Bridging the “Divide”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Oteo.

Aiming to put a classical twist on popular guitar, guitarist and SUNY New Paltz professor Gregory Dinger performed a concert in the college’s Nadia & Max Shepard Recital Hall last Thursday.

Dinger said he finds enjoyment taking original music and creatively arranging it into a new setting. For this performance, he sought to explore both popular music and the classical guitar from the Renaissance era through the 20th century.

“I’ve noticed lately less awareness of the past hundreds of years of music as compared to the last 50 years of rock ‘n roll — that’s what I call the ‘divide,’” he said.

Dinger sat on a small piano chair with a little silver music stand and a foot-stand in front of him. Strumming his acoustic guitar, Dinger began his concert with folk songs and Renaissance music.

The guitarist opened with a “Sixteenth Century Suite,” which included “Dove Son Quei Fieri Occhi?” and “Se io m’Accorgo” by anonymous Italian composers, “Cancion del Emperador” and “Diferencias on “Guardame las Vacas” by Luis de Narvaez and “Greensleeves” by Francis Cutting. Each of these pieces created an atmosphere similar to the Renaissance era with repeated sections and added decoration, such as trills and extra notes, and used ritardando (a gradual decrease in tempo) at the end. Dinger’s style emulated Baroque music.

Next in the program, Dinger played “Fantasy & Variations on the Scottish Air: Ye Banks and Braes” by Fernando Sor. This piece is based off of a Scottish tune and had a cool guitar effect, called a “Scottish snap,” which is a short note before a longer note.

The final song before intermission was “Grand Fantasie of American Songs,” arranged by William Foden. Dinger utilized the guitar to “imitate a marching band.” The guitar itself sounded like a snare drum marching into battle, which transitioned into American folk tunes, such as “Bonnie Eloise,” “[Oh] Susanna,” “Dixie” and others that were recognizable.

The second half of the concert consisted of 20th century music.

“What we now call the ‘classical guitar’ (a 20th century term) … draws on the repertoire of both the ‘guitarra’ (and French “guitare”) and the vihuela, plus a huge repertoire of the Renaissance lute (and later the Baroque lute),” Dinger noted in the concert’s program notes.

“The Wizard of Oz Fantasy,” arranged by Dinger himself, was a dream-like and somewhat psychedelic piece. Each song from the movie was easily recognizable and kept the authenticity of the original music. The Scottish snap also made a comeback in his arrangement of “If I Only Had a Brain.”

His program notes offered more detail about the piece: “My fantasy begins with a sizable overture, which deliberately presents fragments of songs and themes, then gradually more complete version, using my own segues. And the last chord contains a note that’s ‘way up high.’”

“I had long wanted to find a “source piece” for a large-scale composition (for arrangement) that ‘everyone’ today would recognize, but which also went back a ways in time  — and 1939 is getting increasingly distant,” Dinger said.

Dinger performed a transcribed version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen from “A Night at the Opera (1975).” According to Dinger, a rhapsody is defined as a long piece in many sections without formal requirements and often with a folk or ethnic element incorporated. Most people don’t know that this song has a connection to the Hungarian rhapsodies of composers of the classical era, such as Franz Liszt.

Last, but certainly not least, Dinger ended his program with two Beatles songs: “She’s Leaving Home” and “Here Comes the Sun.”

Caitlin Franze, a third-year music therapy major, went to the concert to receive “Concert Series” credit for one of her courses. She heard Dinger perform at the faculty concert last year and wanted to hear the rest of “The Wizard of Oz Fantasy.”

“It was really cool hearing the modulations from song to song,” she said. “He arranged the piece himself, and something like this doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.”

Caroline Greco, a second-year music therapy major, had never heard of Gregory Dinger until she went to the concert. Her favorite piece was “Ye Banks and Braes” because “it was the prettiest piece that he played and Dr. Evans has performed the piece in his band.”

“I don’t really know enough about guitar to describe it, but his playing is very intricate,” Greco said. “I was noticing his dynamics  — how loud and soft he was getting.”

Dinger hopes to attract and inspire more students “to the magic of the classical guitar via pieces that bridge the apparent ‘divide.’”