Guitar Orchestra at the School of Music in Piteå


I have been thinking for a long time about the way we teach guitar and the problem of "belonging" when it comes to playing in larger ensembles. The lack of a continuous ensemble form and its negative effects are obvious. Students who play flute or violin have their respective wind ensemble and string orchestra. Why not try to create for guitar the same possibilities that exist for other instruments?

How it began

The University was receptive to my idea of creating a guitar orchestra, and funds were made available to buy instruments and to make several research trips to, among other places, Japan. I was faced with the question of which types of guitars I wanted to use in my orchestra. During the music trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1987, I had the pleasure of meeting guitar maker Dieter Hopf. I discovered that his special guitars were first-rate and that provided a basis to decide on what I needed. In the Spring of 1987, I bought a set of guitars; soprano guitars, alto guitars, bass guitars and two types contrabass guitar. Altogether, I purchased eight instruments by the various makers: Hopf, Alhambra, Quiles and Yairi. In 1987 I started a children´s orchestra of about 20 students between the ages of nine to twelve, as well as an adult orchestra with eight students from the University. During that time, I also made a trip to Gothenburg, Sweden, where Sven Berger and Satoko Fujimoto introduced me to the Japanese type of guitar orchestra. Satoko has played with Hiroki Niibori´s ensembles in Japan. Sven and Satoko shared their
knowledge generously on such subjects as arranging for guitar orchestra, short-cuts in transposing parts, etc.

I then visited my good friend and colleague, Bo Strömberg in Halmstad, Sweden. He has worked for many years with larger guitar ensembles (standard guitars) and was glad to share his knowledge with me. He gave me a lot of good advice, and I also got to hear an inspiring rehearsal by Bo´s talented group, Alhambra.

In the autumn of 1988, I began a collaboration with the Framnäs School Music Department, as well as the Municipal Music School in Piteå. We were able to organise three orchestras working at different levels of ability. The orchestra from the University together with students from Framnäs grew to 16 members. We practised diligently and began giving concerts with great success. We made two recordings for the National Radio of Sweden and recorded our first track on CD, Gånglåt efter Hammare, arranged by Sven Berger. Our first repertoire: Bach´s Brandenburg Concertos, Vivaldi Concertos and a Concerto Grosso by Handel. In addition, there are Dowland, Morley, arrangements of Swedish folk music, Latin-American and jazz arrangements, as well as original music for guitar orchestra from Japan.

Picture of the University´s guitar orchestra, 1993

Guitar orchestra in Japan

Japan is the country with the most experience when it comes to guitar orchestra. Hiroki Niibori started it all in the beginning of the 60s, and since that time many different programmes around Japan have been developed to educate guitarists, conductors and teachers. There are several professional orchestras continually releasing albums, videos and performing several hundreds concerts a year. Anthologies of original music and arrangements have also come out through the years. Various guitar makers have become involved, and the types of guitars used today have been developing through the years.

The trip to Japan

With Satoko´s help, I established contacts in Japan and made plans to visit that country in order to dig deeper into a subject which began to interest me more and more. In October, 1988 I visited Japan. Mr. Takishi Oguro, head of Niibori Planning and publisher of the magazine Guitar Music, introduced me to the maestro himself, Hiroki Niibori. I got to listen in on on different rehearsals by very talented ensembles. I got to hear a fantastic concerts by one of the professional orchestras.

At one of the guitar orchestra schools where I stayed, I was given time to play and discuss guitar orchestra in a calm atmosphere. I am sure I was a nuisance with all my questions. The students provided sake and some unusual snacks, including roasted grasshoppers!One morning when I arrived to a rehearsal, the hall was all set up with the orchestra in place, ready with a chair, Ramirez guitar, and the music to Vivaldi´s Concerto in D major for me. Apparently I was
to be the soloist! I was flattered, and needless to say, very excited. I also got to play alto cembalo guitar in a Concerto Grosso by Handel.

One day I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with the guitaron. It is a fretless instrument which reminds one of a cello because the playing position is the same. The guitaron, however, is played with a special pizzicato technique. During my visit in Japan I met a lot of Professors, musicians and students, and they did everything to make my stay pleasant.

At Home in Piteå

Based on the ideas from Japan I started to develop a Scandinavian type of guitar orchestra. I made a lot of new arrangements and transcriptions for guitar orchestra, now published in Music for guitar orchestra in 15 Volumes.

I have put together a compendium - only Swedish - on organising and other various information on guitar orchestra. I have given several lectures and courses, which have contributed to start a widespread activity of guitar orchestras at different levels.I started Piteå Guitar Orchestra Festival in 1994, the first festival in Scandinavia.

At the School of Music in Piteå, as well as other places, playing in a guitar orchestra and conducting a guitar orchestra is a part of the obligatory curriculum for all guitarists.At the moment I´m working with composers, commissioning new original music for guitar ensemble/orchestra. These new pieces will be published 2001/2002.