I discovered the guitar at about the age of six during a stealthy rummage in my mother's cupboards and for the first time saw there the form I fell in love with. For the next few days I would reach into the cupboard at full arm's length and gently pluck a string. It was a guitar of uncertain heritage and manufacture but I remember that it was American. She used to play simple pieces by Giuliani, Sor, Aguado and Küffner and accompanied herself in folksongs. I remember her singing "Die Gedanken sind Frei" and clearly hear it now while writing this. Small wonder that she was fond of playing that as she was in the underground movement in the Netherlands during WWII and at the risk of her life helped many jewish prisoners escape. Several of her fellows in the movement were executed and she herself was arrested, spent the rest of the occupation in a German-controlled jail. She escaped the worst fate only because she chewed up and swallowed the small piece of paper that would have irrevocably incriminated her - it listed a contact address that was known to the Gestapo. But that's another story...

On my fourteenth birthday I received a Levin and started studying seriously. It was my first lesson in barter: my father, Ph.d. in music at Wits. university in Johannesburg, gave extra lessons at home to a music student who happened to have the classical guitar as first instrument, he in turn taught me and no money changed hands. Götze's three-volume "Die Stunde der Guitarre" was the first task to tackle, then Pavanes by Luis Milan, Suites by De Visée, then selected preludes, gavottes, bourrées, sarabandes and fugues from the Bach Lute Suites, interspersed with Pujol's "Escuala Razonada de la Guitarra", followed by Villa Lobos, and on and on...

When I started as a music student myself, I bought a Khono - a Japanese equivalent of the Ramirez and almost indistinguishable. Where the Levin had been a mellow, subdued "boudoir" instrument, the Khono was far more dynamic and resonant.

The Levin suffered the most ignominious fate - at the hands of its owner. I was studying the Bach d-minor chacconne and at that stage knew it by heart - some of the fast passages were difficult to perform at the required tempo though and I listened to a DSG recording of Narciso Yepes playing the piece with his phenomenal technique, for inspiration. It was too much, both in the attempt to emulate that tempo and to bear the thought that I couldn't equal it yet. I hit the shoulder of the Levin in despair and anger - and put a two-inch cross-grain split in it! Although it wasn't very noticeable, I sold it as soon as I could.

The result, difficult as it was to digest amounted to a major lesson - patience, control, discipline, consistency and humility...

Matsuru Khono six-string guitar

Narciso Yepes and
Ten-string guitar

The six-string guitar has inherent limitations. On any instrument, as each tone in the chromatic octave is played it will cause sympathetic resonance on open strings - this causes constructive interference with the played note when the correct intervallic ratio is present. On the six-string, only four notes in the chromatic octave are enhanced this way, others, by contrast, are therefore less dynamic, resonant, and have a naturally shorter decay envelope. Narciso Yepes, in collaboration with Ramirez, later also Bernabe, derived a ten-string instrument which corrected this problem. This instrument has an equalised dynamic response over the entire octave and lends itself not only ideally to concert performance, volume-wise, but the extra strings offer extra range. Yepes used it to perform the Bach Lute Suites, originally written for the eighteen stringed lute, without compromising the tonal range.

I had to have one - and my wish came true when I obtained a ten-string Ramirez.

Later, I composed the twenty-two minute piece "Danza" for the ten-string, which won me a prize at the National Guitar Festival in Johannesburg.This piece was performed in the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg and certainly was a climax for me. I took the Ramirez with me to the U.S., The Netherlands and Bulgaria - it stayed securely close to me every time in overhead luggage racks on the planes - except for a local flight in Colorado where it was kept right behind the pilot's cabin.

Note here that all prior communications with the airlines involved blankly stated that I had to "Buy another seat" for my instrument!

Alas, I had to exchange a profession for a hobby and hobby for a profession - classical guitar for electronics - and qualified in the latter. I was not able, as a friend of mine was, an eminent classical guitarist, to teach in a more popular genre in order to generate income. I'm afraid that I'm too much of an uncompromising purist for that. That does not mean that I do not enjoy popular music, I do, and in the band I had with three friends where I played rhythm guitar and sang (I studied Lieder-singing professionally later) we used to play a lot of the Shadows' stuff - heady days and close bonds that make you long back for friendships, tangles and tiffs, the intensity of which will never be repeated. Keeping a repertoire up to performance level and expanding it is difficult due to lack of time but I maintain technique and still compose, often in a more modern idiom.

Frank, Frans, Wally and Paul
- Memories -

The guitar will always remain my first love. Although its developmental shape through the ages has gone from the rather masculine angularity of early forerunners like the Coptic "guitar", through the more rounded forms of the medieval Spanish Vihuela, the more feminine curves of the modern classical instrument and the extreme masculinity of electronic guitar shapes, it will always be a feminine instrument to me. Yin and Yang, complementarity, mutual completion.


I improvised,
and knew not that the phrase
reflected in its sorrow
upon an accent
in the vibrant colour
of a petal
of my soul.

Saw the chromatic quantum jump
from life to death
and death to life
Heard the melodic entity
create its own contingency
Felt the harmonic landscape's mood,
the cosmic interplay of tonality,
was transported by the eternal gravitation
of cadential tendency.

Suddenly became I aware
that I was not the player
but that the strings
extensions of the Universe
played me
Became I melody
and listened

Copyright © FVO 1994 - 2004

MP3 Downloadable now!

Behind her Eyes
(Frank Valentyn)

10-String Ramirez
(Frank Valentyn)

2 mins. 39 sec.
2 495 kB

MP3 Downloadable now!

(Luis Milan)

10-String Ramirez
(Frank Valentyn)

1 min. 55 sec.
1 807 kB

MP3 Downloadable now!

(Frank Valentyn)

6-String Khono
(Frank Valentyn)

1 min. 52 sec.
1 759 kB

All music here copyright © Frank Valentyn - all rights reserved
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Acknowledgements: Photos of Narciso Yepes and the Khono guitar are from "Guitars": Music, History, Construction and Players, by T. and M. Evans; Paddington Press Ltd. ISBN 0-448-22240 X. Vandala (Visual Mandala) from "Meditation - the Theory and Practice;" Volume Two; Dr. Douglas Baker. Front cover illustration, and page 70

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