It's not unusual to hear musicians talk about getting lost in their music when they're performing, using music as a means of transcending the here and now. But when Grammy-winning guitarist Ed Gerhard performs, the last thing on his mind is escaping the reality of his surroundings.
I caught up with the New Hampshire resident between East Coast shows recently, and asked him during a phone interview to expand on that thought.
"I'm trying to experience the music like a listener," said Gerhard, the featured artist at Guitar Masters at Studio A on July 24. "To make yourself one of the listeners helps you to honor the connection between the performer and audience better."
Gerhard is skeptical about musicians who claim that music transports them to other realms.
"I've read where others have said they totally vanish, which I think is irresponsible," he said. "People aren't there to see you experience rapture. I love the experience of everyone in the room relating to the music and having the same experience all at once. And as one of the listeners, I can involve myself in the process a lot more."
Gerhard's music is a genre-defying mix of original compositions and his versions of others' tunes. Although he was strongly influenced by guitarists like Andres Segovia and John Fahey, he is an original.
"Segovia was the first person I saw play the guitar as a solo instrument ...very formal and reserved ... I was awestruck! When I first started out, I considered myself a 'serious composer,'" said Gerhard. "But at some point, I loosened up and saw that I didn't have to be the one doing all this stuff, that it could be just as rewarding to play an Everly Brothers tune or an old folk song if you put a lot of yourself into it."
Songs generally buzz around in his head for a while before he decides to try to play them.
"They pop in and then one day I realize I haven't been able to get them out of my head for a few days," he said. "It doesn't take too long to make a workable arrangement. Having things occur to me that way is a sort of catalyst."
Another characteristic of Gerhard's style is how easily one forgets that the music is being played on a guitar. This is partly a function of Gerhard's technique, which avoids many of the cliches associated with guitar playing.
"One of the things that I'm trying to do is almost make the guitar invisible," said Gerhard. "The phenomenon of sound itself is one of the more compelling aspects of music. Certain sounds make you feel a certain way, or evoke something. Before you even realize it, it's done something to you. And that's what I try to do with the sound of the guitar."
Gerhard's sound can be shimmering, lyrical or bluesy, depending on the song or the instrument. He plays several different guitars and guitar-related instruments. In any given concert he'll choose among six-string guitars, a modified 12-string guitar, and a Hawaiian lap guitar.
"You uncover different layers of things about the songs by getting a different sound and seeing what that evokes in the music."
A Pennsylvania native, he didn't begin playing guitar until he was 14, when he got his first instrument. Three professional lessons at the local music store and that was the end of his formal training. From then on, it was learning by ear and from friends. But in retrospect, Gerhard said, there was never any question that he'd wind up playing guitar.
"I think it was in the schematic," he said. "I really had no choice about it. There was a time where I thought about being a cop or a doctor, but the guitar edged all that stuff out. My passion for it just pushed everything else out of the way. There was nothing else I wanted to do."
With 10 solo albums to his credit, Gerhard is making his first visit to the Guitar Masters stage -- in part to celebrate the release of his latest work, "There and Gone," a collection of original compositions and covers including a stunning arrangement of "Imagine/Across the Universe," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and a concert favorite on the Weissenborn (lap steel guitar), "Killing the Blues." The work has been lauded as "some of the richest steel-string sounds you've ever heard," by Andy Ellis of Premier Guitar Magazine.
-- Rick Kreiser is the organizer of the Guitar Masters at Studio A concert series