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Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Your Art

by Keith Bond on 4/23/2012 9:48:24 AM

This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.



Among my top 3 or 4 all time favorite pieces of music is Francisco Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra. It has been for some 20+ years. I’ve heard several classic guitarists play this piece and have even seen 2 or 3 live performances of it. From all of these various performances and recordings, no one plays the piece with more feeling or passion than Sharon Isbin (in my opinion).


In this video clip, you can see and hear both her technical prowess and her emotional expression. She feels the piece of music from deep within.



If the video won’t play, try this link:


She has mastered an extremely difficult piece of music technically. The years of training and practice and discipline were crucial. She studied theory. She mastered the fundamentals. Yet, this training did not hinder her ability to fill the piece full of emotion. On the contrary, it enabled her to fill the piece full of emotion. Her training gave her the skills necessary to play the piece both technically and with feeling.


Could she, or anyone else for that matter, play the piece with such passion without years of rigorous training?


As I said, that is one of my favorite pieces of all time. It strikes a deep chord with me. I guarantee that I feel as passionately about that piece as just about anyone. But I cannot play it. Passion. Doesn’t. Replace. Skill.


On the other hand, I’ve heard many guitarists play that piece with technical mastery, but the performances had little emotion. They seemed lifeless by comparison. Technical skill doesn’t replace passion either.


Passion doesn’t replace skill.


And skill doesn’t replace passion.


Both are necessary

…for a deeply moving performance such as this.


Likewise with your art, you must continue to study and develop your technical skills. The fundamentals of art are critical and important. I would suspect that Sharon Isbin still practices scales on a regular basis. Even if she doesn’t, she most certainly made them a part of her routine for many, many, many years. Don’t neglect the importance of learning and practicing the fundamentals.


But, just as important is to develop your emotional voice. Don’t neglect that either. Find what you feel passionately about and make that the focus of your art. Don’t try to force someone else’s vision or voice into your art. Create your own unique voice.


Some artists think that pure expression and feeling is all you need to create great art. It isn’t.


Other artists spend years training and master technique, but fail to find their voice. A pity.


Don’t allow yourself to fall into either of these two groups. Find the bridge that connects the academic and the emotional in your art. Develop both. That is where the deeply moving art is created.


Best Wishes,

Keith Bond



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Related Posts:

The Masterpiece

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The Message in Your Art

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Topics: advice for artists | art education | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Keith Bond 

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Jake Gaedtke
This is one of the best articles you have written because it is so true. Sharon's playing moved me deeply as well. You can see in her face the love and passion she has for this piece. Stunning! I might add to the equation Yo Yo Ma. He may play the same piece a thousand times, but he always plays it with the passion and and felling and freshness as if it was the very first time. Watching an interview with him one time he said there is nothing like practice and he practices his scales every day. He keeps his skills honed so he can play with the passion and feeling he does. Thanks Keith!

Sue Betanzos
You just hit it - why some pieces are better than others. Last summer I did a series of dog portraits that were technically correct, but because they were from owner's photos did not have as much life and personality as the ones done from life, after I had met the subjects. And one portrait I have done of my own Aussie, Risa has gotten more comments that all the others because my love for her shines in the passion I put into the piece.
The response has remained so positive and high that I used it for my new business cards and website.
You need both the technical and the Passion for the work or it just won't have the same 'look' that comes across right away.

Susan Holland
Superb -- the whole lesson is superb, Keith. Hers and yours both. Thanks.

Paul Bachem
While I agree completely with the parallel that you draw between the need for accomplished technical skill and artistic expression, I do disagree with your opinion that Sharon Isbin brings a lot of real emotion to this piece. When it comes to a lot of the classic Spanish repertoire, give me Segovia first and then everyone else.

I think, apropos of your article, that while Segovia was technically no slouch, his level of technique was far surpassed in his own long lifetime by a lot of the "young lions" i.e. Parkening, Williams, David Russell, etc. However, I believe that no one can put the Spanish into Spanish music like the maestro. Bach, yes, that would be another story. But I think only a Spaniard (and I mean a Spaniard who is old enough to know...while he never did , Segovia could have met Tarrega) can really get to what this music should sound like.

Just my opinion which has nothing to do with the excellent context of your article which I enjoyed reading. Thanks for giving me something to think about...I'm off to listen to Segovia!;{)

Dianne Harrison
This is one of my favorites of your newsletters. You are so right about including a video. Not only do you get useful content but you get a beautiful and thought provoking experience like this one. I think I'll remember your point far longer and think about it consciously while painting because it was novel and memorable.
Thanks, Dianne Harrison

Nina Allen Freeman
Sharon's playing moved me to tears; even the way she holds her instrument close to her body like a part of herself communicates emotion.
You are so right about skill and passion going hand in hand in art - they are inseparable. Artists must continue to study and learn while allowing their passion to emerge in artistic expression.

Debra Snyder Heard
Thank you for your wonderful article. Passion and skill combined is the true artist!

when you are passionate enough you will force youself to grow as an artist.The more you paint the more you become.

Susan Holland
RE: Segovia:

I am privileged to have been treated to a nearly front row seat at a Segovia performance at Philadelphia's Academy of Music! Thank goodness for nutty Italian boyfriends!! I shook his hand afterward, too, and enjoyed watching his wife manage everyone...herding us through, saying, Mr. Segovia has to make a plane.

He sat alone, of course, on a little chair with his feet on a little stool. His sound was pure and resounded all around that hall, the people in the "peanut gallery" (where I usually sat for concerts) told me afterward they heard every note.

There will never be a team--man and instrument-- to surpass that team. He was the music. I am still awed--- that was in 1957-8.

Keith Bond

Interestingly, Sharon Isbin studied under Segovia.

Keith Bond
True, her interpretation may sound less Spanish than Segovia's. But it is an interpretation - and a personal one. Does the fact that she is not Spanish mean that she feels less emotion than Segovia or does is mean that she feels differently than Segovia?
Food for thought.

Paul Bachem
By Segovia's own admission he never taught. He used to say "I have thousands of students that I never met!" He would do master classes where you would play for him and then get a ten minute critique...kind of like a very brief workshop which can hardly be considered "studying with him".

Young players who he liked would be received by him in whatever city he was in, to play for him. He would then typically recommend them to other guitarists that he didn't have his usual Olympian disdain for, such as Alirio Diaz or Sophacles Pappas, for more thorough instruction. Segovia was interested in making money (if you read his letters to Ponce) and was constantly touring to that end right up until the end of his life.

Possibly the only person who came close to "studying" with Segovia was Christopher Parkening who did get a lot of Segovia's time.

Paul Bachem
Absolutely, I agree, she is a very good player...I was just getting in my two cents. Things wouldn't be very interesting if we all only liked one artist! Thanks for getting me to listen to him all day today.

Esther J. Williams
Keith, thanks for enlightening me to this gifted guitarist. I had to close my eyes after a few minutes of watching her in the video to truly capture what she was feeling and visualize what the music notes created in my imagination. Remarkable and poetic to say the least.
Just the other day I was teaching a workshop and told my students that they need to ask themselves what moves them and why before they paint. If they just paint the scene without first identifying their feelings for something that brings poetry to their heart, the piece will not have the feeling. The feelings come from within through the brush and into the canvas and it really shows.
Learn the skills and paint what makes your heart pump faster.

Susan Roux
You're absolutely right. Creativity and fundamentals in the perfect mix is what we're striving for or should be striving for.

In August, Don Hatfield is coming to Maine to teach a series of workshops. Unlike many, he doesn't attempt to change anyone's style. He works with each student to enhance their fundamentals where enhancement is needed. It's an amazing opportunity to study under him.

For more information, please contact me or go to my blog.

Lovely piece of music. I can easily see why it's remained a favorite of yours.

tom weinkle
couldn't agree more Keith.

Sometimes we think we are speaking with visual emotion, and we are not. It ebbs and flows.

I think it's important to get feedback and monitor these things as we move along in our lives.

Voice has to be maintained with practice, just as our skills need to be maintained.


Kay Hale
Keith, nice article. The best part for me was the reminder of the flamenco guitar music my Dad used to play. He was so fond of Carlos Montoya. So as I scrolled down on youtube I was able to save not only this music video but many of Segovia and Montoya. The heart of the article was not lost on me. I many times believe I have not worked hard enough on my skill level. The more I draw the better I get but I just don't always draw. I have considered taking classes at an atelier where I can immerse myself in the technical skills that would hopefully make my art better. That is expensive though! But knowing the kind of art I like to do..I know I need to keep working on it and doing more. Good article, good music, a good way to start the day with renewed effort!!! Thanks.

Donald Fox
Training and practice are fundamental to any pursuit. The passion comes from within. Many technically proficient musicians cannot play good jazz or blues because they lack soul, that innate feel for the music. Classically trained guitarists learn technique. What they do with that depends on the spirit that motivates and moves them. Personally, I like the Romeros for classical guitar, Manitas de Plata for Flamenco, Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheney for jazz guitar, all of whom I've heard play live. Segovia, of course, is legendary as is Django Reinhardt, but I only know them through recordings.

Teresa Tromp
Talk about a blog with passion!!! That was it! Music, too!

I'm discovering the more I paint continuously, as in every day, the more I am willing to take chances with different techniques.

The more techniques I experiment with, the better chance I have of discovering a technique I enjoy.

The technique I really enjoy, is the technique I'm going to feel passionate about and will fully develop that technique to my best ability.

Susan Roux
Hi Keith,

I just wanted to let you know I shared your article on my blog.

Sue Marquez
An absolutely brilliant and touching essay. Thank you so much for sharing. I also appreciate the many and varied responses.

Sue Marquez

Donna Robillard
I agree with everything that has been said here. The best art produced are the ones we feel passionate about as well as having the best skill involved. They just go hand in hand.


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