Home > Around Town > Laura Lydy and the IPFW guitar department prove that it doesn’t have to be rock n’ roll to rock

Laura Lydy and the IPFW guitar department prove that it doesn’t have to be rock n’ roll to rock

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader


When people fist think of IPFW, I’m willing to bet the first thing that comes to their mind is not “hey, I hear they have a great classical guitar program!” However, each year that passes shows the department growing in maturity and notoriety. In fact, the guitar ensemble section will be participating in the Mid-America Guitar Ensemble Festival in Chicago, where some of IPFW’s best will be performing.

I recently sat down with Laura Lydy, head guitar instructor at IPFW, and got some background on her and the guitar program.

Lydy herself is a native of Fort Wayne, and received her undergraduate in music from IPFW. After that, she went on to earn a master’s degree from IU Bloomington under the tutelage of Ernesto Bitetti (and, in case you’re wondering, this is no small feat, as IU is widely considered the “Julliard of the mid-west”). Lydy then returned to Fort Wayne and opened her own guitar studio. In 1997, she was offered the position of guitar instructor at IPFW. She had her work cut out for her, too. “At that time I had one student...the program had gone through various changes over the years,” she tells me. Since then, she has dedicated herself to expanding the guitar department in terms of size, degree of talent involved, and in prestige.

When I ask her how she was able to foster the growth of the guitar department, she is quite honest. “It’s kind of like building a house of cards,” she says, meaning that you can try you hardest to mold things a certain way, but then things can fall apart just as quickly, and you just need to start stacking them up again.

It seems all of this hard work is beginning to pay off, too. After having hardly any students in the early 1990’s, Lydy has seen the department grow to the point where there are currently 13 different concentrations, and between 50 and 60 students studying guitar in either a major or non-major status.

In regards to how and why Lydy has been able to expand the guitar program as much as she has, she says “I think a few things that have helped have been the guitar ensembles, and student mentoring with some of the more advanced students . . . it builds camaraderie, and after that it feeds on itself.” She also points out how often guitar players with no classical background get hooked once they start playing a classical guitar. “Guitar is a great crossover instrument between pop and classical music,” she says. “It becomes very exciting for some students to have a totally new approach to music presented to them.” Many times, serious students of the instrument simply have no idea what picking up a classical guitar can do for them musically, both in terms of the enjoyment they get out of playing and the technical benefits to formally studying the instrument.

Lastly, Lydy says that the music that is typically played on a classical guitar has a lot to do with people becoming engaged with the instrument. “Much of the repertoire . . . is very user-friendly in terms of introducing classical music to the public.” Nearly all of the great masters, including Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven have been very successfully transcribed for the guitar, and most pieces of music transfer beautifully to the instrument.

I ask Lydy what she felt was her biggest accomplishment since taking over as guitar instructor at IPFW, and she hardly has to think at all before giving me her answer. “It was hosting the Mid-America Guitar Ensemble Festival in 2007,” she says with a note of pride. The IPFW ensemble had participated in the festival in 2004, and after that was offered the opportunity to host it. “It was great seeing all those guitar players walking around campus,” she adds. “[Another thing] that was so nice about it is that we brought in an internationally known ensemble, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet. It was a very positive move for the guitar department.”

Lydy says that all the support the festival received from the people of Fort Wayne was one of the most important parts of the festival. “It involved both the classical guitar world and the community. We filled the concert halls with people from the community. That was the biggest success.”

In an era where the airwaves are saturated with the likes of Lil’ Wayne and Lady Gaga, it was nice to hear about classical music getting so much support, and I ask Lydy why she thought not as many people listen to classical music these days. “I’m not sure if it has the same heritage here as it does in Europe. I can’t say that entirely, but there is a big difference if you grow up here as opposed to Europe. Some of it is just what you’re exposed to.” She added that a lot of it has to do with how much people are familiar with the music. Unlike pop music, classical requires a degree of initial effort before you can really begin to reap its benefits. “You have to be more engaged, and become an active listener, and then the music has more to offer.” She is hopeful about the genre’s future, especially when it comes to the guitar. “ Guitar has become more prominent in academic institutions in the last 20 years. IU didn’t even offer a classical guitar program until 1988, but since then, there has been a lot more attention given, and more composers writing specifically for guitar.”

Speaking of composers, I aks Lydy who were some of her favorites in terms of listening, playing, and teaching. In terms of her own listening, Lydy could hardly contain her excitement when discussing Astor Piazzolla, an Argentinian-American composer known for his multicultural approach to music, which includes blending tango, jazz, and Italian music. As for her own playing, Lydy said she likes Barrios, Bach, and Leo Brouwer. “They all give me great inspiration to bring out the beauty of the compositions.” Which is about all any player can ask for from a composer.

When it comes to what she likes to have her students learn, she immediately says she loves Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. “It’s always such wonderful bait, because they fall for it every time,” she says. “It’s very accessible, but also very complex compared with what they’re used to listening to.”

IPFW’s guitar department has a busy spring in front of them. Apart from participating in this year’s Mid-America Guitar Ensemble Festival in Chicago, the guitarists will also be hosting their annual spring concert next month. The date is April 22nd, and will take place in IPFW’s Rhinehart Performance Hall. Tickets are free for IPFW students. Other ticket prices are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for other students.

In closing, Lydy says how much she enjoys inviting the public to become more engaged with not only classical guitar, but classical music in general, and she hopes to see you on April 22nd.

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