saw that most classically-trained musicians lack them. And being a decent jazz musician, unlike in todays environment, created a lot of playing opportunities. I almost always had a steady nightclub gig from my junior year at GMI (1961) until around 1974, when I finally had to leave the electric guitar all-together and concentrate on the classical guitar to obtain the degree of proficiency that I wanted. Did your nightclub playing interfere with your engineering education? I must admit that I devoted a lot more time to the guitar than I did to my engineering studies during my final two years at GMI and my grades did drop a little, but I maintained a sufficient grade-point average (B level) to keep from getting kicked out. It probably caused more problems with my fraternity brothers than anything else. I lived in a fraternity house with about 40 other guys sponsored by various GM plants around the country and they were always complaining, Will you quit picking that *@#* guitar and study like the rest of us? And during final exam week they would play this game called Find the Guitar! What about your contributions to this anthology, especially Rondo Bout Five? While working on the pieces of the other composers, I got new ideas of my own. I had to learn each piece as it came in, not only for the editing job but also to make sure that it was practical to play each piece comfortably up to tempo, and to insure that it was indeed an interesting piece. Remember that I did reject about a dozen submitted pieces. Each composer came up with new ideas or techniques that I hadnt thought about or practiced before. These 12 guys really gave me a workout on the guitar as well as on the computer over this two-year period. Improvising around their ideas, I found myself inspired to write a new piece with each group of compositions submitted, and at the end of the project I put them all together in my own set and named it Collage of Appreciation, with each piece dedicated to one of my anthology colleagues.

Rondo Bout Five was written for jazz/classical guitarist Buck Wolters of Germany, a man after my own heart because of our similar backgrounds. Buck is one of the two best jazz/classical guitarists, along with Gene Bertoncini, that I have ever run across. The title is a play of words on one of my favorite tunes when I was a jazz player, Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk. One of Bucks contributions led me to improvising in 5/4 time to his idea and it resulted in this composition that I did in an ABACA rondo form (with a main returning A section that alternates with two other sections in different keys). Of course the Five part of the title refers to a piece in quintuple time for five fingers. Did your other pieces germinate similarly? Pretty much. Jim Lentini, Carlos Dorado and Gerald Garcia wrote some brief scale passages in their pieces that I found were easier to play using the RH thumb and one or more fingers in free strokes, instead of the now-standard method of alternating two or three fingers in rest strokes. I had been playing around with this method of scales and so I exploited it with three minor blues pieces called Blues at Three, Blues at Four and Blues between Three and Four for using pmi, pami and a combination of the two in fast scale passages. Irish composer David Flynn wrote a preparation piece for a completed tremolo a fivefinger tremolo where the little finger plays simultaneously with the thumb bass notes, followed by ami among his four Irish-flavored contributions, and I returned the favor by writing the Blues for Five tremolo piece for him. I wrote another tremolo study, Homage to Anton Stingl, and dedicated it to German guitarist Andreas Stevens in appreciation for his introducing me to his fellow countrymen that participated in these projects: Leonhard Beck, Buck Wolters and Mirko Schrader. Andreas also sent me two unpublished studies for consideration by the late German guitarist/composer/pedagogue Anton Stingl (1908-2000). I adapted them to a five-finger technique but his son would only give me permission to use them if I would use them un-altered, which rendered them useless for this book. So I took Antons ideas and composed my own piece using different five-finger tremolo variations working towards a completed tremolo at the end. Andrs Segovia International Composition Prize winner Jim Lentinis first piece, written in the spring of 2005, was called A Song for Spring, and I told him that we needed a Four Seasons for the guitar and why didnt he carry through with that idea. Over the next three seasons that year he completed the cycle and we now have a very nice addition to our repertoire in Jims jazzblues style. I wrote two harmonics studies for Californian Jim Ferguson and Detroiter John Hall. Jim wrote two really clever and nice pieces inspired by the afore-mentioned Brouwer studies. He also used some Lenny Breau harmonics (plucked with the thumb and touched at the node by the index finger) in three of his compositions and forced me to learn this technique. I had previously considered these harmonics as gimmicks. But when I began practicing them for his pieces and getting proficient with them, I saw that they are really useful at times in our standard repertoire, either in combination with standard RH harmonics or on the bass strings where RH harmonics tend to have a scraping sound when plucked with either the a finger or, as I do with the little finger, c, in a five-finger technique. I wrote Chinese Metronome for him and Harmonic Study in C Major to mirror one of Johns Four Studies. Ernesto Corderos two lovely Puerto Rican studies led me to the Mysterious Prelude and its dissonant, ambiguous harmonies. Ricardo Iznaola wrote Two Circus Vignettes that are really nice and part of a projected suite of pieces around circus themes. One of them, Jugglin Five, uses a five-finger arpeggio pattern to produce a four-on-three rhythm between the bass and arpeggio notes. I wrote Study in A Major as a preparation piece for his more technically-difficult little gem. John Oliver, from Vancouver, British Columbia, wrote Four Seascapes in different arpeggio styles that were inspired by his home near the Pacific Ocean, and I countered with an arpeggio study of my own entitled Study in B Minor.

In addition to his Four Minimal Studies for the anthology, German composer Mirko Schrader sent me a copy of his Prelude #1, which alternates between arpeggio patterns of pima, pimc and piac. I had been thinking of doing such a study so I adapted his idea into A Study for Mirko. Peruvian guitarist/composer Carlos Hayre couldnt contribute at the time, but sent me a simple, yet beautiful four-finger chord study that I expanded and adapted for different five-finger arpeggio patterns, Variations on a Study by Hayre. I dedicated it to his closest Latin American neighbor in this project, Luis Zea from Venezuela, in appreciation of both Carlos past help with my first two books and Luis beautiful Pequea Suite Venezolana (Little Venezuelan Suite) in four movements. Any future publishing or recording projects? The experience gained from this project led me to further tackle the difficult problem of composing really interesting music at the Easy level for five fingers. I have just completed a set of 35 Easy Characteristic Studies and am preparing them for publication. Ricardo Iznaola and Luis Zea proofed the Spanish texts and played through the music, as did two other guitar teachers from the New England area, all giving me very encouraging comments like, This is just what we need for either beginning students or advanced players that want to add the little finger to their technique. Get these in print! And there has always been the thought in the back of mind about the need for a method book that teaches the student from the very beginning in a five-finger right hand technique. All of our present method books ignore the little finger and its great possibilities, and they will all become obsolete in the near future when the inevitable happens and all guitarists are using the little finger. You cant just take a four-finger method and adapt it to five. And a problem that I have seen with some recent method books is a heavy concentration on exercises instead of actual music to play. If we taught sports in this way, kids would never want to play baseball, basketball or football! With all of the work that I have done these past 24 years, I have been filing away ideas for such a book concentrating mostly on interesting music at the Very-Easy level to supplement my Right-Hand Studies for Five Fingers. I have even thought about combining these two projects of Easy Characteristic Studies and Method Book into one. With several other projects going, like the scales that I mentioned earlier, its a good thing that I retired from UTA three years ago to be able to devote my full time and energies to creative activities. I really love and do miss teaching, but I find it very energy-absorbing. So much to do, so little time!

to Buck Wolters

9. RONDO 'BOUT FIVE (Rondo a las cinco)


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