Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Great Teachers, Almer interviewed by Sean McGowan

Almer Imamovic

By Sean McGowan
Photo Credit: Almin Zrno
Bosnian guitarist Almer Imamovic is part of a new generation of progressive classical guitarists who inform their playing and teaching with influences from inside and outside classical music traditions. Like many contemporary classical artists, Imamovic understands the relevance of folk styles, jazz, flamenco, and even rock, integrating them into his arrangements and performance style. Imamovic’s musical diversity crosses many stylistic and international borders: he has performed with the London Mozart Players, the Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnian pop star Al’Dino; played solo jazz guitar in Paris cafes; and worked as a studio guitarist.

Imamovic’s teaching style reflects this diverse, multicultural approach. His broad range of experience has helped shape his teaching philosophy and the cultivation of open-mindedness, uniqueness, and musical expression in his students.

Born in Foca, Bosnia, Imamovic began playing guitar at age seven, and later engaged in serious study under renowned teacher Mila Rakanovic. With Rakanovic, Imamovic received extensive instruction in the Italian tradition with a focus on musicality and artistic expression. Later, he studied at the École Normale de Musique de Paris and earned a master’s degree from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Now living in the US, Imamovic is continuing his graduate studies at the University of Southern California under Scott Tennant, who taught him the importance of open-mindedness in becoming a complete musician. Imamovic credits Tennant and others with being part of a “new school of classical guitarists” who incorporate many different methods, in addition to classical guitar technique, to articulate their ultimate musical expression.

One difference between guitar pedagogy in Bosnia and in the US is the time devoted to lessons. In Bosnia, if a young person showed interest in an artistic discipline, he could enroll in a state-funded school that fostered arts education to a greater degree than schools in the US. Imamovic, who spent two or more hours of every school day studying guitar in Bosnia, wishes students in the US could devote more time to arts studies. Most Americans are accustomed to taking a single weekly music lesson. In that amount of time Imamovic finds it difficult to accomplish as much as he wants with serious students and encourages them to meet two or three times a week for a minimum of an hour. The fast pace of life in the US has moved Imamovic to caution parents of younger students against saturating their children’s schedules, since music demands a considerable amount of time spent practicing at home, not just at the lesson.

Many guitar teachers in Bosnia, especially before the war years in the mid-1990s, held state-funded, salaried positions at schools such as the one Imamovic attended. Imamovic points out how teachers acted as cultural role models throughout the war’s darkest days. He relates stories of how teachers continued lessons and student recitals, even during times of frequent bombing or sniper attacks. Under such conditions, Imamovic stresses the importance of art and music in keeping a community’s spirit alive.

Imamovic’s own guitar teacher, Mila Rakanovic, was once a victim of cross fire on her way to teach a lesson and sustained permanent arm damage. “Her bravery and care for her students above all was limitless and continues to inspire me now,” he says. “From her, I learned never to give up on your students.”

Imamovic once served a three-month residency in England teaching group lessons to people who had suffered serious brain trauma. As part of therapy, they could choose between two hours of art or classical guitar a day.

His residency culminated in a concert featuring patients in duo and ensemble formats—remarkable considering many had deficiencies in memory and communication skills. “I remember the joy in their eyes,” Imamovic recalls. “It was a fantastic day, and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been part of. I felt proud that I helped bring some happiness to them through music. As a teacher, it’s extremely important to support your students and let them know you’re always there for them.”

“By the time I was 15,” Imamovic recalls, “I had played several times on television and traveled to other countries performing in guitar ensembles of all sizes.” He provides similar experiences for his students.

“When your students play in ensembles, they learn to be professional in a performance situation. They learn how to listen, to play with others, and to be connected to the music and with each other, and it definitely improves their reading. These experiences are unforgettable because the students become part of a community. This is what I’d like them to experience.”

To this end, Imamovic places great emphasis on student recitals with his current students. He believes in the pragmatic application of lesson material and prepares his students for several recitals throughout the year.

“I always like to have a recital ending a session or season,” says Imamovic. “After that, we can open new doors and work on new concepts to prepare for the next one. That way, students stay focused and have something to work toward. Plus, it makes them feel comfortable performing because they’re doing it regularly. I always perform with them as well, so it’s a collaborative effort.”

Finally, Imamovic emphasizes keeping lessons fresh by constantly introducing new repertoire that resonates with each student. “There is so much great material out there now,” he says. “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the older tradition of having students learn the same pieces with the same fingerings and perfecting them for the next ten years. I prefer to constantly expand the repertoire to help the student find a unique voice through diversity of material.”

Rather than strictly adhering to standard material from Carcassi to Tarrega to Bach, Imamovic gives his students pieces from different cultural sources as well as contemporary guitar music from new composers. Imamovic believes strongly in players creating their own unique repertoire that reflects their personality. “As my teacher in Bosnia used to say,” he remembers, “‘If you copy somebody, you’re always going to be a very bleached copy—you’ll never be original.’”

Almer’s Advice
The Third-Week Challenge

Although he favors a casual lesson atmosphere, Imamovic uses this technique to prevent lessons from becoming predictable. “Even with very talented students, you need to maintain a focus,” he says. “So, usually around the third week of the month, sometimes randomly, I become tough and really push them. Maybe I’ll force them to sight-read or give them a very demanding piece. They will usually start practicing harder and perform better in the next lesson. You have to be tough, but also fair, and give them a break from time to time.”

To hear audio samples or purchase recordings by Almer Imamovic, visit his website:

From Guitar Teacher Magazine

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