Oviatt Library showcases a collection of classical guitars

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Heavy metal music replaced the normally quiet atmosphere of the Oviatt Library during a classical guitar performance that attracted hundreds to the Oviatt Lawn on Sept. 28.

The hour-long concert, which also featured guitar works from the early 1900s, preceded the opening reception and exhibition of the International Guitar Research Archive in the library’s Tseng Gallery.

The concert program featured works of the classical guitarists whose artifacts are on display through Nov. 11.

“Crazy Train” rounded out the night’s playlist, in recognition of the contributions the late Randy Rhoads, who played electric guitar for Ozzy Osbourne’s heavy metal band, made to guitar playing in general, and the archives in particular.

“A whole generation of classical guitar players started playing guitar because of Randy Rhoads,” said Steven Thachuk, a CSUN music professor who performed traditional classical guitar works during the opening reception.

The estate of Rhoads bequeathed a part of the late electric guitarist’s works to the archive. The IGRA exhibit recognizes the historical personalities whose musical playing and innovations contributed to worldwide appreciation of the guitar.

“Randy Rhoads moved heavy metal into whole new thinking vocabulary in guitar music because of his classical influence,” said Ron Purcell, director of the IGRA.

CSUN professors, students and alumni performed the night’s music, which also included works by classical greats such as Andres Segovia, Vincente Gomez, and Vahdah Olcott-Bickford, Purcell said.

The archive, which is made up of instruments, manuscripts and scores, and journals and correspondence that reflect the history of the guitar, owes a lot of its existence to Olcott-Bickford, Purcell said.

In the 1980s, Olcott-Bickford, an award-winning classical guitarist during the early 1900s, bequeathed to CSUN a very large collection of items that chronicled the history of the guitar in America from 1830 to the present, he said.

“She is considered an American Pioneer of guitar,” Purcell said. “She was living in downtown Los Angeles at a time when L.A. was not much more than a village. She and her Mexican friend would be riding down the main street on donkeys playing for the inhabitants.”

Starting with the earliest documented appearance of the guitar in 25 B.C Persia, the archive presents the clearly defined dates and memorable developments that have resulted in the shape and sound that the modern guitar possesses today.

Even before professor Thachuk came to teach at CSUN, he said he had heard about the Olcott-Bickford archive as a graduate student in New York and became interested in its catalog.

Besides the Olcutt-Bickford and Rhoads artifacts, the guitar archive also celebrates masterful composers such as Manuel Y. Ferrer, Miguel Llobet and Laurindo Almeida, whose works were also performed during the opening reception.

Since 1980, the archive has grown to include over 10,000 historical items, Purcell said.

Geoffrey Schorz, an art student who often can be seen around campus with a bow and a four-string rebec in hand, said every musician should know their instruments intimately.

“It’s really sad that most guitar players don’t care to know the history of their instrument,” Schorz said.

CSUN’s guitar archive is also recognized as a world research center for classical guitar, and continues to influence today’s crop of guitar players, Purcell said.

CSUN music therapy professor Ron Borczon said he was not exposed to classical guitar music as a child and only started playing it as a student at Florida State University.

“It was the biggest challenge and I fell in love,” he said. “Like most people I started playing pop guitar as a teenager.”

Olcott-Bickford, who was born in 1885 and was a founding member of the American Guitar Society, donated to the archive some of her personal correspondence and her collection of American, German and Japanese journals and periodicals, some of which date back to the 1830s.

Daniel Newheiser, jazz music major, said that he will visit the archive to view the items.

“I should take classical guitar lessons some time to improve my technique. Because the better your technique is, the better everything else is.”

Julio Morales can be reached at julio.morales.605@csun.edu.