Metropolis Profile: Guitar Teacher Brian Riggs

December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Tell me how you decided to begin your career in music – how old were you, and how did you know you wanted this path? Was there a defining moment, or was it a longer process of internal recognition?

I was fairly older when I decided that I wanted to make a career in music – I was eighteen-years-old and a freshman in college. When I discovered the classical guitar and the music that could be played on it, I was hooked and knew that I wanted to learn to play this music and immerse myself in it as much as possible. This was a longer process for me, and it continues to the present day, I’m always discovering something new and finding something to get excited about.

What is your favorite thing about your instrument?

My favorite thing about the guitar is the tone, or sound of the instrument. The guitar has a unique voice, as it has a wide palette of colors and sounds that can be used in a single piece of music. While there are many aspects to learning to play the guitar, one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects is learning how to make a full, beautiful sound and learning to vary the sound in order to best express the music.

What is the most interesting place you’ve ever visited as a result of your career – whether traveling for a performance, a teaching gig or for schooling?

One of the most interesting places I have visited is the south island of New Zealand while on a choir tour during college. The south island of New Zealand is accessible only by plane or by ferry, and I traveled by ferry from the main, north island and stayed on the south island for almost a week. The countryside was beautiful and the audiences were receptive and extremely welcoming to choir visiting all the way from Chicago. The shared love of music made it possible to form an instant connection with an audience halfway around the world.

What do you say to students that are taking lessons, enjoy playing, but can’t see themselves pursuing music performance in college or pursuing it as a career after college?

Music is a lifelong pursuit, and even if students are not planning on pursuing music as a vocation they can still benefit from the enjoyment and creative expression that making music provides. People can participate in musical activities even if they do not study music in college or play professionally. Choirs, community orchestras, jam sessions with friends are all opportunities to make music and connect with others.

What sacrifices have you made in order to have the career that you now have?

I have sacrificed having typical weekday hours in order to have the career that I have now, as most musical activities take place on evenings and weekends. Teaching guitar lessons means working when students are outside of school or work. This means less time at home with my wife during the week and sometimes having to miss events like concerts or performances during the week. This is a sacrifice that is easy to make to be able to work with music.

What about your career could you do without?

I could do without the traveling to different places throughout the week. Every teaching job that I work at is part time, so most days I am going to a different place and this often means significant commuting times.

What about your career can you not get enough of?

I cannot get enough of the enjoyment that comes when a student has that breakthrough moment when a technique or a concept truly sinks in. To see students improve and to see them grow as musicians makes all the commuting and evenings more than worth it.

What music do you listen to in your downtime?

I listen to a lot of classical guitar recordings, and if I’m studying a piece I will listen to a lot of recordings. In my downtime for enjoyment I usually listen to the Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia. I also like the music of bands like Arcade Fire and especially Radiohead. I enjoy bands that have guitar in them but maybe are not mainly focused on the guitar-playing. The musical ideas provide me with inspiration for own playing.

What other artistic endeavor do you spend time on?

In addition to playing the guitar, I really enjoy writing music. My wife is a soprano, so I like to write music for her to sing. Writing music allows me to learn more about other instruments, as I can get input from my musician friends about what will work and what will not on an instrument that I am not familiar with, like cello or oboe.

What is your favorite field in the arts that you spend the most time appreciating (Painting? Theatre? Reading?)

I spend the most time appreciating painting and the visual arts. I enjoy going frequently to the Musuem of Contemporary Art as well as the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute. Also, in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago there is a monthly event where artists open up their work spaces to display their projects. I really [enjoy] interacting with creative people and being inspired by their works. I often come away from these encounters challenged to find a way to connect with others in my own playing.

What is your favorite piece of advice related to being a musician that you give? And have received?

The favorite advice that I give about being a musician is that it requires a constant commitment. Sometimes it is easy to practice and work a lot when we are inspired or if an important performance is approaching, but it is equally important to practice and keep working on developing your skills even when you are not necessarily excited or inspired.

The favorite advice I have received is that the music is more important than the musician, which means that as musicians we should focus on expressing the music and connecting with the listener instead of trying to draw attention to ourselves. Doing this provides the enjoyment that will lead to a lifetime of making music.

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