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  • Acoustic Corner Interview

    Recently we had the pleasure of being interivewed by Pascal Proust, of the Acoustic Corner. Read it below or check it out on facebook!

    Iren Arutyunyan and Sofia Gleeson, a.k.a. LeChic Duo, are new talents of the classical guitar. They are part of this new coming generation of musicians who are very promising, talented and open-minded. But besides being a duet of renowned musicians, LeChic Duo is also a pair of pretty and nice girls who are above all very good friends just having fun together. This complicity is obvious when they perform music, and is certainly an important asset to run a good duo. So, meet Iren and Sofia who have kindly accepted to spend a little bit of their time to stop over at The Acoustic Corner and answer the following questions. 

    1. Iren and Sofia, welcome to The Acoustic Corner and thanks for taking a little bit of your time for this interview. My very first question is a classic introduction one : could you tell a few words about your story, as individual musicians and also as a duo? 

    Iren: I have a unique background in music: ever since I was a young girl I have been surrounded by a family who lives and breathes music. Everyone in my family has various professional degrees in music; hence, music had a strong presence in my upbringing. I was raised in Armenia but I have also lived in Ukraine and Russia before immigrating to the United States. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was able to experience many different cultures and it helped shape who I am today. I attended the Thornton School of Music at USC (University of Southern California) for my Bachelors and Masters degrees in classical guitar performance. Through my studies I was able to learn from virtuoso Scott Tennant, composer Brian Head, and maestro Pepe Romero. My instructors taught me how to combine my musical techniques and ideas in order to express my thoughts and emotions.  

    Sofia: Like Iren, I also picked up the guitar very young. My family gave me a guitar for Christmas when I was six, and I almost immediately began taking classical guitar lessons with a Suzuki guitar teacher in Connecticut where I grew up. When I moved to California I began studying at the San Francisco Conservatory in the preparatory guitar department with Scott Cmiel. I finally met Iren when I began studying at USC with Scott Tennant. We were actually assigned to each other in ensemble at random- I was a first year undergrad and she was just starting her masters degree. That first year Iren really took me under her wing and showed me the ropes of the guitar program, she really encouraged me to come out and experience all that I could in the Los Angeles guitar scene.

     2. What are your influences, references in the guitar repertoire and in music featuring other instruments, whatever the style?

      Iren: I find myself very interested in the Romantic and Spanish era of classical guitar. Since the six-string classical guitar was given its definitive form during the 19th century, composers from this time truly began to explore the guitar’s full range of color, effects, and sound. Later on, I began to be very influenced Latin American music. I enjoy listening or working on folk/traditional music because I instinctually become linked to the musical, cultural, and historical development of a certain region.

    Sofia: When I began playing guitar my Dad would go to the used CD store in town and pick up classical albums for me. One of the first he got was “Together” and “Together Again” with Julian Bream and John Williams. Julian Bream’s repertoire has always been an inspiration- his arrangements of Granados in particular have always been my favorite.

     3. Besides your obvious technical skills and talent, there seems to be a good complicity in your duo when you play. What are the keys to make a good duo? Is duo performance really different from playing solo or even different from playing in a band, chamber ensemble, with an orchestra etc..? 

    Sofia: Initially, it took us a long time to realize how to be an effective duo. When we began playing together, we were operating primarily on our own wavelengths, taking cues from ourselves, and interpreting our duo music as soloists. I cannot stress enough how frustrating this initial stage is. To become a good duo, two soloists need to momentarily set aside all ego, all thoughts of self-importance, and adopt an attitude of selflessness. Philosophical as it sounds, it was only after a year of playing and growing together as friends that we reached this point. In history, all the great duos have essentially fed off each other, taking cues from the other’s body language, learning their partner’s limits, and knowing how to fit exactly together. To some extent, much of this is a subconscious effort. Psychological blocks are in my opinion responsible for about 78% of all problems in regards to a duo’s synchronicity. One of the most helpful pieces of information that helped us in this effort was from Martha Masters, who required that we sit with our backs to each other for a few months in order for us to truly listen to the other’s playing, and not depend solely on physical cues. It was like playing in the dark.

    Iren: Duo performance can be very different than performing solo or with a larger ensemble. As a duo, our capabilities and possibilities expand when we double the guitar; however, the execution of our musical ideas must remain precisely in sync as if we are performing on one instrument. I’ve spoken to composers who have revealed how much they enjoy writing for multiple guitars versus solo guitar, which can limit a composer due to difficulty or impossibility factors. Thus, it’s important to realize in a guitar duo that each performer plays an equal role in carrying out the outcome of the performance. When you’re collaborating on identical instruments, your focus is to unite and extend the voice of that instrument. So, it’s important to learn how to communicate your musical expression, timing, and feel intuitively, as if you are one.

    I believe that when you’re involved with other ensembles, each instrumentalist has a different role to carry out. When you are in an ensemble that showcases more than one guitarist, you must focus on finding unity and similarity. When a guitarist is featured alone, there is area to express unique qualities in sound barriers, tone production, and musical expression. To answer this question, I would compare a guitar ensemble to a dance company.  When two dancers perform together, they complement each other’s movement, phrasing, and execution effortlessly. When a soloist takes the stage, they go to the forefront while others support the background. This analogy best describes what I believe guitarists experience when they perform with other guitarists compared to other instrumentalists.

    Photo by Kristina Jacinth

    4. One of the things that have made the guitar so a popular instrument should be diversity and versatility. There are lots of guitar types, each of them has its own specific techniques, sound and feel etc. And also, one given sort of guitar can already be used for many styles of music. Do you play or listen to other types of guitars?

    Sofia: I’ve always been extremely drawn to Renaissance and Baroque lute music. When I first discovered the lute music of John Dowland, I fell in love with the feigned simplicity of his melodic lines and harmonies. After further investigation, I came to the surprising realization that Renaissance and Baroque music is in fact not “simple” in the least. This only made me more interested in period music. I suppose I’m attracted to the aspect of re-discovery in all types of music- the idea that as a performer in the 21st century I have the ability to reanimate centuries-old tablature.  

    Iren: I love listening to music that features the guitar in different styles; some examples of my favorite genres include: flamenco, gypsy, rock, alternative metal, blues, and jazz. I would never have chosen to pursue guitar if I wasn’t completely certain of my obsession with the instrument. I’m fascinated at how a single instrument can be so diverse. Personally, I have taken lessons to study flamenco and jazz guitar. Recently, I arranged several duets of gypsy tunes popularized by Russian seven-string virtuoso Sergey Orechkov. Exploring music for the seven-string guitar opened up a world of Russian folk songs and dance pieces that I had never heard of. I enjoy discovering different ways of incorporating contemporary guitar styles; it’s a great way to inspire new projects and promote new listening experiences

    5. The both of you are definitely excellent musicians, but also nice and good looking ladies. Have you ever had any troubles, because of your appearance, to be consider as serious artists?

    Iren: It is true that our duo has spurred a variety of reactions from people- some good, some not so good. Sofia and I have learned the importance of keeping a humorous attitude, not only to preserve a positive public image, but also for our own peace of mind. We understand and accept the consequences of opening new boundaries to the way audiences perceive us as guitarists, whether it’s through our choices in repertoire or even something as trivial as our attire. As a performing artist, you must prepare the entire package before stepping on stage: your music, your stage presence, your overall aesthetic. The LeChic Duo has definitely put a substantial effort into streamlining a cohesive image, but at the end of the day, all that we care about is the music we play.

    6. In his book The Guitar Handbook (first edition in 1982, highly recommanded, one of the best guitar books I've ever read !), British guitarist and journalist Ralph Denyer says : « The guitar is defintitely one of the easiest instruments to begin with, but also, paradoxically, one of the most complex to master. » Some learners stay at one level (even if many enjoy strumming a few chords only!) or other even give up because they finally feel like they can't make it, would never be good players etc... Do you have any tips for guitar students so they can enjoy learning further?

    Sofia: Guitar is one of those instruments that can sound good no matter the player’s level or intention. It’s what you make of it, whether it’s strumming chords around a campfire, playing at Carnegie Hall, or wildly banging away on the back in some misguided percussive effort.

    Iren: First off, students learning guitar should set attainable goals in order to best avoid the feeling of underachievement. Finding a teacher who understands your personal goals and can help you progress towards your goals is highly recommended. That being said, an informed teacher should help in choosing pieces that suits the student’s skill and motivation level. As individuals, we each have physical restrictions that come into play as we learn to play the guitar. All guitarists should be aware of this. Injuries that result from poor technique or overpractice (in most cases) can be avoided with research and careful instruction from a teacher. There are many written sources that can assist in avoiding physical injury on the guitar - this is definitely a worthwhile topic to research as a guitar student.

    As a beginner it is important to try and focus on the quality of your music more than the quantity. I suggest guitar students to focus on being very solid with a single piece rather than blowing through several pieces in a relatively short period of time. Sometimes players get so distracted by the technical difficulties of the guitar that they forget to work on musical elements such as phrasing, tone production, coordination accuracy, emotional depth, etc. In my opinion, that’s what makes someone a good player.

    7. On your Facebook fan page and on your YouTube channel, you've been running a webseries featuring short videos of you, entitled Guitar O'Clock. How did this idea come up to you? What is your opinion regarding the internet and social networks as media for artist's promotion nowadays? Is it important for you to keep this kind of friendly connection to your public and fans?

    Iren: The idea of Guitar O’Clock came to me from spending so much time on YouTube. I love subscribing to all different types of web series: comedic skits, instructional tutorials, cover songs, music videos, the list goes on! I wanted to do a web-series relating to classical guitar since there was nothing like it online. Lucky for me, Sofia grasped the concept very well and supported our project with her savvy video-editing skills. At first, the entire concept was to showcase our duo, and inform the public of our most recent projects. However, as soon as we created Guitar O’Clock, Sofia and I were suddenly faced with the task of creating the LeChic image through our active online presence. The process of developing our brand forced us to take a closer look at how we were presenting and marketing ourselves through social media outlets such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

    Sofia: Social media is a slippery slope. These days you can hardly walk across the street without colliding into a person with their face glued to a smartphone, tweeting away. That being said, there are definitely incredible tools for self promotion on the internet: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc. Mainstream media has taken full advantage of such resources- celebrities hire whole teams of people to manage their online presence. It seems the classical music community is a little behind the times when it comes to self-promotion like this.

    There was once a time when classical performers were essentially the idols of society. Sad as it is, this era is long since over. The problem is that the majority of classical musicians spend hours and hours practicing in complete isolation, and when it finally comes time for them to perform in concert, who comes? Family? Friends? Teachers? Social media solves this problem. By using tools available on the internet, artists have the ability to promote themselves to audience groups that would normally be unexposed to classical music. The issue isn’t that the general public hates classical music- it’s that they’re unfamiliar with it. Social media not only enables artists to maintain positive relations with fans, it also bridges the gap that separates classical enthusiasts from the classically uninformed.

    Photo by Dario Griffin

    8. Being professional renowed musicians may require a lot : time, energy, often hitting the road... How do you manage to find time to practice when you're very busy with concerts?

    Sofia:  Iren and I are in quite different stages our lives. As a full time student, I am at the mercy of my school schedule for the majority of any given week. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to juggle the workload of an undergrad, attend regular rehearsals with Iren, and in the end have enough energy to perform. We recently had one of the most grueling weeks in the history of our duo: three performances in five days. In the midst of rehearsals, prep work for the performances, and the gigs themselves, I had two major assignments to complete for class as well. To finish it all in time, I ended up not sleeping the night prior to our most important performance that week. Combined with the lack of sleep, the anxiety and pressure of this performance nearly killed both of us. That being said, we like to think of these catastrophes as learning opportunities. Prioritization and time management have proven to be two of the most useful skills in juggling all my commitments. 

    Iren: Since time is so limited, the trick to managing our practice time to be as efficient as possible during rehearsals. We keep charts regarding our rehearsal time and goals so that we’re both aware of what we need to accomplish at the end of each session. As long as we can focus both our attention to achieving well-organized rehearsals, everything else seems manageable. 

    9. Another classic question : the 'gear' question! Could you tell us about your guitars and strings (if there's nothing classified!)? Some say : « Music is first made by the musician, not the instrument ». What would you advise to guitar players seeking a decent instrument for study or public performance, but can't afford a high-class one?

    Sofia: I’ve always, always used Savarez strings. Guitars come in and out of my life, but from the moment I started studying guitar and onwards, I’ve always used Savarez Alliance high tension strings. I recently had a guitar made for me by Australian luthier, Simon Marty, with beautiful Brazilian rosewood back and sides, and a cedar top. It’s always a little risky to commission a new guitar, as you don’t have any way of totally knowing how it’ll sound, but I’ve always been extremely lucky. For years I played on a wonderful cedar guitar made by Richard Prenkert - from the moment I first played it, I loved that guitar. Since I personally picked all the woods, and the burl used around the rosette, I felt very connected to the guitar itself. I still play the guitar often, especially when I play with Iren, as the Prenkert’s clarity compliments Iren’s Ramirez very well.

    I also play a Cordoba Solista when Iren and I need to perform using acoustic-electric guitars. When we were first beginning relations with Cordoba Guitars, Iren and I went into their Santa Monica store and tried out a bunch of guitars - I felt like I was in a candy store! We eventually both settled on Solistas for their manageable fretboards, and warm tone.  

    Iren: I perform on a traditional 1A Ramirez with Savarez strings. My Ramirez guitar has proven to be a high-maintenance instrument, but the depth of its tone production is incredible and addicting. When I’m performing on an electric-acoustic guitar, I use a Cordoba Solista CE. For guitar players seeking an affordable instrument for study, I would suggest researching Cordoba’s Iberia classical guitar line. Specifically, the Cordoba C3M is a popular choice amongst beginners. The guitar is lightweight with a sturdy fingerboard for the left hand and a comfortable touch for the right hand. To avoid injury, beginners need a guitar that suits its owner’s physicality and produces sound easily.

    10. What are your upcoming projects? And what about your ambitions regarding the future?

    Iren: We fantasize about eventually hiring an assistant. All joking aside, we both have so much on our plates; it becomes difficult to balance everything, even with both of us firing on all cylinders. We are working towards recording our first CD - mostly contemporary music written in the last twenty years. The “No Feathers on This Frog” music video we made was such a success in our eyes, and we can honestly not wait to put out another video production. We’re looking to finalize a production team in the next year that will help us create more music videos and Guitar O’Clock episodes. All things considered, it would seem that our goal of hiring an assistant doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all....  

    Sofia: More than anything else, Iren and I love traveling together - we enjoy meeting new people, making connections, and sharing our music with new audiences. We had an intensely positive experience traveling with Cordoba Guitars last spring: after weeks of preparation, Iren and I gave one of the most successful concerts we’ve ever given to a packed house. In the future we hope to do many more performances abroad!

    11. And the last question... is not a question actually! Just thank you very much again, and all best wishes to LeChic Duo! Hope you enjoyed this short time spent at the The Acoustic Corner, you're welcome anytime. Looking to seeing you in Europe (and in France!) someday.

  • Welcome!

    At last it has happened- our LeWebsite! Both of us are thrilled to finally have a website to show for our work over the last two years together.