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[whitespace] Muriel Anderson
Fingerpickin' Good: Finger-style guitarist Muriel Anderson performs as part of the 'Women and the Guitar' program.

Three Styles, One Passion

A trio of guitarists strikes new chords in the PAS program 'Women and the Guitar'

By Marianne Messina

AS MUSIC GETS MORE global and inclusive, heavy metal bands play with symphonies, rootsy percussion instruments accompany electric guitar, and industrial bands do 150-bpm makeovers on 16th-century composers. "You can put Bach with Brazilian," says classical guitarist Susan McDonald, and her repertoire proves the point in a piece called "Joplin in Rio."

McDonald is part of an upcoming South Bay Guitar Society program, which celebrates inclusiveness by featuring virtuosi from three distinctly different styles of guitar: classical, finger-style and jazz. The evening, called "Women and the Guitar," is part of San Jose's annual Performing Arts Series (PAS) which celebrates the diversity of local cultural and performing arts groups with a month-long showcase of performances. "Women and the Guitar" combines McDonald with jazz guitarist Mimi Fox and finger-style guitarist Muriel Anderson. In caliber, each woman is up there where the air gets thin, where men still largely dominate, but what really unites them is the expansive and incredible energy they bring to their instruments.

Having studied with Christopher Parkening and Chet Atkins, Muriel Anderson won the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship in 1989 and is considered one of the best in the U.S. "What people like Muriel Anderson are bringing to the fingerpicking style is this phenomenal technique that comes from classical," South Bay Guitar Society president Jerry Snyder explains. "The early fingerpickers used to anchor their pinky on the top of the guitar. They just stayed in one place and went for it" (as opposed to moving the hand around to find different tones). "They didn't have these nuances of color and sound that the new fingerpicking breed will play."

Within that style, Anderson has been developing her own techniques. "I have an approach to music that's fairly untraditional," Anderson says. For her, creating techniques comes out of the need to produce "a sound or a feel or a color" she's hearing in her head. An article posted on www.MurielAnderson.com explains Anderson's technique of "sweeping harmonic chords." And in a song called "Sakura" ("Cherry Blossom"), Anderson creates a brilliant rendering of the traditional Japanese koto.

Relying on similar instincts, McDonald chooses what music to transcribe for the guitar. You hear a performance "and sometimes you can imagine it on guitar," McDonald says. Other times, she takes inspiration from the people around her. When her harpsichordist father was sick with cancer, for a special birthday gift she transcribed a few of his harpsichord compositions for guitar. In preparing this work, McDonald would frequently practice at Houston's M.D. Anderson Hospital in a waiting room. Patients would stop by to appreciate, even to comment. She was surprised to learn that they preferred more complex, layered pieces.

Honoring the patients' affinities when compiling her CD Comfort brought about a turning point for McDonald's career. "Before, it was like getting myself out there." But Comfort drew her towards getting the music out there, music McDonald knew was important to others. "The Clock," for example, came from a harpsichord piece Nicholas Weber wrote celebrating the time that he (with AIDS) had left to live.

Mimi Fox established a name ("fast fingers") in the jazz world by the early '90s. After her San Jose appearance, Fox heads off on a three-month tour in Japan with a stop in Thailand to record one of two upcoming CDs.

Meanwhile McDonald has begun work on an ambitious oratorio for guitar and chorus based on the 16th-century Spanish explorer Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca. And Nashville-based Anderson has embarked on a project that accesses musical instruments for children. Called the Music for Life Alliance (see www.musicforlifealliance.org), Anderson's efforts ensure that music continues to draw from the roots. "Amateur music is much more important than professional music," she says with passion. "It's important to express the soul."

Women and the Guitar will be held Saturday, Oct. 14 at 8pm at the Montgomery Theater, 145 W. San Carlos St., San Jose. Tickets are $15 and $18. (408.292.0704 or www.sbgs.org).

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From the October 12-18, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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