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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sharon Isbin, Guitarist Extraordinaire

Sharon Isbin has been called "the preeminent guitarist of our time." (J. Henry Fair/Shore Fire Media)

Sharon Isbin has been called “the preeminent guitarist of our time.” (J. Henry Fair/Shore Fire Media)

Sharon Isbin has been called “the preeminent guitarist of our time,” and was voted “the best classical guitarist” by Guitar Player magazine.

She was one of the first woman musicians in a field where there are few. And she’s a guitarist in the classical world where few believed the instrument deserved a place.

After decades of pushing against those limitations, Isbin now has three Grammy Awards and numerous other awards under her belt, and has collaborated with many world class composers and musicians of various genres.

Sharon Isbin: Troubadour,” a documentary on her career, is airing through March on public television stations around the country and has just been released on DVD.

Isbin brought her guitar with her and told Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd why she thinks the guitar is “one of the most extraordinary instruments.”

Interview Highlights: Sharon Isbin

On being mentored by the legendary guitarist Andres Segovia

“I was a fortunate to have a few lessons with him. I do remember the first time I ever played for him. It was really a little bit intimidating because he was such a king figure in the guitar world. My guitar was literally bouncing off my chest, but eventually, I would say the magic of working with Segovia was sit just a few inches away from him when he would demonstrate, to hear this gorgeous diamond-like beautiful sound that he was able to produce, and that became the model of what I wanted for my sound and my tone.”

On how she decided to become a guitarist

“It was really an overnight experience because up until 14, I was very involved in science, model rockets and building cloud chambers. My father used to say that you can’t launch your rockets until you put in an hour on the guitar. So that was how he bribed me to continue. Then I managed to put in an hour of practice and win a competition, and the award was to perform for 10,000 people as a soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra. I remember stepping out onto the stage and thinking, you know, this is even more fun than watching my worms and grasshoppers go into space and I’m going to become a guitarist.”

Watch an excerpt of the documentary about Sharon Isbin:

Songs Heard In This Segment

All songs performed by Sharon Isbin

  • John Duarte, “Darling Cora”
  • Antonio Lauro, “Natalia” (performed live at Here & Now)
  • Tan Dun, “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra (Yi2)”
  • Isaias Savio, “Batucada” (performed live at Here & Now)


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