Working in and around museums for well over twenty years has jaded me somewhat. Considering all the cool and different stuff we get to experience, it’s rare that something really surprises me. Then I turned the corner into the men’s room at the Shiloh Museum and heard . . . Spanish classical guitar music? I was convinced I was dreaming or hallucinating, because there was no other way to make sense of the sound that I thought was coming from the men’s room, and here’s why.
I love to search for and listen to solo acoustic guitar performances. There are many flavors, old and new, from Spanish classical and flamenco to New Age stuff with names like “percussive acoustic” or “heavy wood.” Not what you normally encounter in Northwest Arkansas, but it’s often the soundtrack in my head. YouTube is about the only place to search for these genres. Just one performer, one instrument, no overdubs, no multi-tracks, but it often sounds like a group of players. It’s a tour de force sort of thing—musicians showing off because they can, and I love to listen. I’ll occasionally attempt to play a feeble line or two, just enough to appreciate the challenge. My family suffers much, but I digress.
Since I’m in a restroom in Arkansas and not on a street corner in Seville, my logical conclusion was that these familiar sounds were all in my head. But rounding the corner in the men’s room, I find a nicely dressed young man perched on a chair, scrunched over his Spanish Classical styled guitar, with his right foot propped on a tiny stool. He’s playing “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Francisco Tárrega, and he’s killing it. The acoustics in the bathroom are shockingly good. Startled by my sudden appearance, the young virtuoso was quick to apologize for invading my, um, space. I was quick to encourage him to keep playing, and asked if he would take requests!
In what sounded to me like a high Castilian accent, the musician explained that he had found a quiet spot to practice for a concert later that evening, just up the road at the Arts Center of the Ozarks (ACO). It wasn’t until much later that I learned he was part of a group of world-class musicians, winners of an international competition held in Ragusa, Italy. The contest is sponsored by the IBLA Foundation in New York, and the grand prize winners participate in a world concert tour. They play such prestigious venues as the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York, the Tokyo Opera City Hall, and the Tchaikovsky Bolshoi Hall in Moscow, with a sprinkling of other venues across the United States. It’s a big deal, and we’re lucky that the IBLA performers have played in an Arkansas venue for the last eighteen years, luckier still that they wound up playing the ACO in Springdale.
Turns out the young guitarrista with the intriguing accent did take requests—he played everything I could remember from my mental list of classical selections. His take on Issac Albéniz’s “Leyenda” (“Asturias”) was superb—both the traditional Segovia-styled version, AND a faster and technically precise rendition in the manner of modern Croatian artist Ana Vidovic. Wore me out just watching. I was deeply impressed and humbled.
Fate had other plans for my evening, so I was bummed about missing the concert. It’s OK though, I enjoyed a neat little micro-performance in the most unlikely of places. And the acoustics were wonderful.
Curtis Morris is the Shiloh Museum’s exhibits manager.