To Russia With Love – Part III Concerts and Beyond

After I transitioned from culture shock to playing at the NAMM show and exploring Fernando Sor’s footsteps in Moscow I settled into playing harp guitar in concert and taking time to compose some new music.

It was great to meet fans I had been corresponding with for years and making new friends. Turgenev Hall was a wonderful place to play and the audience was so enthusiastic and generous in their response to the concert.

4.John Doan Harp Guitar Moscow with Deirdra Deirdra and I were in Moscow for a week.  It was great fun to add being tourists to the concert touring. We got familiar with the subways and blending in with our Moscovite comrades and took several trips into the heart of the city.  Here we are with the Kremlin behind us. What you don’t see is the the massive traffic jam caused by the city shutting down while Puttin’s limousine rushed through the cleared streets surrounded by armed hummvies.
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To Russia With Love – Part II – Walking in Sor’s Footsteps

Traveling in Russia was an adventure filled with tremendous history beholding great art and architectural treasures, visiting historical sites, as well as extraordinary opportunities to share with the people my love of music and the harp guitar through lectures and concerts. It was fun to see how the people live today and to walk in the footsteps of Fernando Sor (aka. “The Father of the Classical Guitar”) who lived here from 1823-1826.

Adventures are filled with the unknown. Just walking down quiet streets and into small convenience stores I peak into a world not my own.

It is not that these people and this place are unknowable.  I am just a visitor hoping to share the moment by touching their world and in turn enriching my own and perhaps those with whom I share it as well.

History is filled with past moments.  One can read about history in books but what is really fun for me is having it come alive before my eyes. Historical places seem to possess echoes of the past and through visiting such sites the past becomes present. This attitude is behind my recent exploration of the world of Fernando Sor (aka. “The Father of the Classical Guitar”) who lived from 1778 to 1839. His life, music, and times have come more alive to me since I have gone to where he once lived and concertized in Spain, England and France. He also lived in Russia and so my quest to know him better became a part of this journey.71.Fernando_Sor

In 1823 he came to Russia with his ballerina wife to work at the Bolshoi Theater among other music activities.  The Russian people are fiercely proud of their contribution to the art of Ballet. Even their 100 ruble currency has the Bolshoi Theater pictured on the back. Sor was here when it was first built and although it has suffered the ravages of fire and decay over the years it is impressive to see the latest incarnation.

20.Bolshoi Theater 1824 Few people remember that the Bolshoi Theater’s opening night on January 6, 1825 was filled with the music of Sor’s ballet Cendrillon.  Just sitting quietly in the shade of a fountain I could almost imagine a much colder and distant time when the night’s glory was filled with concert goers humming some of Sor’s tunes as they left in their sledded carriages looking back at the building’s pillars lite up in the glow of oil lamps with candle light pouring from its windows.

Since Sor and his wife worked with the ballet they very likely lived nearby.  Perhaps they lived in the building that is just to the right of the theater today. Could he have walked up those steps inside an open door or lived in that room above where chandeliers now glitter through the window.

With the research of noted guitar historian Matanya Ophee and his fine article “Fernando Sor and the Russians” in hand (Soundboard XXXII, NO. 3-4, pgs. 13-29), and assisted by my host Andrew, I was able to find various houses where Sor was known to have performed. It was not surprising that they were within walking distance of the Bolshoi theater.

72.Musician and his Family, French oil painting (Bibliothèque Marmottan, Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris copy Sor could have tromped down a few snow covered streets with his guitar case in hand or traveled in a sledded carriage to the House of Gargarin on a quiet December night in 1823. People of high standing gathered in the dining area for dinner and afterward Fernando was asked to perform on the guitar.

A. La. Bulgakov in a letter to his brother remarked, “After dinner I heard the guitarist Sor. What a Talent! The guitar was made to sound like a harp, a harmonica, a mandolin, even like trumpets. Sometimes you had the impression that two guitars were being played. He plays the melody together with the accompaniment. With superb taste.”

No unlike Sor, I have enjoyed how my own concerts in Moscow have delighted audiences with new sounds of the harp and the guitar combined in multiple parts.  My work on the 20 string harp guitar has been defining a new sound for the instrument not unlike Sor’s impact on the guitar of his day. Standing before the House of Gargarin I could imagine similar audience responses centuries before.

Just down the street and left up a boulevard I found the estate of Stepan Stepanovich Apraksin (1756-1827) an army general and heir to one of Russia’s noble families. Sor is also known to have played here. It was also a large structure that had an inner courtyard where the carriages would arrive with guests. Perhaps Sor’s carriage passed through this very corridor to the inner courtyard. Being there added dimension to my understanding of the musical life of that time and to the esteemed circles in which Sor lived and worked.

33.Dining with Andrew Afterward Andrew and I went to a nearby dessert shop.  Andrew had some tea, we both had some bottled water, he had a small sundae with fruit on top and I had a piece of Russian Blueberry pie. He was telling me that Moscow was a very expensive place to live and this area where Sor lived and worked was very posh then and still is to this day.

I was feeling generous and offered to pay the bill. I wasn’t expecting it to come to around $40 USD! Yikes! Perhaps this high life contributed to Sor leaving Moscow in late 1826 (although breaking up with his ballerina wife may have had more to do with it). Andrew thanked me for the treat and then remarked that he almost never eats out. I responded with the one Russian word I know. Da!

37.John Doan Tour Moscow Andrew, Anna

That night, like most Moscovites, we ate at home and had a great time visiting with he and his lovely wife Anna. It was more like an international night where Deirdra cooked Asian fish while Andrew brought Tuscan wine.  After dinner, unlike retiring to a concert room in a large estate to hear a soloist dazzle the guests like Sor had done, we huddled in a homey apartment and Andrew and I improvised Shakuhachi/guitar duets late into the evening.38.John Doan Tour Moscow Jam with Andrew

I continued to fall in love with Russia’s past and present more each day.

The Adventure continues in “From Russia With Love Part III” where I do concerts and lectures, visit the Kremlin and have a close encounter with a Russian bear.


John Doan Visits L’viv, Ukraine, New Harp Guitar Capital of the World?

Early in May I had an adventure visiting L’viv, Ukraine to give harp guitar concerts.

It was like entering into a time warp as the city had a holiday celebrating its long history with people walking through the streets in medieval costumes.  There were even horse drawn carriages.
Ancient church walls were adorned with spectacular gold icons and detailed wall paintings.
There were shops with handmade goods like this candy shop brimming over with tempting delights.

The central park benches were either filled with lovers locked in Ukrainian embrace or with old men playing board games.


Deirdra and I were waiting our turn for a park bench

I sat down and had a long talk with one of the locals and later went atop a building for a view of the city skyline.


There were children dancing to folk music on a large stage in the town square.

This is where I introduced the 20-string harp guitar to mobs of cheering Ukrainians who were introduced to the instrument as “The Bandura of the 21st Century” (read on about the Bandura).


The real exciting part to my adventure in Lviv was a visit to the Trembita Musical Instrument Factory. They have years of experience building Ukrainian instruments like the Bandura. It is not unlike the version of harp guitar I have championed my entire career (complete with super treble strings).

It was amazing to see the walls lined with instruments.

They have remained a Ukrainian favorite for centuries as seen in one of the local sculptures. An image of one is even found on their money.


Myron Kuzemsky, the president of the factory, showed me one of the Banduras near completion.

I meet Jay Buckey who is working with Trembita to make harp guitars. The one I tried out was made quite well and had a very nice tone. Jay showed me one of the tops for an upcoming Dyer Model harp guitar.


Jay Buckey has formally started his new company “Your Harp Guitar” after a series of test instruments were made.  He has overseen a number of modifications and has even included in his future production harp mandolins and the new 21-string “John Doan Model” – a harp guitar based on the plans of his Elliott-Sullivan harp guitar (with an added bass string).  He is consulting with its noted designer – Jeffery Elliott aiming at the highest quality in an affordable instrument.

Before leaving L’viv Jay and I gave the first harp guitar concert in Ukrainian history with a little help from his friends (Alla who has the voice of an Angel, and Peter who moved the audience to tears!). The audience was so responsive with applauds that continued on and on prolonging the concert.  They loved it and we loved playing for them.

One fan came 3 hours by train to come to the event.  He is anxious to make a “Your Harp Guitar” one of his own and with the factory gearing up to produce 40 harp guitars a month this dream can come true.

Do the math.  At that rate of production most harp guitars made on the planet will come from L’viv, Ukraine perhaps making it by sheer numbers the harp guitar capital of the world someday!



European Tour Concert Addition: John Doan in Tennisheim Nassenfels June 10, 2012

John Doan’s European tour is so popular, they’ve added another show to the schedule. John will be performing at Tennisheim Nassenfels at 1900 (7PM) on June 10, 2012, in Nassenfels, Germany. Details on the concert are available in German. The public is welcome and tickets are by donation. Continue reading