Brazilian guitarist Josinaldo Costa, a recipient of the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, also holds a Bachelor’s degree from the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (Brazil) and a Master’s degree from the University of Akron, where he studied with Mauro Maibrada and Stephen Aron. During his undergraduate studies, the successful participation in classical guitar events in Brazil resulted in important opportunities, including performances as a soloist with the Recife Symphony Orchestra, Pernambuco Youth Orchestra, and the award of a FIPSE/CAPES scholarship to study at East Carolina University with Dr. Elliot Frank.
Appearing as a guest chamber and solo performer in concert series such as the Virtuosi na Serra, ViolaoPE, AV-Rio (Brazil), Guitar Fort Worth, The Ritsos Project (Greece), Karlovac Summer Guitar Festival (Croatia), Bihac International Guitar Workshop (Bosnia) and in historical halls such as the Santa Isabel Theatre (Brazil), he is also a featured guest artist and teacher in institutions such as the Texas Wesleyan University and Western Carolina University, among many others. Josinaldo is a first prize winner of the Stroud Classical Guitar Competition and the recipient of the Performance Certificate distinction from the Eastman School. Most recently, he has been selected to participate in the highly competitive class of Maestro Oscar Ghiglia at the historical Accademia Chigiana (Siena, Italy) and in the MusicAlp Festival (Tignes, France) in the class of renowned teacher Judicaël Perroy. Josinaldo was a teaching fellow during his stay in Akron and at the Eastman School of Music, where he also taught students of all levels at the Eastman Community Music School. His research in performance practice of the 18th and 19th centuries has a focus in the adaptation of the music of J.S. Bach to the classical guitar, and he also performs on the baroque guitar and romantic (19th cent.) guitar.
Josinaldo is a Contributing Editor for the Guitar Foundation of America Soundboard magazine and is currently based in Los Angeles area, where he serves as the Director of Guitar at Servite High School, one of the few full-time high school classical guitar curriculums in the United States. The relationship between Servite’s guitar program and GSI has grown exponentially over the past several years as we continue to visit the program and help by providing guitars as needed – check out our latest visit to Servite. For more information about Josinaldo, visit: www.josinaldocosta.com.
From our latest visit to Servite High School’s guitar program, JohnPaul and I sat down with Josinaldo Costa to discuss a few things about his specific role and the current state of the classical guitar. Here’s how our conversation went:
How long have you been head of Servite’s program?
I was hired in the fall of 2013, so three years now. I was finishing up my doctorate at Eastman and the job opened up, and you know, I was all the way on the other side of the country and I just applied. One week I was traveling, and I got the call and they said, “Would you accept the job if the offer was given to you?” and I said, “Yea sure! That’d be great!” It happened that they hired me. At the end of my travels, I actually had a concert in Brazil with the University Orchestra, but I had to cancel that last minute, and travel back to the US, pack my bags, close my apartment, travel across the country in three days and start teaching. So that’s how it happened.
Do you know a little bit about the history of the program?
Well, I didn’t know about the program at all when I applied for the job. I thought that they were actually hiring a second teacher, but I later on found out that they were going through this transition, so I realized they needed a main teacher. I had very little contact with the West Coast, so I was really unaware of the program. My only contact with the guitar here in the West Coast was coming to audition at USC for my doctorate. But, the offer that Eastman gave me was better, so I went to Eastman. My only experience with Los Angeles was when I was here for like two days – that’s about it.
How long has the program been in place here?
I believe that before I was here, it was in place for 10 years! It’d been around for a while, so it was well-established. The quality of the students that were left behind was really good, and the support that I get from the administration is quite good; they’re very understanding of the idea of the classical guitar. They understand that when I say we need to have small classes, they say, “I get it.” It’s very supportive.
What’s your vision with the program?
It’s difficult to tell at this point. There are a lot of modifications happening within the school; Servite itself is going through a growth process. I think they’ve added about 200 more students to the whole student body over the course of the past few years, and the waiting list has been growing too, so the school is going to grow a bit. I don’t know if this means we’re going to have a new teacher at some point. When I came in, we had 38 students, the second year we had 44, and eventually during this third year, we could have up to 80 if I open up the doors – or even more than that! I’ve had students that transferred into Servite just because of the guitar program. I have a private student of Martha Masters because Martha had recommended that he transfer to Servite, so he transferred out of his high school and came here. And I have this little guy, who’s picking up his guitar here, who is a freshman, and he came here just because of the guitar program as well.
Do you know of any other guitar programs like this at all?
With a full-time position like this? Well, I know that La Mirada, which is really close to us, has a new teacher there, but it’s a different environment because our students come here for a class period, and depending on the size of their class (for example my small class of fourth-year students), they get a different treatment since they get a private lesson a week, rehearsals, etc. My second year class was at the Ensemble Showcase at the GFA Convention, and I’m hoping to dominate that Ensemble Showcase of the GFA Convention. Those are just some examples of what I’m doing here with Servite’s guitar program.
What do you think is important to teach young guitarists today? What areas of playing do you see most students struggling with, and how do you address these areas?
From what I could observe in the past few years, I think that pre-college classical guitar instruction has made significant progress in raising the technical level of the average student in the USA. It wasn’t very long ago (as recently as 5 or 6 years ago) that successful programs were rare and inconsistent. Now, any pre-college competition round will show you that high quality students are numerous and evenly spread out across the country.
Nonetheless, these developments are very much focused on the technical preparation of the students, in detriment of a more comprehensive education in music. As an example, I’ve had the chance to coach students (high school seniors) that were able to handle all the technical difficulties of a quartet arrangement of a Mozart symphony and, however, had problems identifying phrases, formal structure, key areas, etc. This lack of general understanding of Common Practice musical language is still very common, and it is a focus point of my teaching. Most importantly, this is related to the much more important discussion of what exactly is the objective of a pre-college musical education. I am not alone in believing that our primary goal should be to form an audience. Most struggling arts administrators in one of the many bankruptcy prone symphonic orchestras would readily agree. After all, it is a small percentage of the student population that will be interested in following a career in music, while a much larger number would potentially continue participating in and fostering activities within the classical music environment if given the right encouragement.
Therefore, it is important to prepare technically proficient students, but it is even more important to form them musically and foster a life-long relationship with music. To address this, I always strive to contextualize the repertory that I work with the students. What is the point of performing a work of Albeniz if the student does not understand the context of Spanish nationalism and this country’s political struggles through the later part of the nineteenth century? I am not particularly interested in short-term competition winners that will forget the guitar after freshman year in college. Educating students with that goal can bring a lot of quick attention to a program and is a somewhat useful effort. However, when a student understands that a cadence embellished by a Neapolitan second can symbolize romantic inwardness, he/she will certainly become inquisitive, and perhaps later in life will be much more willing to support the educational program that formed them.
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