When children take up an interest in the guitar, they typically envision a rock-star setting, with stacks of amplifiers and arm-flailing windmill moves, or acoustic, folk-style strumming.
Classical guitar – subtle and unamplified, with nylon strings – doesn’t usually enter their minds. With its rich history, and a striking, though quiet, sound, it is an important and very popular Settlement offering.
Luke Honer himself is a product of Settlement’s guitar instruction. He began studying at age 13 at the Kardon-Northeast Branch with longtime faculty member and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Palley Distinguished Faculty Chair Bill Peters.
Honer picked up the style and technique quickly – “I was learning, in a couple of months, things that it takes years for other people to get,” he says – and clicked with his teacher. From there, “it was a really easy transition to make guitar a part of my life.”
He went on to conservatory study and earned performance degrees at the Hartt School of Music. Though he’s passionate about the instrument, he says he’s not set on making all of his students into classical guitarists; he teaches other styles of guitar and electric bass as well. His musical tastes are broad, and he encourages students to draw on their own favorite songs and artists. “They can bring in their music, and we’ll take a little bit of time to look at it and figure out how it’s played,” he says. “It’s a catalyst for them to learn, and then we can go step-by-step to get them there.”
Most beginning students, some of whom use half-size instruments, have to adjust to the upright posture and using the specialized footrest that classical playing requires. Honer has found that very small adjustments – changing the player’s wrist position by an inch, for example, or a slight change to the angle of the instrument – can help students overcome difficulties.
As his students progress and look to branch out from the classical guitar curriculum, Honer finds opportunities for some modern music-history lessons. “I try to start them with Beatles songs,” he says, and then go on to other artists whose music lends itself well to classical-style playing.
The history of the guitar stretches much further back than John, Paul, George and Ringo, of course, with literature for the instrument dating back more than four centuries. When working on early repertoire, there are regular opportunities to discuss music history and the evolution of the guitar and musical style.
“I’ll give a student a piece that has the date ‘1650’ at the top,” he explains. “From there, we can talk about what was going on in the world back then.”