John Dearman '81, MM '83

My musical background is pretty damned checkered,” confesses John Dearman. The Minneapolis native began his musical odyssey the night the Beatles played “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He begged for a drum set, but “when my birthday rolled around, I got a baritone ukulele.” Even after upgrading to a proper steel-string, Dearman was turned off by formal study. He learned to play by ear, memorizing hits like “Secret Agent Man” and later picking out Chet Atkins licks from his dad’s records. One less-than-clairvoyant teacher advised Dearman’s father not to waste his money on guitar lessons: his son showed no promise. Studying alone, Dearman supplemented his pop and fingerpickin’ repertoire with Bach and Scarlatti pieces learned from Parkening and Segovia recordings. After high school in Tustin, Calif., he began teaching guitar at a local music store. The story might have ended there had a fellow instructor not offered to introduce him to Celin Romero. Curious, Dearman drove down to Del Mar. “We hung around the house, had some coffee and then I played Scarlatti and some Chet Atkins,” Dearman recalls. “Celin was so into it.”

Dearman was spellbound. “I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. It wasn’t just the music: it was being with the Romeros, with somebody who was a master of his instrument.” Within weeks, Dearman had sold every instrument he owned – assorted guitars and a banjo – to scratch together enough to buy a handmade Contreras guitar. He began studying with Celin, took occasional lessons with Pepe and Celedonio Romero, and enrolled in community college for much-needed remedial music education. After a year and a half, Pepe encouraged him to transfer to USC.

Today, Dearman still attends community college: He now teaches at El Camino College and Pasadena Community College. Though he sometimes solos on LAGQ recordings, Dearman hasn’t really pursued a solo career. A stickler for originality, he doesn’t see the point: “I look out at the solo guitarists, and they’re all doing the same things,” he carps. Dearman’s philosophy: “You shouldn’t play Sor, Giuliani and Bach unless you’re really extremely rare. Scott is such a one-in-a-million player. Andy has his own repertory, so that’s interesting. And Bill, with his knack for new musical arrangements, gets really creative when he puts together programs.”

Dearman’s checkered past comes in handy for the LAGQ, which often capitalizes on his fingerpickin’ finesse. He fills out the ensemble’s register on a seven-string classical with extended highs and lows. Dearman ordered the custom guitar after the quartet had hit a wall on a Brandenburg concerto arrangement. Other quartets have followed Dearman’s lead, adding a seven-string for flexibility. “A guitar quartet is not like a string quartet or saxophone quartet, which all have different instruments,” he points out. “It’s more like a giant harp or a super-guitar.”

Photo by Pamela Springsteen

Bill Kanengiser '81, MM '83

Related Links

The Astonshing LAGQ
They’ve been called the world’s tightest pop band and a 22-year homework assignment.

The Guitar Century
Now a staple of both concert hall and conservatory, the classical guitar wasn’t always so popular.

LAGQ Profiles

Scott Tennant '86
John Dearman '81, MM '83
Bill Kanengiser '81, MM '83
Andrew York MM '86

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