Muriel Anderson - Picking the Classics
Guitar.com: So you studied at the Old Town School, then attended DePaul University and studied classical guitar. Why did you go that direction?
Anderson: Classical was the only way I could study guitar in college. I figured I would just take classical for a while and maybe it would influence my fingerpicking, and I'd eventually go back. What I didn't bank on was that I just fell in love with classical guitar. I discovered a whole new world. I discovered that if you grew out your fingernails, and sanded them real smooth, and worked with them, that you could get all different tones out of the guitar. And I was playing mostly steel string guitar before that. But then when I discovered all the different tones you could get out of a nylon string guitar, it just has so many more possibilities. You can shape the notes more. That was what drew me to the guitar to begin with, the ability to touch and be directly in contact with the music and strings. Just by changing the angle of my fingers slightly I can get all kinds of sounds. I use those in the context of the music to create just the type of tone that I want from the note.
Guitar.com: In your playing you use a lot of full chord shapes even barre chords in some cases. But in classical guitar study aren't you usually steered toward only fingering the note you're playing?
Anderson: It's whatever you need to do to facilitate the music. There are some etudes that are just chords all the way through. The chord is held the whole time. But with a lot of things you're playing very contrapuntal pieces, like Bach's Bourree, where there's not a lot of time or space for you to put your fingers other places where they don't need to be. You need to be efficient. But in the fingerstyle I would grab a whole chord a lot of times because I was improvising and I wasn't sure what string I might want to hit that time. So fingering the entire chord facilitates improvisation within that style. But if you're playing a piece that has two different voices going at the same time, you're doing enough. You don't need to waste fingers putting them down on strings where they're not going to be used.
Guitar.com: A lot of great classical guitar music is from Spain and Portugal, so flamenco begins to come into that. Do you see flamenco and classical as separate or all part of the same technique?
Anderson: They're all part of the same fabric. And flamenco is much more geared toward dancing the entire flamenco culture. It's a wonderful art form in and of itself, especially the way the music intertwines with the dancing and the lyrics. The entire culture of flamencos gypsies. That's something I'd like to delve into more. I had a couple of flamenco guitar lessons from Juan Serrano, a wonderful flamenco guitarist. And it changed my music.
Guitar.com: You also studied with Christopher Parkening?
Anderson: Yes. Christopher Parkening teaches master classes once a year out in Bozeman, Montana. He's still doing that. I attended those for many years. And sometimes he gave me a little extra advice in between.
Guitar.com: And you studied with Chet Atkins. How did you work with him and what did you learn?
Anderson: I used to go to Nashville quite frequently when I lived in Chicago. Every time I went to Nashville I would stop in Chet's office and visit with his secretary. And after awhile, Chet would come down and say, "Here's something I'm working on." And he'd sit there and teach it to me. And he'd say, "What do you think about this?" He was very patient. I wrote a lot of music this way. Sometimes he would send me a tape that he recorded. He'd say, "This is something that would be good for your hotel gig." [laughs] And he was always very supportive of young musicians with a passion for the music. He's well known in Nashville for his big heart and his willingness to share his music. So many, many times I learned songs at his office.
Guitar.com: How has your composing changed over the years?
Anderson: Hopefully it's gotten better [laughs]. I'm writing more in a classical style now. It's not a conscious move. I just love the combination of guitar and cello, guitar and cello and violin, and viola. A lot of the music that I'm hearing in my head these days is a little bit more harmonically complex and with a lot of intertwining melodies. So it tends to be more in the classical vein. But not every piece. Some pieces will come back and be a fingerstyle piece.
Guitar.com: When you compose a piece does it just come out of your hands or do you think about the chord progressions and music theory?
Anderson: No. I write books on that, I don't think about it [laughs]. It's either what comes out of my hands or what I hear. Sometimes, a couple of pieces that I've written, they were just dreams, all the way through. So I just woke up and wrote down the dream. That's the easy way to write. Sometimes you hear things in your head and you say, "What was that?" And it turns out to be something in 7/8 time. I find a lot of the stuff that I just hear in my head turns out to be tunes in very strange timings. I go to write them down and I say, "Whoa, its changing meter every measure." That's where I think some of the more interesting tunes have come from from my dreams. Or all the sudden I'm walking along and I hear a melody. That's a really fun way to write. It's wonderful when that happens. It's a real blessing when that happens. And other songs I work a long time to revise and perfect and change. And they're no less I dont think either one is better than the other, they're just two different ways to write.