Observing from my years of studying as a classical guitar student in university settings, there are two types of guitar ensemble students. The first type are the ones who take ensemble class only to check off a mark on their degree requirement list while primarily focusing on their solo repertoire. And the second type are the ones who form an ensemble in class then plan on pursuing a career professionally with their ensemble. Nothing wrong with the former type since they are fulfilling their requirement and, in the process, still getting ensemble experience. But what if I told you that being in an ensemble can increase your number of performances? AND make you a better soloist?
I am in a duo with my brother Wesley called the Park Brothers Guitar Duo. Playing in a duo, in addition to the numerous other chamber groups I have been a part of, is one of the many important factors that has shaped me into the artist I am today. Collaborating with other musicians is a growing experience and very enjoyable! The main benefit in collaborating is that you can learn their perspective on how they approach preparing music and you can apply some of it to your own practice. I have learned from each musician that I have worked with and still apply what I have learned into my solo projects. In addition, being part of an ensemble forces you to learn how to collaborate, which is a skill that is needed throughout a musician’s career whether you are a soloist or a part of an ensemble.
And now, probably the aspect that you’re most interested in hearing about, is how being in an ensemble has benefited my career as a concert guitarist. During my undergraduate studies at Pepperdine University, I seriously started to seek out performance opportunities and ways to advance my career. I did the whole process of emailing concert venues, managers, and tried to connect with as many people as I could. I had some luck (with many rejections of course) but successfully doing that as a soloist is very tough to do if you are just starting out. When Wesley started college, he also chose to go to Pepperdine. I was a senior when he was a freshman. We decided to play duets together for our guitar ensemble class, and with the encouragement and support from our teacher, Christopher Parkening, we took it seriously and looked for performance opportunities outside of campus.
To my surprise, finding performances was much easier for me as a duo than as a soloist. In fact, as our manager signed us on, she even told us that the brother duo is very marketable. Both Wesley and I still have our solo careers. In fact, I like to try to model my career after all the classical guitarists who have both notable ensemble and solo careers, such as The Romero Guitar Quartet, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, and the Assad Brothers. There are also great examples of pop musicians who have started their careers in a group and have had successful solo careers as well, such as the Beatles, Jackson 5, Genesis, and Simon and Garfunkel. Obviously, this isn’t limited to just guitar ensemble. Voice and guitar is another combination that I enjoy very much and was in a duo with a soprano back in 2013. Thinking back, we performed much more frequently together than I did as a soloist.
Being in ensembles gave me many performance opportunities and each performance is a valuable learning experience. It is important for all aspiring musicians to have experience performing, so finding performances as an ensemble may be a good idea to gain that experience. Joining an ensemble doesn’t have to mean giving up your solo career, but rather, you can use your ensemble career to leverage your solo career and use that experience to enrich your artistry and become a better soloist. I wish everyone who is aspiring to have a career in guitar performance all the best. Be patient, prepare well, and enjoy all of your performances that you are able to do.
Alex Park received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Pepperdine University studying under Christopher Parkening, and received his Master of Music degree from California State University Fullerton studying under Andrew York. He is currently attending the University of Southern California to pursue his Doctor of Musical Arts degree studying under Scott Tennant.