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Try Googling “female classical guitarists.” You will find a few dozen citations of people you’ve probably never heard of. I wondered why. There are female pianists and violinists by the score, but classical guitarists? The citations sooner or later descend to pop icons. It’s not that Janice Joplin wasn’t capable of playing, say, an andante, but the washboard style of playing is not really conducive to cantatas. I looked through the names and photos and found that many of the women were also composers, lauded for their talents during their eras, but not particularly well known now. For example: Have you ever heard of Ida Presti? Neither had I, I am ashamed to admit. She was that vanishingly rare person, a female classical guitarist. She was 10 in 1935 when she played her first professional concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris; she continued to perform and compose music for the acoustic guitar until her death in 1967. When she was 16 years old, she had the singular honor of playing Paganini’s guitar in a commemoration of his death in 1940. She appeared in films and was widely known for her prodigious talent. Do you recognize the name yet? No?

When you check out lists of classical guitarists, you will find not one woman’s name until you come to Catherina Josepha Pratten, identified only as a German guitar virtuoso, born in Mulheim in 1821 and laying her guitar to rest in 1895. Certainly you’ve heard of Mme. Pratten?

In the early 20th Century, we come to Maria Luisa Anido, better known for her compositions than for her performances. She was born in Morón, Argentina in 1907, and died in the “mid 80’s” in Tarragona, Spain. The only concert mentioned was her debut in Wigmore Hall in 1952.

At last, in this century, we begin to see a few female names among the listings of classical guitarists, but the vast majority of names are male.

The guitar is the quintessential musical instrument for a woman to play. It can shade emotion, it can soothe or scream. It can express a range of feelings that go far beyond six strings.

Makes you wonder. Are women not able to play an acoustic guitar? Perhaps their fingers are not strong enough – but have you ever watched a female harpist at work? Perhaps they constitutionally have trouble focusing on two hands doing different things at the same time. Ever seen a female pianist – or, for that matter, a mother with two-year-old twins? Perhaps the violin is more suited to female musicians. After all, the movements are graceful, the music is sweet. But the guitar is an instrument of passion, an accompanier of flamenco and wild Gypsy dances. The guitar is the quintessential musical instrument for a woman to play. It can shade emotion, it can soothe or scream. It can express a range of feelings that go far beyond six strings.

So I hope you remember, as you listen to Sharon Isbin, a modern guitar virtuoso, that this particular woman understands the guitar. You will hear an instrument singing unlike any you have heard before, an instrument capable of expressing connections between the artist and the audience. And that’s the whole point, don’t you agree?

Don’t miss Sharon Isbin, multiple GRAMMY Award winning guitarist, in concert with the Pacifica String Quartet on Sunday, October 15th, 2017, 3:15 p.m. at Temple Beth-El. You will wish the concert never ends.

– E Doyle

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