“…art has been with us since the cave paintings, and it will be with us well beyond this generation or the next…I think the future holds only bright things…”

I feel so fortunate to have spent seven wonderful years working under Adam Holzman for my masters and doctoral degrees at the University of Texas at Austin.  Adam’s commitment to greatness and authenticity in music, and all aspects of life, is something he not only lives personally, but also brings in generous quantities to his teaching.  When it comes to excellence, one could say Adam both walks the walk, and talks the talk.

In preparing this article I spoke to several former students and heard things like: “I’m so thankful Adam does what he was put on this planet to do: teach, perform, and inspire us all.”  One student captured a sentiment I heard a lot: “Adam told me once that guitar lessons were not only about music, but about learning attitudes of sensibility toward other aspects of life also.”  The word “inspiration” came up a lot.

Adam is performing next Saturday night, October 12th, right here in Austin.  The concert is 7:30PM in Jessen Auditorium on the UT Campus.  Additional information is online here.  If you’ve seen him before, I know you’ll make every effort to be there.  If you haven’t, then I strongly encourage you to come hear this magnificent and influential musician.

Between teaching a robust and world-class studio at the University and meeting a demanding international tour schedule, it’s not always easy to find time with Adam.  So I was really glad he could sit down and answer a few of my questions.

Matt Hinsley: 25 years in Austin!  Did you think before you got here that Austin, Texas would be your home?

Adam Holzman: No, I’d have to say no!  I was at the University of South Florida in Tampa before coming here.  I was very happy there, was well treated and well loved; and it was a wonderful community filled with great Cuban music and Cuban food – and lots of people of all types who love the guitar.  When I had the opportunity to come here to the University of Texas, it was particularly special because I had the chance to start a brand new guitar program.  Carolyn and I were very happy – we were at that time dating in Austin – and we got married after our first year of being here.

So, no, I didn’t expect to be in Austin.  But once I got here, and had the opportunity to work in such a dynamic university structure that the Butler School has offered me – both academically and in terms of performance – it became truly a wonderful ride.

MH: You’ve had extraordinary success as a teacher and performer.  Could you share a bit about the values you hold dear that have guided you?

AH: Great question.  I think the most important thing to me is always about giving each student the opportunity to play their best.  Every student is different.  I love the instrument and the music that we get to play on it, and I always have.  So my passion for our instrument is really what has always driven me.  I love sharing that passion with other people, both colleagues and students, who have it also. It’s the love of music that I think is the most important thing – the love of music making, the love of guitar playing.  It’s instilling that passion in others as well as the hard work it takes to bring it out.

Values:  it’s really all about hard work.  Of course it’s training and talent too – which is many things like historical, theoretical, and stylistic knowledge and just having a great ear. But as my father says, “it doesn’t matter what you do, but that you work your hardest to do it well.”  And that’s the most important thing.

Another one of my values about playing is understanding you have to have tremendous patience to allow it to come to fruition.  Especially when we’re young, we don’t understand what patience means, but that understanding grows as we grow.  To play at a very high level you have to give a tremendous amount of yourself – and you have to have a tremendous amount of patience over time – knowing that you’re always working toward something.  You can’t always see the end, because you know in fact that it never really ends at all, you’re just always working to get better and to improve.  At every age, twenty-five or fifty-five, you’re still working to improve.

MH: What are some things you’re most proud of?

AH: Oh, that’s easy!  What I’m most proud of in my guitar world are my students, and my students’ students.  My greatest pleasure now comes not only from seeing my students play great, but seeing their students play great.  I like to talk about sort-of having grand kids, “grand-students,” and that’s my greatest pleasure.  There’s no doubt about that.

When I see one of my students play a great concert, or have one of my students’ students begin working with me – or not even working with me, but I hear them play beautifully – I think to myself “boy, that’s the reason to live: because you’re passing on what you love to do.”

MH: What do you wish everyone knew about great music-making on the classical guitar?

AH: How subtle it is, and how much hard work it takes to get there.  Think about an orchestra where you have all these players playing different instruments, and they’re each usually playing one or two notes at a time, and they’re all working hard to craft lines and to find the right nuances within the language of their instrument to create a convincing whole… here we are on our instrument – we’ve got six strings and all these frets and we are fighting all the time to be able to do with one instrument all that the orchestra does with many.  It’s an incredible challenge, and the challenge is never ending.

And then, when you add in all the difficulties, not just of timbral, theoretical and stylistic, but of sheer coordination, it’s quite remarkable.  Really I think that’s it:  I wish everyone knew how subtle a world the classical guitar is, and how hard you have to work to bring out all those subtleties.

MH: What excites you about the future?

AH: That’s also an easy one – because it’s really the future of the instrument, and that’s just better and better all of the time.  Every time I’m fortunate to judge important competitions with great young players from all over the world, and I hear these guys play, I just hear the ability on the instrument growing – the technical ability, the dynamics, the musicality, the repertoire, the level of pieces, the type of pieces.

It’s constantly growing, constantly changing. This goes for the world over: it’s incredible to see the growth from what I remember from the late 60’s and early 70’s when I started to play (and how few people could really play at the level that you can now hear quite regularly), it’s just astounding.  It’s fantastic also that more composers are writing for us, and more audiences are getting excited about it.

It really always comes down for me to that personal relationship that each one of us has with the guitar – whatever the instrument is, really – but for me it’s the guitar.  It grabs us and touches us in a special way.

You hear nay-sayers about the future, of course – complaining there’s only “this many or that many” people going to concerts.  But art has been with us since the cave paintings, and it will be with us well beyond this generation or the next.  It will outlast the video game – it will outlast the music of the video game.  I think the future holds only bright things.  It’s only when we get staid, or bored that it will dim, and that’s not what I see happening at all.  We have great programs opening up all around the world, great players, great teachers, we are all learning more all the time.

(special thanks to ACG Social Media Manager Thales Smith for assistance in assembling this interview)