Name: Jessica Papkoff
Town: Seattle, WA
Hometown Berkeley, CA
At what age did you start playing guitar and why?
I started out at age three with a toy plastic Mickey Mouse guitar that doubled as a pretend canoe paddle when I was playing outside in the backyard. My mother is a classical pianist so I had a lot of musical influence from an early age and must have inherited a few genes suited for the task as well. When I was six years old my mother gave me a small child-sized steel-string guitar and I started taking lessons with the mom of one of my kindergarten classmates,Mrs. Goldsmith. Actually, she started me out on the autoharp so that I could learn some songs and be able to play chords easily by just pressing the buttons. Soon after that she taught me two chords on the guitar, E and A7 and I learned to play a two-line song called "Poor Howard". (I still get requests for that at home sometimes.) I remember that Mrs. Goldsmith wanted me to learn to change chords without stopping for each one so I worked really hard on that for a week or two until I was able to do it properly and without looking. I guess for a six year old I was very intent on wanting to work on things until I got them right. When I was around nine years old I started lessons with another teacher, got a larger nylon-string guitar and learned to play various folk songs from the Pete Seeger songbook, arrangements of Beatle songs and basic finger picking patterns.
Around the time I was eleven years old I learned to read music and started learning classical guitar pieces. From there I had several other teachers, a better guitar, and continued with the classical guitar repertoire. By the time I was fourteen I was quite serious about the classical guitar and even entered a few local music competitions. When I was in high school I started taking lessons with George Sakellariou, one of Segovia's students and an excellent guitarist. George was hard to please so I worked extremely hard for several years and it really paid off in terms of getting a solid technical foundation. I was also able to participate in two of Michael Lorimer's guitar master classes in Berkeley when I was still in high school, which was a new experience for me. While growing up I remember listening to my mother practicing piano and accompanying various vocalists so I heard a lot of good music right there in our living room and was very close to the practicing and rehearsal regimen of professional musicians.
I also had started playing the trumpet and then the French horn in fifth grade. I was fortunate enough to being able to play the French horn in student bands and orchestras all the way through college and beyond which one misses out on as a classical guitarist so it was a good variety of solo and ensemble musical experiences growing up. In college I majored in music and began performing more often. During that time I participated in a guitar master class given by Eliot Fisk that was sponsored by the local guitar society. I was so amazed by Eliot's playing and knowledge of classical music that I knew I wanted to study with him someday. After completing my undergraduate degree, I was accepted into the music school at Yale University where I studied with Eliot and received my M.M. degree. Since leaving college I have performed quite a bit locally as a solo classical guitarist and also as a guitarist in several folk-pop groups in Seattle. I now work full-time the software industry which somewhat limits the amount of time I have to practice and perform but there's always room for some music whether I'm playing Bach and Villa-Lobos in my living room or out at a concert enjoying someone else's performance.
My first guitar was a toy red plastic Mickey Mouse guitar with four strings or Mousegeetar as it was called. It eventually fell apart from constant use as my favorite playtime companion but a few years ago I found another one exactly like it in good condition on eBay and purchased it. After that I was given a child-sized steel-string guitar made in West Germany so that's my first real guitar although it was barely playable. I still have it. My first real classical guitar was a used one made by Anthony Murray who used work in San Francisco. I remember being so fascinated by guitars and how they were built that I got my parents to drive me over to visit with him one afternoon. I got a lot of use out of that guitar and even wore through the finish on the neck a few times. By the time I started graduate school, I finally received the classical guitar I had ordered from Dake Traphagen in Bellingham, WA several years prior and that's the one I currently play.
Mrs. Goldsmith, my mom and all the wonderful piano music, the folk guitar teacher lady on PBS television, other classical musicians and concerts on PBS, the Bach Brandenburg concertos that I absolutely loved.My teachers - George Sakellariou, Michael Lorimer and of course Segovia whose concerts I went to. Julian Bream to some extent and most definitely John Williams (the guitarist). It was John Williams' recordings that really inspired and motivated me the most as a guitarist when I was in my teens.After college I became interested in song writing and steel-string instrumental work. Some of the musicians that influenced me in that realm back then were Alex de Grassi, Chris Proctor, Linda Waterfall, Joan Armatrading, Suzanne Vega, David Wilcox, Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, Patty Larkin and others.
My first gig was performing at my junior high school for some sort of theatrical Renaissance fair in the little theater there. I was wearing a garish bright orange tunic top with a thick black yarn belt, tights and some sort of awful stage makeup that was applied with rather large sponges. I played some of the Milan pavanes as an interlude between scene changes. My first real solo recital I remember preparing for was in a classroom of a small college when I was sixteen. I think three of my teacher's other students came to that performance. A few years later during my last year of high school I won a young musician's competition and was invited to play a concerto with a local symphony so that felt like the real deal in terms of a public performance.
Acoustic Guitars you own:
The classical guitars include a 1968 Anthony Murray, a 1981 Dake Traphagen and a Takemine ES132 with a cutaway and pickup. I also play steel-string and have a Taylor 812.
My favorites are the Traphagen, the Taylor and maybe someday a James Goodall.
Your Style, and how you developed it:
For classical music my style has been described as intense, exciting and thoughtful. I like to be fairly straightforward and let the music speak for itself without me getting in the way too much. That means being able to have the technical aspects mastered so that the music is free to tell its story. I think the goal of the classical performer is to be able to interpret the music, absorb and connect with it internally and then be able to present that to an audience and take them along for a ride that enables them to feel and connect in the same way. Music is like story telling even if there are no words so it's up to the performer to figure that out or interpret what the music is saying, overcome the technical challenges and then be able to effortlessly present that story to an audience and have them feel, understand and enjoy it.
I also dabble in a bit of steel-string instrumental work and song writing. I usually play in standard tuning but I do a lot with drop D and some in openE. I'm still trying to find my song writing style but I guess the best description would be contemporary folk-pop, often with a finger-picking accompaniment.
My ideal classical guitar practice session would start with an easy chord progression or two that I like to play just to warm up with for a few minutes. Next I'd do various studies, preludes and etudes such as Carulli, Sor, Villa-Lobos, Lauro, etc. for about 45 minutes. This might also include some slur studies and scales. After that I like to work on the various pieces I am learning for a couple of hours, maybe 30-45 minutes each. After that I like to run through a few things I already know fairly well just to refresh them and keep them playable. I might also sight read some music, sometimes I will spend a whole evening just reading through things.
For steel-string and song writing I usually start with the last song or instrumental thing I was working on and see if I can get any further with the lyrics or musical ideas. I tend to improvise a lot more on the steel-string but sometimes on the classical guitar too. I'll revisit older songs and play through them, it seems like there is always something to change. I don't really do any specific technical practice on the steel-string. I guess most of the technique carries over from the classical guitar fairly well although playing with a pick is a bit of a challenge for me so I just play the songs over and over to get that to work.
Classical guitarists - Cristina Azuma, Ana Vidovic, Sharon Isbin, David Russell, John Williams, Eliot Fisk and many others.Songwriters and steel-string guitarists - Patty Larkin, Catie Curtis, Vickie Genfan, Natalia Zukerman, Kris Delmhorst, Chris Proctor, David Wilcox, and many others.
Is there anything else you want people to know about you, your playing style or your views on today's music in general?
My debut classical guitar CD, Impressions, was the winner of Acoustic GuitarMagazine's 2003 Homegrown CD Award. It is available at CDBaby.comhttp://www.cdbaby.com/cd/papkoff.
To learn more about Jessica please visit www.fretgirl.com