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Humanity Shines through....Fred Benedetti in a Riveting Benefit Concert!

...and the evening turned into such a happy affair where music was followed by loud shouts, whistles, "bravos" and shaking heads at the mastery of the artist. Our amazing guest, Fred (Masataka) Benedetti, made our audience feel like old friends. He invited us warmly into his world, offering his talent, amusing stories, showing off five fascinating instruments, shining with a sense of humor, sharing his appreciation of life and those who helped him mount an enviable road to success and satisfaction.

And it is exactly what I had in mind for our spring concert. It became not only a beautiful celebration of art, but it stretched beyond: Through the masterful performance shone the beauty of humanity that was felt by everyone in our extraordinary audience.

And just as quickly we filled the Assembly to the last chair, so quickly we embraced the evening into an esplanade of solidarity, good will, and wishes for peace and love.

Along millions of others, we also expressed solidarity, gently symbolized by the bouquets of Ukrainian state flowers, the charming sunflowers.

I did not experience a war, luckily, but I lived on the wrong side of the iron curtain. So I know that solidarity matters. It gave me wings. It kept my head up. It left me less alone in the world. It kept me believing that right will prevail over the wrong as the world is watching. And till today, I am moved by the memory of those appreciated gestures of solidarity.

With the tragedy unfolding as if in an archaic film, we all wish we can be more helpful than just expressing disagreement and sending the material help to Ukraine; but with complicated affairs, it is all we can do. One is hard to believe the images, no matter how naive it sounds as there was plenty of violence in our history, but still, this one, somehow, hit too close to home in reality and in our hearts. We witness unacceptable destruction and suffering, and admire the bravery that reaches beyond our words.

Bertolt Brecht, in his play Life of Galileo , written in 1938 and premiered in 1943 in Zurich, ends his play with Galileo leaning against a heavy door and quietly uttering: "Sad times that need heroes." I was fifteen when I saw the play, and the words stayed with me till today, sadly proving its wisdom.

And the content our concert?

We heard many genres, from Baroque classical, to Spanish classical pieces of the 1800's, flamenco, Beatles on ukulele, and that was nothing you would imagine! A piece played on a guitar from 1830, and that was also nothing you can imagine! It was not a feeble sound of historical significance, but a bold, self assuring sound of early Romanticism! Tarrega's Lagrima may have been my favorite along with Bach and Fred's original composition, along with wild flamenco, Scarlatti....and everything else, actually!!

Our artist hailed from Sasebo, Japan to be raised in San Diego, he picked up guitar when nine, and it seems that ever since he has never let it sit for long. Distinguished and passionately sought after professor of guitar, Fred was able to manage a robust career and a role of a devoted family man next to his profession.

He traveled the world as musician, shared stage with many important figures like Ravi Shankar and Luciano Pavarotti, was mentored by Andres Segovia, appeared on staggering 200 albums, recorded several of his own, and embellished many fine formations in San Diego. Accomplished artist, excellent pedagog and such a nice modest man, what else to wish for?

During the evening, we also learned one or two things, as we like to at these concerts: We realized, by going through the history of the instruments, that majority of them came to the West from the Middle East by the Silk Road (connecting China with Roman Empire, from about 150BC till AD 1400's), brought by Moors who invaded Spain in AD 711, and via the Crusades (1095-1291).

From harp, dulcimer, finger cymbals, tambourin, darbuka (a drum with a ceramic shaped body) to the predecessor of oboe and bassoon (zurna and shawm) to the majority of the string instruments... what an impact of Middle Eastern culture on the Western music!

We also rendered the touching story of the oldest guitar: The predecessor of guitar, and all of the string instruments, was tanbur. The instrument appeared about 3,000 BC in Egypt and the oldest preserved one is from about 1500 BC. It belonged to the very first "guitarist" Harmoses. He was a musician for an architect Sen-Mut who worked for the pharaoness Hatsepsut, crowned in 1473 BC. Every afternoon, during the building of a temple for Hatsepsut, the architect and the phaoroness enjoyed Harmoses' music.

When Harmoses died, he was buried with his beloved instrument by his side.

Today his instrument is in the Museum of Cairo.

As you see on the left picture, you understand that the basis of guitar is there, but still

far away from the "waisted" instruments we know. Interestingly enough, that "modern" guitar shape appeared in about 1,4000 BC in the carving in Aluca Huyuk, in today's Turkey, ancient Anatolia. (right)

From that moment on, the story of guitar is shrouded in mystery.

But let's explore its etymology! It stems from tanbur: In sanskrit, two-string tanbur is called "dotar", three-string "setar", and and four-string "chartar. "Do" means two, "se" is three, "char" is four and "tar" is a string. If you pronounce "chartar" as "khartar", you are close to the pronunciation of guitar.

But what about the Greek "kithara"? That sounds awfully close, but, to make things confusing, it is coincidentally something different. It derives from "kinnar" which means lyre, harp in pre-Greek. And that is exactly how Greek kithara was played: it had seven strings mounted on a rectangular frame, sitting on one's lap and plugged. Nothing like guitar!

To save you all of the péripéties of the development of guitar, let just say that the most popular string instrument prior to the guitar was a medieval "oud" (from Arabic "wood"). Built in a pear shape with a bulged back made out of ribs, it had a short neck, angled pegbox to tune the strings, and no frets. It was formerly played with risha, a big "plectrum", a quell. Oud came to Spain with Moors and later gave birth to the most popular string instrument of the Renaissance: l'oud (out of wood) ,simply called lute. Lute looks just like the oud, but has frets and is played with a small plectrum or plucked by fingers. It has tuning just like guitar even though it has (usually today) 11 strings. Lute very much influenced the development of guitar.

The shape of "modern" guitar as we know it today appeared in Baroque time first with four strings, later with five strings and finally in 1800's with six strings. The fathers of a modern guitar are Jose Pagé (1740-1822) and Antonio Torres (1817-1892). Pagé's workshop in Cadiz decided to make the guitar mightier by equipping the inside of guitar with struts (braces) shaped as a fan. The guitar prior to that had simple braces from left to right. It was one of the most famous and probably the first guitar virtuoso, Fernando Sor, (1778-1839) who came to Pagé 's workshop, bought this innovative guitar, and made it famous!

The final steps toward a modern guitar was done by the mentioned Spanish luthier Antonio Torres around 1850.

He followed the concept of Pagé, built the guitar bigger, stronger, concentrating on the top of the guitar that he took as the most important element, and just like Stradivarius brought the violin to perfection, so did Torres the guitar.

Another virtuoso made this guitar famous: Francisco Táregga (1851-1902) who came to his shop as a seventeen old boy to look at guitars, and when Torres heard him play, gave him an excellent one.

And the rest is mostly American history! Wow!! Christian Martin (German immigrant) introduced steel strings 1910, Orville Gibson built one of the finest guitars and mandolin, Les Paul continued Gibson's quest with building in effects, and Leo Fender (from Orange county!!) started mass production of electric guitar 1948....

And if you are fascinated with guitar as I am, you can visit our own San Diego brand, the famous Taylor Guitar! Bob Taylor bought in 1974 the guitar workshop were he worked, and by now operates not only a large local factory, but also several international ones!

Thank you all for coming, thank you for making yet another concert an exciting Wednesday affair! Our musical evening was more than just a concert, it was also a collective opportunity to send our thoughts to Eastern Europe as we do today and every day. And with that we are shipping to Ukraine our proceeds.

Let me finish this blog with a quote of the Ukrainian anthem written in 1863 by a poet Pavlo Chubynsky, text valid today as it was over 150 years ago.

May the beautiful courageous lyrics become soon just a memory from history.

Ukraine’s glory hasn’t perished, nor freedom, nor will.

Upon us, fellow friends, fate shall smile once more.

Our enemies will vanish, like dew in the morning sun,

And we too shall rule, brothers, in a free land of our own.

We’ll lay down our souls and bodies to attain our freedom...


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