Guitar Central: Six Strings, Two Styles

Deryn Varney

A typical-looking crowd, consisting mostly of adults from nearby towns along with a handful of professors and Colgate students, gathered inside the Colgate Memorial Chapel at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday for one of the chapel’s weekly music events. The event was titled “Six Strings, Two Styles: Jazz Meets Classical.” However, the total number of strings present must have exceeded twenty, including the strings of Assistant Professor of Music Mark Volker’s acoustic guitar, Chris Colabello’s string bass and the three guitars of Colgate’s Teacher of Guitar Rick Balestra.

Balestra and Colabello opened the performance, which lasted about two hours, on electric guitar and string bass, respectively. Together they played three smooth jazz pieces punctuated by the syncopated beats that characterize jazz music. On stage, the musicians alternated solos, cueing each other with sly glances. Colabello bounced with seeming enthusiasm as he leaned into his string bass and plucked its strings, which were almost as tall as he was, so that they buzzed. Balestra sat to the right of the pair, nestled on a stool with his electric guitar. Two more guitars and one empty guitar stand formed a backdrop to the scene.

After finishing their pieces, Balestra and Colabello meandered offstage, and Mark Volker appeared a moment later. He adeptly navigated his acoustic guitar strings while he performed three movements from Spanish composer Federico Moreno-Torroba’s Sonatina, a traditional-sounding piece heavily embellished with musical ornamentation. Seated on a bench in the upper level of the chapel, one man closed his eyes and lifted his chin as if to follow the fragrance of Volker’s classical guitar performance.

About fifteen minutes later, Volker stepped off the stage and Balestra and Colabello returned. Each pluck of Colabello’s strings perforated the memory of Volker’s soothing Spanish lullaby, overwhelming it with a rhythmic and jazzy beats. Balestra and Colabello performed three more pieces, including one, called “From the Shore,” that Balestra had composed himself. Balestra took an opportunity to plug his product while he introduced the piece.

“This is a cheap, shameless self-promotion,” Balestra said, eliciting laughter from across the sizeable audience. “I have CDs!”

Next, Volker also performed a piece of his own composition, the first version of which he had written ten years earlier. He noted that his performance on Sunday was the debut performance of his second version of the piece. It ended with a rhythmic smack of Volker’s hand against his wooden guitar, and then Balestra and Colabello performed again.

Afterward, Teacher of Voice Alyssa Volker joined Mark Volker, who had returned to the chapel stage once more. Another instructor at Colgate University and the wife of Professor Mark Volker, she sang while he strummed several traditional folk songs from the United Kingdom.

At the end of the performance, the audience was invited to the downstairs area of the Chapel for refreshments. Mark Volker sat with his family at a long table, chatting with one girl from the audience, while two more audience members conversed at the opposite end of the room. These two listeners, John Upcraft and Lois Lloyd, travel to the Colgate University campus every Sunday from their home in Waterville, New York.

“Well, of course I liked the jazz better,” Upcraft said, who calls himself a music-lover although he’s never played an instrument. “That’s just my natural inclination. But they both played very well.”