Playing with the classy side of the guitar

January 22, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Philadelphia Classical Guitar Trio will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at Laird Hall at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa.

The program will include compositions from the 19th and 20th centuries, a suite from Georges Bizet's "Carmen" and a work by Gabriel Faur among them.

Also on the program are two pieces by American composer Scott Joplin, known for his ragtime. His "Solace," written for solo piano, is a lot of fun, says Thomas Smith, trio member and spokesman.


The Joplin piece was transcribed for the trio by ensemble member Michael Simmons. Transcription and musical arrangement for the trio is something its members get plenty of opportunity to do.

There is more music written for classical guitar quartets than trios, Smith says.

Smith and Simmons have played together since the early 1990s, members of a quartet for a few years. In 1995, when two players left at the same time, the pair decided to form a trio instead of replacing both and assembling another quartet.

It was just one more phone call to make, Smith laughs.

Marisol Rampolla joined Smith and Simmons, and the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Trio began its musical journey. The ensemble members hold degrees from Temple University and the University of the Arts in Philadephia. Simmons teaches music at Harcum College and the Woodlynde School; Rampolla teaches at the Settlement School of Music, Ancillae Assumpta Academy and Community College of Philadelphia. Smith owns a picture framing business.

Smith, 46, started playing guitar when he was 14 or 15 - admittedly, he jokes, as a way to meet girls. He played his share of Beatles tunes, but when he was about 17, he heard classical guitar master Andres Segovia - "the deity at the time" - play. Smith's studies became more serious when he was about 17, and his passion for music developed.

Smith was attracted by the simplicity of the instrument but fascinated that you could cram so much music into six strings.

The contrasting lines of a Bach composition - bass on three silk-wrapped steel strings, melody on three nylon treble strings - can be played on one guitar, he says.

Smith played in several rock bands, but tired of smoky bars and says you can't serve too many masters at one time. He chose classical guitar and says there is lots of variety there.

Music for classical guitar is not all Italian baroque and Spanish, he says. It's good for the trio to play different things.

"We like to mix it up," he says.

He also wants people to hear the variety of music the guitar can play.

"We think the audience should be able to experience this eclectic instrument," he says.

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