Exactly one year ago this month, Andre Feriante and Troy Chapman picked up their instruments onstage at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and wrote a new chapter in the History of the World — according to the guitar, that is.
Those who missed hearing Whidbey Island’s two guitar masters performing together at the Cythara show last November get another shot at the experience this weekend. In the Cythara 2 performance on Nov. 16, Feriante and Chapman will repeat and evolve the original show to illustrate and interpret the march of time through centuries of musical instruments.
In the multicultural onstage phenomenon, the acclaimed musicians transform a seemingly disconnected group of eclectic global stringed instruments into an ethereal orchestra of sound.
History, storytelling, poetry and raw talent play a role in Cythara 2, which is apt to change at any moment as the evening progresses. As haunting melodies dig deep into world traditions, tragedies and triumphs, the stories unfold through ages-old instruments that have gradually made their way into the collections of both musicians.
The duo switches seamlessly from the rabab of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to the Middle Eastern oud, the Indian sitar and Swar Sangam, a Venezuelan cuatro, Russian balalaika and a lute from Europe. Tenor and resonator ukuleles weave their way through the show, as do classical archtop, harp, Gittler, Selmer and Kasha guitars.
Each of the 24-or-more stringed instruments that will inhabit the WICA stage are relatives of the guitar and have tangled ties to culture and history in their countries of origin. Feriante and Chapman said they are careful to honor and acknowledge this and to recognize music’s ability to build bridges, serving as the great unifier between cultures and people.
For example, as Feriante pulls out a Russian balalaika and begins to play, Chapman explains how the Russian balalaika is a classic 18th-century Russian instrument used in folk music, dancing and orchestral performances. John Lennon and Paul McCartney sought out the sound when penning “Back in the USSR” in the 1960s.
“It’s what the Beatles wanted to hear,” said Chapman. “That’s what they were talking about when singing, ‘Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out.’”
Believe it or not, the two dozen instruments onstage with the duo are only part of their respective collections. Feriante laughs when telling how a friend describes his penchant for gathering exotic stringed mediums.
“My doctor friend came up on the stage during a guitar festival and announced that he had just diagnosed me with GAD – Guitar Acquisition Disorder,” said Feriante. “Troy and I both have that.”
This comes as no surprise, since the two musicians had multiple years of separate musical journeys before ever crossing paths.
Feriante is certainly no newcomer to the world stage, whether performing at Carnegie Hall in New York, Benaroya Hall in Seattle or hundreds of venues spanning a 30-year career. His first concert in Rome set the Italian-born flamenco guitarist and composer on a musical journey blending classical, Spanish and Brazilian styles into his own incarnation of musical sensuality played out on stages across Europe and North and South America.
That journey never ended, even after choosing a life on Whidbey Island. In fact, he’s flourished in the island culture, taking on roles such as host and artistic director of the Whidbey Island Guitar Festival, formerly known as Guitar Euphoria.
Though he was educated in jazz studies from prestigious institutions such as Concordia University, Montréal and The American Conservatory of Music, Chapman has a musical persona that digs deep into diverse influences, such as blues singer and guitarist Mississippi John Hurt and gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt.
After 21 years playing in the renowned venues of Chicago jazz, Chapman established a solid place in the world of gypsy jazz music. From Pearl Django to Hot Club of Troy to the Troy Chapman Group, it’s impossible to ignore his influence on the genre.
Though the two guitarists come from different sides of the strings, musically speaking, there’s an inexplicable sound that emerges when they meet in that center space where anything can happen. And it does happen.
“Andre was trained as a classical guitarist and I was educated in jazz guitar,” he notes. “But we obviously both love instruments, and it’s a chance for people to not only hear these various stringed instruments for the first time but to hear them in unique combinations. For example, you’re not likely to ever hear a baroque guitar and a Chinese moon guitar on the same stage.”