Seeing a performance by someone you admire can be inspiring, but for Nero Catalano, seeing a guitar great in concert taught him something unexpected.
Catalano’s realization came when he went to see John Williams, a world-renowned classical guitarist, perform. “He was playing ‘La Catedral’—it’s a massive virtuoso piece, one that I’ve tried to play many times,” he recalls. “I could tell he messed up three times. Almost no one else in the audience would have noticed, but I thought, ‘That’s amazing! He’s a human being.’”
The hardest thing, for experienced musicians as much as young ones, is “to keep going,” Catalano says. “I still make mistakes all the time. There are always going to be a couple of bumps in the road.” For this reason, he always stresses patience with his students, some of whom are as young as 4 or 5 years old, even if they’re having trouble learning scales or with finger placement.
Outside of teaching, Catalano keeps busy as a working musician, performing in bands, jazz combos, and in pit orchestras for theater shows. He comes from a family of guitarists as well: he plays in a guitar duo with his brother, and his father owns a guitar store in Catalano’s hometown of Camp Hill, Pa. “I grew up around people playing—and practicing—music,” he says, adding that he could often hear lessons taking place in the store from his room.
Because he’s trained in both classical and jazz, Catalano works to accommodate students who are interested in both types of music—or who don’t yet know what kind of music they want to play.
“It all depends on the instrument they come in with on the first day,” he says. “If they come with a gut-string, classical-style guitar, we’ll work on finger playing. If they have a steel-string guitar, we’ll work on playing with a pick.”
His adult jazz ensemble is similarly flexible—to an extent. “We have a couple core players, and a couple others who come in and out, so I pick the tunes,” he says, adding that the ensemble’s drummer has made some selection in recognition of his longevity with the group. “I want to do things that everyone can walk in and play.”