Tuesday, November 07, 2017

RIP Matanya Ophee


I want to write more than merely mentioning the death of Matanya Ophee but it's early in the morning, I've got a fairly normal day job and to that I must go.

But I'm sorry to read that he has passed.  He has been one of my inspirations as a guitarist for his example in scholarship. I read the transcript of his lecture "Repertoire Issues" in 1999 and, as I put it a decade earlier, reading it changed my life. When I was in college getting a ... probably mostly impractical journalism degree I was told I had to minor in something to prove I could write about more than just writing.  I chose music composition and got a large music minor.  It didn't secure me any jobs, but it meant that I loved researching music and loved discovering people who could not just write about music but write about music in a compelling way. 

I've never come across anyone in the last twenty years who could write about the guitar and its literature quite like Matanya Ophee.  That's not to say there aren't other writers who have been great at advocating for the instrument.  Sor's treatise on guitar technique deserves its canonical place in the literature, obviously. 

Since Slipped Disc described Ophee as writing combatively for guitar journals I feel like me and others will say that one of Ophee's points was that, legends and myths surrounding Segovia's elevation of the guitar to a status of being taken as seriously as the violin or the piano never happened.  If anything we guitarists and our music are not taken seriously and that if we want the music we play taken seriously we must advocate for it, and do so without any inferiority complex as to the quality or nature of that music.

I feel like everything I wrote since 1999 for the guitar drew inspiration from Ophee's challenge to guitarists to never assume our instrument cannot be taken seriously if, first, we take the instrument seriously ourselves.  There's no need to confine our understanding of what we can do with this instrument to purveyors of and composers of lollipops (not that there's no place for them).  I wouldn't have even thought to try composing a sonata for tuba and unamplified guitar had I not read Ophee's lecture.  I would eventually find out to my delight there are almost half a dozen other composers, most of them guitarists, who have written a cycle of preludes and fugues for solo guitar.  Rather than resignedly assume something is impossible there is something to be said for being willing to try. 

Ophee's passing is a sad day for me but the legacy of his work has shaped my life as a guitarist and a composer so on the news of his passing I want to express my gratitude for his life and work.  May he rest in peace.

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