Upcoming guitar festival plans to increase appreciation

By Chase Myers

Unused guitars have become a common thing in modern day households.

A remnant of inspiration someone once had to either shred in a band, or play soulful melodies for large crowds, reduced to a dust collector. People often take the beauty that comes with the instrument and the sounds it makes for granted, especially with an increase in pop music that doesn’t require live instrumentation.

Guitar professor Isaac Lausell has teamed up with the School of Music and several featured artists to bring back some appreciation for the instrument with a festival specifically for guitar, the SIU Guitar Festival 2014.


Lausell, artistic director of the festival, organized the event in order to bring attention to the guitar program and continue the classical guitar tradition originated by his predecessor Joseph Breznikar.

“There is little awareness of what goes on in the guitar program here,” Lausell said. “We bring guest artists in to perform, they do master classes and it’s opening up a lot and I thought the festival would be a good way to actually showcase what’s going on.”

The festival will feature Armondo Nuñez-Portillo, a jazz professor from the University of Chihuahua in Mexico and a colleague of Lausell. The two met around 14 years ago when they attended North Texas State together, completing master’s degrees in jazz studies.

“Even back then he was a formidable player,” he said. “We recently, over the Internet … came in touch again and I had heard some things from friends I had in Mexico, and he’s become a strong voice for jazz performance and jazz education in Latin America.”

Nuñez-Portillo has quite a lot of influence form Latin culture in his music, while also bringing in some modern voice that reminds Lausell of current players, he said.

Other featured performers include Persian guitarist Ali Behjatian Esfahani, jazz guitarist Jose Guzman, flutist and assistant director of the School of Music Dr. Douglas Worthen, master’s student Marcus De Jesus, various guitar ensembles and the guitar orchestra.

Lausell will also be playing along with Nuñez-Portillo and Worthen.


Master’s student Marcus De Jesus also agrees that this festival is a great contribution from the School of Music to raise appreciation for the instrument.

“From my experience in playing guitar, people still don’t know what the guitar is able to do,” De Jesus said. “If you go to a classical, you’ll hear a lot of music that sounds like piano playing … and there’s always someone that comes [after] and says ‘wow, that sounded a lot like piano’ or ‘I didn’t know the guitar could do all this.’”

De Jesus’ performance will focus on the Brazilian style of guitar, which differs from the American popular style, because it includes lots of classical guitar technique but is similar in that it takes different influences from different areas, he said.

He will also be playing first chair in the guitar orchestra.

Another performer who plays a unique role in the festival is flutist Douglas Worthen, who will be collaborating with Lausell during the Friday recital.

“Flute and guitar has always been a popular combination,” Worthen said. “One of the things I particularly enjoy is that the flute doesn’t have to be played loudly and we can be comfortably heard with the guitar.”

The difference in the two instruments is also what makes them work so well together, he said.

“The flute is a sustaining instrument and guitar is such a contrast of being a plucked instrument, so you hear that precise sound of the strings being struck,” he said. “It gives us a lot of opportunities for contrast.”

Other than flute and acoustic guitar, the festival will also feature electric guitar during different performances.

Worthen also agrees that the program is beneficial to the School of Music, as well as those attending.

“I think the more opportunities that we have like this to present programs with a broad appeal to a lot of different types of students at SIU with different interests … tend to be really well attended and we are looking forward to a big audience.”

The following are the scheduled times of the events according to the SIU School of Music’s webpage:

Friday, November 7th

Located in the Old Baptist Foundation

Noon – Check-in

12:45 p.m. – Orientation – Dr. Lausell

1 p.m. – Jose Guzman’s Jazz Trio (recital)

2 p.m. – 2:50 p.m. – Brazilian Guitar Fundamentals – Marcus De Jesus

3 p.m. – 3:50 p.m. – Jazz Guitar Chords – Jose Guzman

7:30 p.m. – Flute and Guitar Recital – Dr. Douglas Worthen (flute) & Dr. Isaac Lausell (guitar)

Saturday, November 8th

Located at Altgeld Hall

9:00 a.m. – 9:50 a.m. – Overview of the Persian Setar – Ali Behjatan (room 110)

10 a.m. – 12 p.m. – Classical Guitar Master Class (room 110)

1 p.m. – 3 p.m. – Jazz Guitar Master Class – Professor Armando Nuñez-Portillo (room 112)

3:15 p.m. – 4:20 p.m. – SIU Guitar Ensemble Concert (room 110)

7:30 p.m. – Armando Nuñez-Portillo (jazz guitar) Concert (room 112)