There were many memorable moments at the 2012 SAA Conference, 40 and Forward! It was a great time to share our love and passion for teaching, try some new music for guitar ensemble, listen to our colleagues, and dream of what we can accomplish for young guitarists in the future.

For the first time, we included an ensemble for students and attending teachers, with new music composed by Mychal Gendron and new arrangements provided by David Madsen and Steve Bondy. Many other submissions were shared at the reading session, wonderfully organized by assistant guitar coordinator Kevin Hart, including a new work commissioned by Christopher Becknell and written by David Crittendon for guitars and violins. It was good to work together, side by side with students and teachers in our musical family!

The guitar teacher trainers in attendance were Andrea Cannon, Mychal Gendron, David Madsen, Joe Pecoraro and MaryLou Roberts. We discussed ways to use the new “The Sound of Success” DVD that is hosted on the SAA web site. Please tell interested guitarists about it! We also discussed the upcoming job of the SAA Guitar Committee in contributing to the process of revising the guitar books, and we each shared ideas about what it would look like. The Frank Longay Memorial Scholarship fund continues to grow as we each support it in our own ways. We will continue to encourage our colleagues to contribute as well as collect donations from parents by using concerts for fundraising.

Joe Pecoraro set the stage Thursday evening with his program titled “American Dreams,” guitar music by American composers. He talked about the music, which gave the audience images of what they were about to hear. His playing led us all to appreciate what a wonderful sound the guitar has, and that our American guitar music is still growing and forming some really beautiful works of art.

Andrea Cannon presented ideas about use of the thumb in teaching students, in her presentation, “Thumbs—Not Just for Texting!” One idea she has found is that keeping the right thumb in the air and “floating” next to the index fingers helps with tension in the thumb in the beginning. When students begin with the thumb rested on a string, they often push the thumb and make it tenser. Taking the thumb off may also help with the transition to thumb free stroke.

This conference had a special emphasis on the music of J.S. Bach. MaryLou Roberts presented the Bach Gavottes from Book Five with new fingering ideas to use only the half barre in different contexts. One of the musical ideas was to play the two upbeats at the beginning of each phrase with articulation, and how to use the rolled chords on the downbeats. Connie Sheu contributed ideas on ornamentation in the Bach Bourree from Book Six. Ornaments would be on the strong beats, beat one and three, and are not on the weak beats, beat two or four. It is good for the students to explore their own ornaments, and can be beneficial for technique development as well.

Connie Sheu performed “Variations on a Theme of Mercadante” by Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi, the daughter of Mauro Giuliani, on the Clinician’s Concert. Her playing was seamless; every note was played with care. This piece had influences of Giuliani in the use of varied right hand patterns, together with some beautiful romantic sounds and adventurous shifts. What a treat to hear Connie play, after only knowing her as a student of Frank Longay for many years, and the little girl pictured in our Book One! Check out her CD; it’s a real treat.

Steve Bondy has collected a large repertoire of reading pieces and presented them on screen for us to read and talked about what part of the Suzuki repertoire they could be useful for. There is a large body of pieces to choose from, so it was great to preview the music in order to make informed purchases of the scores. Students can experience different styles of music, and have individual choices with a wide variety of reading pieces.

Seth Himmelhoch gave his presentation on how the left hand works, and what are the most efficient ways to describe finger pressure, thumb placement, and barre technique. He contacted artists and teachers, getting responses from performing artists such as Sharon Isbin and Denis Azabagic, as well as many Suzuki colleagues. He also used quotes from the Suzuki Guitar List Serve as a past discussion of left hand technique, and tied in articles from books by guitar authors such as Charles Duncan and Lee Ryan.

Four students were chosen by audition for the master class with Connie Sheu: Madeline Weiler, Jack Weiler, students of Alan Johnston and George Little, and Mohan Ritsema and Sara Abrams, students of MaryLou Roberts. Connie worked with each student to bring out more of the music, including better sound, and good practice advice.

The legacy session, which was recorded for future reference, was a panel discussion on what Frank Longay contributed to Suzuki guitar pedagogy. On the panel were Ziah Riordan via recording, Scott Gossage, Mychal Gendron, MaryLou Roberts, and Seth Himmelhoch. There was such a depth of knowledge and topics that we would need a whole article on the subject!

MaryLou Roberts writes, “It was so inspiring to be a part of the Kaleidoscope Concert, which featured Suzuki students who have reached a high level of achievement at a young age. My little student, five-year-old Shun Nakashima and I performed Meadow Minuet by Frank Longay. It was a wonderful experience; all the children and parents were supportive of each other, and being backstage with them was a treat. One boy was jumping up and down with excitement, he really wanted to play! Teachers came back to prepare their students, and organizers Andrea Yun and Lucy Shaw led with excitement and a caring, watchful eye.”

It was an awesome weekend to get better acquainted with our greater community first hand, hear geek-like topics being discussed, hear about new research, listen to music, and talk shop with old friends. Some presentation handouts are available through the SAA website. The whole community is stronger because of the conference; thanks to the SAA for supporting us!