Guitar Students Make Music and Memories on Summer Tour

FRETS AFIRE (LAYGO & Guitarreando) is a dynamic group of 35 teenage guitarists from the Pasadena Conservatory of Music and the Stuttgarter Musikschule. Blending power and subtlety, their sound is an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, and rock. This summer, they embarked on a California tour.

LAYGO’s director, Felix Bullock, along with Dr. Connie Sheu, Dr. Adam Pettit, and Guitarreando’s co-directors, Irina Kircher and Alfonso Montes, planned four days of rehearsals at PCM and three warm up shows around Los Angeles to prepare the students for an ambitious run of concerts up and down the coast.

On the morning of Monday, July 24th, FRETS AFIRE’s tour bus pulled out of the PCM parking lot en route to the Bay Area for performances in Carmel, Redwood City, and San Francisco. For each of the Northern California dates, they were joined by students from the California Conservatory of Guitar.

Four days later, FRETS AFIRE headed south for shows in Santa Barbara, Solvang (a one and a half day stop that included a concert, a workshop, and master classes in conjunction with Song in My Heart Studio), and Pasadena.

For the students involved, the tour offered a little bit of everything. A taste of life on the road. The opportunity to make inspired music and further develop their craft. A connection with new and old friends. A walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. A late night pool party at the Solvang Holiday Inn Express. And the promise of adventures yet to come.

When asked about the experience, LAYGO member Maggie Grether said that “Touring is really different than any other performance opportunity I’ve ever had. I think we performed around nine times in just two weeks… Some nights we would arrive at a venue twenty minutes before we had to perform and had to play a concert without a sound check, but every concert we pulled through. When you perform so much I think you get this sort of resilience and learn how to do your best in less than optimal situations.” LAYGO member Michelle Nguyen added that the tour helped her to acquire “experience and inspiration. Performing in [so many] concerts within the short span of two weeks allowed me to gain confidence on stage that would otherwise take months to develop. And being surrounded by so many amazing guitarists has really inspired me and driven my passion for music even further.”

The California tour marked the third year of PCM and SMS’s cultural exchange program. Next summer, LAYGO will return to Stuttgart for a European tour. Nguyen shared that she’s “so excited for [FRETS AFIRE’s] European tour next summer because, with all the memories and friendships that came out of FRETS AFIRE 2017, our tour will become more than a ‘ONCE in a lifetime’ experience! I’m ready to jam!”

A professional recording of FRETS AFIRE’s concert at PCC’s Westerbeck Hall will be available as a digital album in late September. If you missed the tour or haven’t heard them, you’ll want to check it out. Their repertoire is as unique as the group – in addition to performing works of Debussy, Brahms, and Stravinsky, a significant portion of FRETS AFIRE’s 2017 program was written specifically for them, including Andrew York’s (Grammy winning guitarist) Tribal Youngers, Alex Mansour’s (PCM graduate / LAYGO alum) Concerto for Guitar Orchestra, and Alfonso Montes’ Bleu which was inspired by the waves in Malibu where LAYGO and Guitarreando first met.

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Michelle Nguyen’s tour video.