WBU-AP(Senior group) Fine Work
Towards Recuerdos: Is Braille Still Relevant in the Age of Technology?
Alan Bartlett Australia 53 male

I am a classical guitarist of great note, well known for playing my instrument with great aplomb. I play regularly, performing in public and I love to do so. Chances are though, you haven't heard of me, and with good reason, as I am only famous to a small local community and my family. I command a legendary status among these people. Just kidding about the legendary status. It doesn't hurt to dream, does it?

The journey towards this legendary status as a competent and much loved musician started simply with listening to the beautiful and captivating sounds of the classical guitar. I have heard and have many favourite artists over the years that includes the actual legendary and widely famous, nylon guitarist and singer, Jose Feleciano. However, there was one really special piece of guitar music that stood out above the rest.

Recuerdos de la Alhambra (memories of the Alhambra) was composed in 1896 by the Spanish composer and guitarist, Francisco Taarrega. It has a lovely Spanish ambience consisting of a flowing melody played using the tremolo technique, underpinned by beautiful continuous arpeggios, with magnificient low bass notes throughout.

I discovered this music on a John Williams CD I had found in a rummage sale. Williams is a world leading classical guitarist. When I heard him play, I experienced an overwhelming desire to play this piece on my own guitar.

I don't know what possessed me as I was playing at an intermediate level on the guitar at the time and the techniques used in the piece were way too difficult. Never will it be forgotten that initial desire to be able to experience the magic of the piece falling out from beneath my very own fingers onto the guitar and into the space around.

I realised that if I were to succeed in this endeavour, I needed to get hold of the Braille music. Then I could really play as the composer had intended. A refresher course of Braille music reading skills would be required, especially since my skills were a bit rusty. The last tuition I had was as a music student during my school years. I booked in with a brilliant Braille music teacher to have refresher lessons. This all went swimmingly well. In no time at all, I was ready to cope with tricky double line guitar music.

As a further preparation, I learned many pieces of Braille guitar music. After a while, I realised I was just about ready for an attempt at Recuerdos de la Alhambra. I put in a special request to the library to produce a copy in Braille. I thanked the person that translated this wonderful music into Braille for me.

When I received the copy, I was really keen to get started. Surprisingly, I made fast progress, learning and remembering most of the music with relative ease. When learning guitar, you have to remember each bar as both hands are needed on the guitar to play. It is still possible though to rehearse the left hand fingering patterns and chords on the actual guitar neck while the right hand reads the music.

Unfortunately, there was a snag. One bar I couldn't get my left fingers around. I tried and tried, but it confounded and frustrated me to the point where I eventually gave up and shelved the piece to be revisited at another time. The impossible bar is a pivotal moment in the piece, without it, the continuity of the whole was lost.

I was disappointed, of course, turning my attention instead to other classical guitar pieces such as the well-known Spanish Romance. At times, lamenting that I would never be able to play Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

The other day I was listening to YouTube to a tutorial demonstrating Recuerdos de la Alhambra. I was playing along with the clip on my guitar until we came to the dreaded bar, that I couldn't play. Then, out of the blue, I noticed that I had mistakenly been playing the bar slightly wrong for years. Instead of playing on the d string, I had been playing the g string. Well I can't tell you, an epiphany, revelation, thrill, I couldn't believe it. Once the fingering pattern was corrected, lo and behold, I was now able to play the whole piece right through.

Without the Braille music, I would never have achieved this guitar goal. I can thank the powers of the Internet, helping along the way. I won't gain any major awards or be highly commended by an esteemed judging panel in a prestigious guitar competition, instead my family was really pleased with my achievement and that was great. I haven't yet mustered up the courage to perform Recuerdos publicly. You never know it may happen one day. Finally achieving this goal has legitimised the purchase of a relatively expensive, all solid woods construction, classical guitar, I thought necessary to play this wonderful Recuerdos de la Alhambra.


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