Interview with Colin Cooper












Colin Cooper (left - with Gabriel Guillén)

(Colin Cooper is a longstanding member of the Jury of the John Duarte Competition of the  International Guitarfestival Rust.
He is also president of the jury.

Interview with Colin Cooper:

Question: Who do you think is the most overrated and the most underrated composer for the classical guitar?

Colin Cooper: Most overrated: the composer who wrote La Catedral.
Most underrated: the composer who wrote Sueño en la Floresta, Caazapá and much other music of the purest poetry.


Question: Which „Slogan“ would you use in advertising for the classical guitar?

Colin Cooper: The guitar reaches parts of the body that other instruments cannot reach.


Question: With which prejudices – that are connected with the classical guitar – would you like to get rid of?

Colin Cooper: With which prejudices that are connected with the classical guitar would you like to get rid of?
Answer: The prejudiced belief that it is a quiet instrument, with more charm than passion. It is not a quiet instrument; it is just not so loud as most other instruments. And it can have quite enough passion in the hands of a player who is also a committed musician. Unfortunately for the guitar's reputation, it is the charm of the instrument that is its most apparent quality, and which attracts people. Only the composers can rectify the balance.


Question: Which attributes do you find typical for classical guitarists?

Colin Cooper: Classical guitarists are like humanity in general: they come in all sizes, all dispositions, all temperaments. Possibly too many of them settle too easily into a life of teaching, occasional performance and regular appearances at festivals. I would like to see more good players determined to take the guitar into the outside world and to make more converts there.


Question: What things in your life do you definitely want to learn and what do you regret not having done?

Colin Cooper: 1. To learn to play the piano better.
2. I regret: Not having studied composition when I was younger. Not being able to afford a small pipe organ. Not having enough money to take up ocean yacht racing.


Question: What dreams do you have that you would like to fulfil?

Colin Cooper: To stay alive until I have finished my work and my studies. I estimate that it will take another 220 years.


Question: What is embarrassing for you?

Colin Cooper: The most embarrassing of all is too embarrassing even to think about, much less write down. However, I can say that when I was a small child I used to lie awake listening to my mother playing the piano and singing. Even now, when I hear the harmonies of that not-very-complex music, I am overcome with emotion and cannot speak. It can be embarrasssing if other people are present. The writer D.H. Lawrence described in a poem how he used to sit at the feet of his mother as she played and sang at the piano - which of course is an instrument every family had in those days. His poem ends:
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.


Question: What short phrase would you use to discribe your lifes philosophy?

Colin Cooper:  Life is a holiday from the dark: you'd better enjoy it.


Question: Which abuse in your native country would you like to do away with?

Colin Cooper: The political belief that when money for education has to be reduced, music must be the first subject to suffer - because music is not a 'useful' subject. This idea was popular in government circles in the 1960s. The 'white-hot technical revolution' of Harold Wilson's government began the nonsense. British universities stressed the importance of the sciences at the expense of the arts. Nowadays, when you talk to a professor of physics or organic chemistry, you soon discover that he or she knows nothing about music. It never used to be the case.
Prime Minister Thatcher completed the disaster when she withdrew music from the schools curriculum. When my sons went to secondary school, they could choose which instrument they wanted to study from the school's stock. Having made their choice, they received one free lesson a week. Thatcher stopped all that, with the result that learning to play a musical instrument, even on a basic level, has become exclusive to families rich enough to afford to pay for extra lessons. The result is that a large amount of undiscovered musical talent goes to waste. This is the legacy of the much-admired 'Iron Lady'.


Question: In relation to world history, which personalities fascinate you the most?

Colin Cooper: 1. The emperor Nero, who had the instincts of a musician but not the equipment, like so many guitarists. But Nero won 300 music competitions in a single visit to Greece: he must have had a talent of some sort!
2. Hector Berlioz, who produced the monumental Treatise on Instrumentation, but could play only one instrument: the guitar. It was enough.
3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a great English poet (1772-1834). He took opium to heighten his perceptions. It shortened his life, but at his best he could produce the purest music in words.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree;
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Perhaps you have to be English to experience the music of those last three lines. They grip me as a phrase in a Mozart string quintet does, a piece of art that cuts right through to the inner person, something that cannot be improved on. Perfection is one of the deepest human emotions.
Coleridge produced this wonderful stuff while living in a little cottage in the West of England, very close to where I lived more than a hundred years later.


Question: Which question would you like to be asked and what is your answer to this question?

Colin Cooper: The question: why did you, a professional writer with a good track record in plays performed (12, including a prize-winning television drama), novels published (5), scripts for BBC drama and much other miscellaneous writing, give it all up to spend 25 years editing a magazine about the classical guitar that hardly anyone wants to buy?
I like to be asked this question, because I still don’t know the answer. One day I hope to know it, and naturally I want someone to ask me about it.


Question: Which guitar virtuoso today has the makings to follow in the footsteps of Andres Segovia?

Colin Cooper: Segovia left large footprints, but they lead in a direction that is no longer of much musical significance. What modern guitarist would want to play to an audience of 3000 without amplification? Who could offer today's audiences arrangements of Haydn minuets and Bach gavottes isolated from the works of which they form a structural part? And who would dare to play them in the style that Segovia did?
Nevertheless, there is room for a large personality to leave his mark on the guitar world, as Liszt did with the piano, but I don't see one at the moment.


Thank you very much Colin for this interview.

Jovan Pesec



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