Andrew York MM '86

The only LAGQ member to come from a musical family, Andrew York recalls a childhood awash in melody. If mom and his two sisters weren’t filling their Richmond, Va., home with song, chances are dad or an uncle was strumming a guitar. “It seemed natural for me to pick up the guitar and try,” says York. At 8, he began classical study with Greta Dollitz, a disciple of the renowned Aaron Shearer. By 10, he was composing.

Graduating from James Madison University, York headed West for advanced training in jazz and studio guitar. To a guy who’d played everything from classical to grunge, USC still held novelty. “It was really thrilling. I was free to do anything I wanted” – and by anything, York means not just new guitar styles, but learning the lute, joining a hand-bell choir. And more composing. “I always wanted to make new music,” he says. “Some people don’t have that push. For me, it was always a natural desire.”

York’s 1994 Denouement features 25 of his own pieces for nylon string; his Perfect Sky (2000) contains nine more original solos, along with a Couperin harpsichord piece and celluloid and video themes from Pinocchio to “Peanuts.” A forthcoming CD, Into Dark, bundles York’s own works with Bach’s Cello Suite in C. The oft-transcribed piece has never sounded like this, however. Tuning his strings to the cello’s actual pitch and intervals, York plays from the original score, fingering the fretboard as if the guitar were a cello. “It’s ravishing,” he says somewhat immodestly.

A true eclectic, York composes in many styles, from Afro-Caribbean to New Age. Only on rare occasions has he known a Mozart moment, when “the music just comes on a platter, hovering above me, complete.” His ideas can come from dreams, the natural world and sometimes the not-so-natural world. “Once I heard a gate squeak. It squeaked four notes in a specific rhythm. I’ll never forget it.” The fragment hasn’t found its way into York’s music yet, but it will. “I’m saving it,” he says enigmatically.

The only LAGQ member who doesn’t teach, York says his composing and solo career leave no time for it. (Recent gigs included a Japan tour, an appearance with Christopher Parkening at a master class and a spot on the roster of the 2002 International Guitar Night tour.) For those who yearn to learn from him, there’s the Jazz Guitar for Classical Cats, a two-volume set with enough information to keep amateurs busy for a year, he boasts. A third volume on improvisation is in the works.

It’s a cliché these days for techies to seek solace from the soulless blinking of a computer by cradling a guitar. How ironic, then, that a professional musician like York should turn to programming in his leisure. A few years ago, his hobby spawned MindChimes (www.mindchimes. com), audio wallpaper that teases the sounds of bells, bamboo reeds, rain storms, lapping waves and sea gulls from idle computers. Trust a musician to turn a 200-tone vocabulary of beeps and buzzes into soothing, ever-changing aural imagery.

Photo by Pamela Springsteen

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

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