By Matt Meyle
The third event of the Grand Rapids Community College International Guitar Series ended with a standing ovation for GRCC’s professor of guitar, Brian Morris, following his captivating classical guitar solo performance.
Morris mesmerized the audience for nearly an hour and a half. Holding the attention of the room during the entire performance, excluding the brief 10-minute intermission. The performance consisted of world renowned musical pieces that were crafted by some of the greatest minds in music, spanning from 1685 through the 20th century.
The Lynn Maxwell Keller Recital Hall was only a few empty seats away from being at capacity. Spectators ranged from college students to senior citizens, all of whom seemed to be lovers of music. As Morris plucked his guitar strings, members of the audience could be seen bobbing their heads along to the rhythm of Morris’ performance. After each song, the crowd roared with applause and Morris bowed, often with a smile on his face.
During the performance, the emotion of each song, and the connection Morris has to the music could be seen on his face. Nodding with affirmation to smooth, melodic transitions, and showing focus and intensity with each difficult chord and swift movement up and down the fretboard.
“There are many things that you are managing while playing a concert,” Morris said. “But for me, I always say this to students, ‘what is priority number one?’ And I always say, ‘communicating the musical idea.’ That is what we are doing. We have this idea of music that we heard somebody play music and we say, ‘hey, that sounds great,’ so we have this idea, if we can play it that way, that will sound great. So we are working to communicate that musical idea through our instrument. There are all kinds of things, it’s movement, there’s no sound without movement, so it’s operating mind and body. There are all kinds of things that are happening that you have to work with.”
As a lifelong musician, Morris is still constantly focusing on his mastery of the instrument during a performance, but his years of experience have benefited him tremendously. During his rendition of “Fantasia Su Motivi Della” composed by Francisco Tarrega, a door in the hallway just outside the recital hall slammed shut. A few audience members turned their attention for a brief moment, but Morris stayed steady, finishing the song without missing a beat.
“Oh wow, I didn’t even notice that!” Morris said following his performance, solidifying his professionalism and devotion to the music.
“I knew from very young that I loved music.” Morris said. “From even before I played music, from like five years old, that I loved music. I think I was about 12 and I hadn’t really played the guitar yet, but I played other instruments. I played the organ. I played the cornet in band (a compact brass instrument like a trumpet with a mellower tone). I liked to sing and I just liked music. I think I was about 12, and I remember walking out in junior high on the playground, just walking around thinking, I think I’ll be a musician.”
Morris concluded the performance with a self-transcribed rendition of “Asturias” originally written by Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz for the piano. Upon finishing, the crowd erupted in gratitude of Morris’ immense skills and willingness to entertain the public with his polished, lifelong talent. As he did after every other song of the night, Morris took a bow and smiled, allowing the audience to cheer and clap until the room was filled with thunderous applause as everyone stood in admiration for Morris.
As Morris began to walk out of the performance hall, the crowd cheered even louder, causing Morris to stop and face the audience.
“Would you like to hear another?” Morris said with a smile on his face, seeming quite eager to continue his performance. The crowd encouraged him, as Morris returned to his stool to treat his paying customers to an unexpected encore. He choose to perform another song by Albeniz, titled, “Cadiz.”
Following his recital, Morris stood by the doors to the exit of the performance hall, shaking hands, smiling, and even hugging some of those in attendance. The crowd was seemingly infatuated with Morris and his humble, but inviting personality, that coupled with his talents and loyalty to GRCC. Morris waited until every single audience member that wanted to talk with him had a chance.
Many of Morris’ students eagerly approached him to shake his hand and convey their respect for the mastery of the guitar that Morris has achieved.
“I think it is just part of music. You teach,” Morris said referring to his 27 years with GRCC. “Performing is difficult to make a living, so teaching is more of the traditional job that a musician would have. I like working with the students and get to play music with them. It’s a great thing to do, to be able to share something you love with other people who want to learn about it too. We’ve had some really good students here that have really progressed.”
Morris had previously been the director of the International Guitar Series until just last year. He explained what it’s like to have a perspective of both a performer and concert series coordinator for the same event.
“I played on the series even when I ran it.” Morris said. “I ran it from 1992 until last year. Twenty-five years and I used to play on it every year, for various reasons, like financially, to help raise money for the program.”
Morris showcased his classical guitar talents in an uplifting and spectacular performance in the third night of the International Guitar Series. The final performance of the 2017-2018 International Guitar Series will be Thurs., March 15, at 7:30 p.m. in the Lynn Maxwell Keller Recital Hall featuring Robert Gruca.