Pepperdine University students present free guitar concert at Malibu Library

Group photo of the professors and students in Pepperdine University’s Classical Guitar program. In front row starting from left are soloist Garrett Podgorski, soloist Nolan Harvel, Distinguished Professor of Music Christopher Parkening (holding guitar), Visiting Professor of Guitar Wesley Park, and soloist Ripley Conklin (back row). The rest of the students’ names are: Zachary Gamble, Luke Pontorieto, Thomas Fantorro, Matthew Kunkel, Shaeffer Doyle and Josiah Frias. Photos by Jimy Tallal/TMT.

For anyone that loves guitar, the free concert given at the Malibu Library last Friday (Nov. 4) was a real opportunity to enjoy seeing and hearing three solo guitar performances by talented Pepperdine University music students in a small, intimate setting. 

The performers were all music majors at Pepperdine University with an emphasis on classical (acoustic) guitar. Their musical selections ranged from Spanish-style to classical and more modern pieces composed over the past 200 years.

The concert began with an introduction to the classical/acoustic guitar instrument and its features; including how musicians are able to get a variety of sounds from the strings. For a classical guitarist, it’s not just a matter of getting the notes right, there’s the added complication of playing the notes with the correct sound. Plucking the note near the “hole” of the guitar versus near the bridge changes the sound. The sound also changes if strumming with the pad of the thumb, the top of the fingernail, or the side of the fingernail. There are techniques for muting the sounds, playing bell-like tones or “drumming.” 

The featured guitar played by the soloists was a Jose Ramirez guitar from Spain that sells for over $10,000; made of Brazilian rosewood on its back and sides, and cedar on the top.

The Pepperdine Classical Guitar Department, headed by Christopher Parkening, 74, Distinguished Professor of Music, put on the concert as part of its community outreach efforts.

“In training future generations of guitarists at Pepperdine University, it’s my goal to emphasize the importance of playing with beauty, warmth, and lyricism,” said Parkening, a former protégé of the great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia.

Pepperdine is one of only about 15 universities in the U.S. that offer a music program with emphasis in classical guitar, and Parkening is one of its most renowned instructors.

He’s performed at the White House and appeared on “20/20,” “The Today Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “Good Morning America,” and The Grammy® Awards. He was a concert guitarist for nearly 40 years, recorded over 20 albums with EMI/Capitol Records and Sony, been nominated twice for a Grammy®, and played with every major orchestra in the U.S.

Parkening grew up in LA and started playing the guitar at age 11, inspired by his cousin Jack Marshall, a staff guitarist at MGM Studios. At age 15, he received a scholarship to perform at Segovia’s first U.S. master class at UC-Berkeley. At age 19, he signed with Capitol Records for a series of albums, and was then asked to start the guitar department at USC. The following year, he signed with Columbia Artists Management and began a worldwide concert tour of the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia; performing at over 90 concerts a year. 

Eventually, he ended up at Pepperdine University in 2002 as founder of the Classical Guitar Department. The program started with just a few guitar majors enrolled in private lessons, but has now expanded to both majors and minors. Pepperdine currently offers a BA degree in music with an emphasis in classical guitar, accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM).

In 2014, Pepperdine University was ranked No. 1 among “The Ten Very Best Colleges for Classical Guitar Performance” by Music School Central. 

Each semester, classical guitar majors participate in weekly studio classes and a master class with Parkening, private lessons with visiting professor Wesley Park, a recording session at a professional studio in LA, Group Guitar Classes (open to all Pepperdine students), and a core curriculum of classes.

In 2006, the Parkening International Guitar Competition was founded at Pepperdine, and is now considered to be the most prestigious classical guitar competition in the world. It honors Parkening’s lifetime commitment to fostering musical excellence in young artists as demonstrated by his own mentor, Segovia. The winner receives a cash prize of $30,000 and a life-changing title. The contest takes place on the Pepperdine campus once every four years.

In 2015, Parkening told Classical Guitar magazine that, “It had long been my vision for there to be a world-class guitar competition equal to the great piano and violin competitions.”