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Classical guitar virtuoso educates NDSU master students

Published October 08, 2013

The first time NDSU graduate student Eric Martens heard a recording of Francisco Tarrega’s “Capricho Arabe” it was played by world-renowned classical guitar virtuoso Christopher Parkening.

So it was surreal that Parkening was sitting quietly on stage with Martens, studying every movement as Martens played the music piece. Now the chair of the classical guitar program at Pepperdine University in California, Parkening was at NDSU to teach a classical guitar master class in September at Beckwith Recital Hall. 

Martens, one of two students in the master’s degree of classical guitar program at NDSU, wasn’t even nervous. Talk about cool under pressure.

“I was at NDSU for a little under three weeks and I got the opportunity to do a master class with one of the all-time greats on classical guitar,” said Martens, who grew up in Edina. Minn., and earned a bachelor’s degree in classical guitar performance at Concordia College, Moorhead, in 2007. “It was a great experience.”

Parkening is the latest in a long line of experienced lecturers and performers to work with students in NDSU’s School of Music. Los Angeles Philharmonic trumpet player Thomas Hooten, instrumental composer David Maslanka, vocalist and bassist Kristin Korb and choral composer Dale Warland have also recently been guests.

In more than 40 years in music, Parkening has performed with Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming, John Williams, Josh Groban and the Boston Pops. He has recorded several albums, played at Carnegie Hall and the White House, and performed twice on the Grammy Awards.

Parkening is widely regarded as the preeminent name in classical guitar.

“Christopher Parkening is arguably one of the most important and recognizable classical musicians of the last 40 years,” said Bill Law, NDSU assistant director of performing arts. “Having a musician of his stature work with our students is a further indicator of the NDSU School of Music’s elevated national stature.”

At the master class, Parkening schooled four guitar players – including NDSU master’s degree students Martens and Chris Argenziano – on everything from proper hand placement, tuning, strumming technique and fingernail placement on the strings.

Seated just inches away as each participant performed at least one piece of music, Parkening listened intently to each note. He was hands-on and engaging, politely asking to use the player’s instrument after each performance to demonstrate proper technique, or to impart wisdom he thought might help improve the quality of the piece.

And he didn’t just teach music. He demonstrated the proper way to walk on stage, bow and sit when performing on a big stage like Carnegie Hall in New York.

It was a master class in every sense, with one of the world’s greatest guitarists spilling his best secrets.

“Anytime you can get another person’s point of view on your instrument it is valuable,” said Argenziano, from Reynolds, N.D. “But when it comes from a player like Christopher Parkening it’s best to take what he says to heart. I liken it to getting a lesson on shooting free throws from Michael Jordan.”

Argenziano and Martens both hope to teach music at the college level. Each of the students said he might pursue a doctorate after completing the NDSU master’s program.

The visit from Parkening helped provide insight into what it takes to become a better performer and a better teacher, they said.

And when they pay it forward one day to their students, Martens and Argenziano will be continuing a tradition Parkening says is vital to the future of classical guitar. Parkening was instructed early in his career by classic guitar great Andres Segovia. Segovia, who has influenced generations of guitarists, called Parkening one of the most brilliant guitarists in the world.

“I feel it’s the duty of everyone that learns a trade to pass it on to the younger generation,” Parkening said. “I try to impart the idea with my students that it’s more important to pursue personal excellence than it is success. Be the best you can be and let the success fall where it does.”


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North Dakota State University
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