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Aaron Travers on Composing for Guitar

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

Luke: Why do you think it is important for guitarists and composers to collaborate on writing new music?

Aaron: The same reason why it's important for composers to collaborate with any musician — to enter into a dialogue that creates an exciting, new work, especially for the guitar. A lot of guitar music is written by guitarists, but at Twisted Spruce, we have a lot of composers who are not guitarists. They’re learning how to write for guitar, while at the same time, guitarists are learning how to work with composers. When non-guitarist composers write for the guitar, they sometimes come up with ideas that are (unexpected) but end up being exciting, playable and idiomatic.

L: What do you think makes the guitar unique and exciting compared to other instruments that we typically write for?

A: There are a couple of attributes that make the guitar really interesting. Firstly, the guitar is a polyphonic instrument, which offers a lot of different possibilities for counterpoint. Next, it is one of the few instruments that really does cross genres and styles. In fact, it appears in many different styles of music, from classical music to popular music and world music as well. That kind of cross-pollination is one of the most unique aspects of the guitar.

The guitar has a big role in South American music, especially in the folk music. Every different region in South America uses the guitar in different ways. In some cases, they use it purely as a rhythm instrument instead of percussion. Then in Argentina, it makes its way into tango.

L: How do you believe that Twisted Spruce can further the careers of young guitarists and composers?

A: The act of collaboration is a great way to form friendships with other musicians and composers. Those kinds of connections benefit both people in the collaboration. Besides this, Twisted Spruce also teaches the basic skills for music entrepreneurship, including recording techniques, promoting yourself and the ways in which guitarists can be involved in the larger musical environment as more than soloists.

L: What do you think is the most gratifying thing about writing for the guitar from your own experience?

A: I have two things. I’ve really enjoyed working with guitarists because the ones I work with have been really open to learning new music, even if they feel a bit uncomfortable at first. Also, I know it will definitely get played. I think that guitarists love to play; they are hungry for performance opportunities. Audiences in general are very receptive of guitar, so I think this is a plus for composers as well.

L: Finally, is there anything else you want to add? Anything else about Twisted Spruce?

A: I want to remind everyone that in addition to the collaborative symposium, we do have a competition. The competition includes a prize for the best guitarist, a prize for the composer with the best piece and a collaborative prize for best collaboration. So, the best piece may not necessarily be the one to win all the prizes. The guitar winner gets a brand new concert guitar that has been donated by Wilson Burnham. The composition winner will be commissioned to write a new piece for the World Ensemble, which is a large guitar ensemble featuring performers from all over the world that will be paired with a video. I’m also excited that we will be publishing new pieces our site, so participants can sell their work.

L: That’s always super exciting. Thank you so much for your time!

Find out more about Travers here.

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