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What is your style, and why do you consider it "Guitar Dharma"?
The style that has evolved over the years is basically a blend of Celtic, New Age and folk. It's got the mellowness of New Age, but it tends to have strong melodies that are "accessible", like what you find in a lot of folk music. That is, it's not "out there", esoteric music. Often there's a strong Celtic flavor to the melodies.
For me, the spiritual and musical paths have been inextricably linked. In composiiton, I tend to write from intuition, relying on the heart rather than the head. It's much like meditation, becoming quiet and receptive to something other than the monkey mind. It's also a very organic process, dependent entirely on what sounds good to my heart and ear, rather than following set patterns and rules. Just as in Buddhist practice, it's all about finding your own individual path.
What tunings do you use?
I use about a dozen tunings. (Two I don't use are standard and DADGAD). I have a hard time thinking about what the names of the strings are, so I name my tunings. The "Doorbell" tuning, for example, has a couple of classic doorbell intervals in it. The "Waterbird Tuning" reminds me of waterbirds. And the "Tuning in 3-D", which I later found out is open D tuning, has three "d"s in it.
Is tab available for any of your pieces?
Yes, there are a few tabs available now. I find the process somewhat excruciating, though, so new tabs are coming out slowly.
How did you learn to play?
I'm self-taught and just started playing things that I liked. It was really difficult and slow to read guitar music, so I started making up my own tunes.
What kind of guitar do you play?
I play two Goodall guitars. My favorite and most often played is a Grand Concert with Indian rosewood back and sides, koa binding, and a spruce top. Goodall uses a unique bracing system that gives the guitar stellar overtones, sustain and harmonics. I love my guitar!
What about your lute?
Ah, it's a truly lovely instrument, crafted by Luciano Faria down in Brazil. He did a wonderful job and built a gorgeous swan-neck lute after Hoffman. It has 13 courses, for a total of 24 strings. The ribs are Brazilian rosewood, which is certainly not a traditional wood for lutes, but I love the depth and clarity of sound that it provides!
What kind of strings do you use?
AElixirs, and nothing but Elixirs. They make for such a quiet sound. I go for lights, either polyweb or nanoweb.
How long have you been playing?
I started playing about 20 years ago. I played a lot for the first five years, then on and off for another two. Just when I started to get serious about my music and bought a great Martin guitar, it was stolen. I was devastated and didn't play much at all for nearly 10 years. I just started to get back into the guitar in 1999.
What was the main "push" behind releasing your first album, The Redwood Sidthe? Did you just decide "Now is the time to see what other people think of my music" or is there more to it than that?
It really came out of the Accent on Music guitar camp in 1999. A lot of people had been asking for home tapes of my tunes, and I wanted to give them something of good quality. At the camp I met a couple of people who had or were recording their own pieces. Then John Renbourn, one of the instructors, made an offhand comment to me one day about "After you've made your first three CDs ", and that's when I decided that perhaps I'd better start on the first.
You credit Alex de Grassi and John Renbourn as invaluable mentors and supporters of your music. What was it like to work with them during the workshop you attended?
John and Alex are wonderful people and have been incredibly supportive. Throughout the workshop they were both very down-to-earth and accessible. I remember the first night, there was a little concert arranged for the participants. Alex had just finished playing and asked who (of the workshop students) wanted to go next. Of course nobody wanted to follow him. In the silence I heard him say "Clarelynn! How about you?" I protested I hadn't brought my guitar, at which point he held his Lowden out and said, "How 'bout this one?" (Of course I took it!) That's just one example of how down-to-earth they were.
They were both great at emphasizing what you were doing well and giving suggestions that were within your grasp. John was and is a great source of inspiration - what a wonderful, bright spirit he is. His spirit is positively contagious. Alex is tremendous at finding ways to improve the composition and texture of a piece. He offers all kinds of ideas from an incredibly diverse musical palette and demonstrates how something might sound this way or that.
Have you stayed in touch with them?
On and off, yes. While I was still living in California, many of my pieces benefited immeasurably from Alex's advice. I used to trade him dog-sitting for a couple of hours once in a while to go over a new piece, which worked out great. I've always thought of Alex's advice as providing a wonderful polish to a piece. A composition that already shines will sparkle after going over it with him. With John, we're in touch now and again, and he is invariably a great source of inspiration and encouragement.
Many people care about the environment (although clearly not enough do so yet), but few pursue it as a career. How did you choose to make this your job, so to speak?
That's an interesting story. I fell in love with the redwood forest while an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz. When a chance came up to teach English in China, I jumped at it. The place I taught was a small village that had few trees, and they were small. Many trees had been cut down in the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s as part of a government program. One Sunday I decided to go for a long walk to try to find a big tree. After walking for hours, the biggest tree I'd found was about 6 inches in diameter. That got me thinking - it was through people's actions that the trees were lost could that happen back home in California in my beloved redwood forest? I decided, "Not on my watch!" So after coming home I started my career in forestry, working for a season in the field before going back to school for a masters in forestry.