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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

UTSA Guitar Students Represent San Antonio On A Four-City Cuba Tour

Four UTSA guitarists are taking their guitars to exotic locales to make beautiful music and represent San Antonio. They are Ashley Lucero, Dan Schumacher, Abram Fernandez and Aaiden Witten. 

And what they do is this. (Hit Listen to hear them play) Their teacher is Matthew Dunne.

"It's quite complicated to tour Cuba," Dunne says.

Dunne and those four musicians headed to Cuba on Monday, where over seven days they will play four concerts for locals. Pony-tailed, minstrel-looking Aaiden Witten says it all seemed to happen rather suddenly last summer in Dunne's office.

"I was in his office with Dan, maybe Ashley too, and he was like, 'You know, Obama just dropped the embargo on Cuba. We should go to Cuba!' And he kind of just came up with the idea right there in front of us," Witten says.     

Credit Jack Morgan
Aaiden Witten

In fact, the trip was something Dunne had been looking into for months. It was the four students' determination that inspired the idea in the first place.

"These students are particularly dedicated and particularly fine players, and I wanted to arrange a concert tour for them in another country."

Each practice is intense, and pretty technical.

Credit Jack Morgan
Ashley Lucero

"We really need to work on the 6-8 sections...they really need to be lighter."

As a post-graduate student, Ashley Lucero is the senior member. Lucero says the best case scenario for performances is when you get to a psychological state she calls 'the flow.'

"You're not thinking anymore. It's automatic. And that's when you achieve this flow that allows you to execute these things with such great accuracy."

She says that through practice and spending so many hours together, much of the communication in the quartet happens without a word.

"When I feel like I'm getting really intense with the music, I sort of turn on this switch that, I can tell other the guys in the quartet pick up on it, and I can tell they start kind of revving up in intensity, and when that happens it's the best."

Credit Jack Morgan
Dan Schumacher

Dan Schumacher says that in addition to the four times they're playing for Cuban audiences, they're also doing a Master Class with Cuban guitar master Leo Brouwer, playing a composition Brouwer himself wrote.

"Yeah, we're going to play "Cuban Landscape, with Rain" for Leo Brouwer," he says.

"In Cuba."

"In Cuba!  And we're going to get to play it for Leo Brouwer. I love Leo Brouwer. I've learned probably 12 to 20 pieces of his pieces over the last four years."

One part of that composition sounds chaotic--for a good reason.

"There's one part where we do something called Bartok pizz, which is where we grab the strings with both fingers and pull it up and let it go so it bounces against the fretboard."

The sound the strings make slapping against the fretboard is much like heavily falling rain. 

Witten teaches guitar now, and eventually wants to do so at the college level. He tells the teach-a-man-to-fish story and likens its lesson to teaching guitar.

"When you play for people it's like you're giving them a fish, and you're feeding them for that day. And it's very satisfying, it really is," he explains. "But there's something greater about teaching. You're sharing an art form, and you're getting close personal relationships with students, and watching them grow is just a beautiful thing."

Credit Jack Morgan
Dan Schumacher and Aaiden Witten

Another song they're playing for the Cuban guitar master is one written by Dan Schumacher.

"I'm really excited to play my piece that I wrote. Aaiden and I are playing a piece that I wrote called Cigarette Memoir. And so it'll be cool to play that in a different country and see how they respond to it."

Dunne thinks this trip is one that'll stay with them for the rest of their lives.  

"I think that this could be a life-changing event for these students; they're going to meet their peers from a very, very different culture. They don't speak the same language but I think they will find a lot of common ground in their love and dedication to the guitar."

Credit Jack Morgan
Abram Fernandez

Witten agrees.

"I'm stoked. I'm so exciting for this opportunity. So many people don't get to experience this, and who knows how long this window of opportunity will be open? Anything can happen."

The group is taking a hundred sets of donated strings and guitar accessories to Cuban guitarists, who have a hard time getting new strings.

Find more on the UTSA Guitar Program here

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii