Sviatoslav Stravinsky on Deep Musical Study

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!

“It’s as if the work at hand suddenly became as deep as the sea.” 

Sviatoslav Stravinsky (Igor’s son, of studying with Nadia Boulanger)

In mid-century Paris lived one of the greatest music teachers of recent history. Nadia Boulanger attracted some of the world’s best composers, players, and teachers as students.

Aaron Copland, Phillip Glass, Astor Piazzola, Quincy Jones, Leonard Berstein, and many others flocked to her. Her living room is the stuff of legend. Long lessons, weekly lectures, and masterclasses.

What made these lessons so good? What did these already-great musicians find there?

She was highly skilled. She drove people hard and demanded a deep work ethic. And she was sincerely interested in the musical growth of each student.

For example, it’s said that each week, as ongoing homework, students would learn a Bach cantata. This is a small, four-part work for choir, and Bach wrote loads of them.

Students would analyze it. They would play one line and sing another, by memory. A new one each week. And she may not even ask them to present it in a lesson. But if she asked and it wasn’t ready, she would not be happy.

What kept people coming back, however, was beyond simple hard work. It was something richer. Something more personally rewarding.

Nadia Boulanger was able to point the way to a deeper understanding of music. Even for some of the best musicians in the world, she opened new doors and pointed toward further vistas.

As they worked through pieces together, students found new ways of seeing and hearing. They learned to notice connections and perspectives that were previously invisible to them.

While lesser musicians may grow arrogant and lose the wonder of musical exploration, her students found endless depths of discovery. They learned to keep looking, in order to keep finding.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

I just started level 1C...I was able to look at a Carulli piece, albeit a simple one, and understand it. And that understanding allowed me to play it much more easily on the first run through, and I expect it will allow me to make it fully musical at tempo quite soon. That's a huge personal victory for me. Until very recently my mindset was: "Notes on a page. Jimi didn't need them and I don't either." But I ain't Jimi, and now I want those notes on a page.
My work in CGS, even at these early levels, got me to that personal breakthrough. And that's given me more confidence that continued work will get me to greater places in due time. So to answer your question: yes, I absolutely feel like I'm making headway and moving forward in my playing. Thank you for that.
~ Matthew Ecker


Allen, your website and teaching methods are excellent. You have an easy going yet encouraging way of inspiring people to learn and practice their art. And you are always accessible to your students to personally answer questions. I appreciate ... that personal touch. The course on reading rhythm and playing higher up the neck I found particularly helpful. God bless you and many thanks.

~ Joe Bazan

-Joe Bazan

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