We have a very special piece that has been over 20 years in the making – Ian Mitchell playing his Father Song, inspired by his good friend Philip Rosheger’s Serenade. Keep reading to learn more about the history of this beautiful piece and about Mitchell and Rosheger. Ian plays a stunning 1935 Hermann Hauser I from the Russell Cleveland Collection.
Remembering Philip Rosheger, “Serenade in D” and “The Father Song”
In 1974, Ian Mitchell, an undergraduate guitarist studying under Tom Patterson at Cal State Chico, met and studied with Philip Rosheger, instructor at the San Francisco Conservatory of music and winner of the 1972 Segovia competition in Spain. By 1977 Mitchell had become Director of the Classical guitar program at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, bringing Rosheger in as a regular visiting artist. During this time, Mitchell and Rosheger became close friends and Rosheger’s playing was at its most powerful and passionate. His concerts were then at the peak of his performing career. Philip was a guitarist with a sound so rich that it had elicited the admiration and awe of maestro Andres Segovia in his Madrid 1973 Master Classes. Although he studied with many of the great Spanish masters, Rosheger never pursued a formal degree in music.
In addition to performing, Rosheger also composed, and his works slowly began flourishing in the late 1980’s. Everyone who knew him agreed that he had a powerful sense of melody. Much of his music came from his dreams, which he wrote down upon awakening. He was a gifted melodic savant, who grew up in a musical household. Perhaps his best known melody is his “Serenade in D” which began as an improvisation in Berkeley in 1993 and later that year was written out in Venice, California at Mitchell’s home. Mitchell responded by writing a coda, which Rosheger appreciated but declined to use. James Kline, previously a student and later duo partner of Mitchell, learned the piece using the coda. Kline, now a popular touring performer in Europe, then expanded it for the 11-string “Arch” guitar as a set of Chaconne-like variations at a faster tempo.
Mitchell later adapted Kline’s expanded “Serenade” in 2001, re-writing it several times. Rosheger himself in later years would perform Kline’s version, arranged back to six string guitar by Tim Hall.
Mitchell continued to search for a way to duplicate the “cascading” effect similar to the effect in Kline’s faster version (a natural effect of the 11-stringed “Arch” guitar) on the traditional 6-stringed guitar. Finally, he found a cross rhythm, using 3’s over 2’s to get a similar cascading effect at a much slower tempo – the original intent of Rosheger’s “Serenade”. In 2007, Mitchell’s second son was born. Putting him to sleep late one night, Mitchell was cradling his baby while dancing around the room, which created a rhythm for the syncopated 3 over 2 middle section. By 2014, he started to experiment with 4 over 3, because the “Serenade” intro and melody alternate between 3/4 and 4/4 time. The use of a complex 4 over 3 Polyrhythm (or cross-rhythm) was inspired by the indirect collaboration with Mitchell’s friend, the extraordinary composer guitarist Dominic Frasca, previously a student and close friend of Rosheger. Mitchell figured it out and wrote the mathematical relationship which creates the haunting 4 over 3 syncopation, on a napkin; using the original coda melody in the middle voice, which had begun the collaborative process twenty one years prior in 1993.
These events led to its being named “The Father Song” in this last stage of the composition. Rosheger’s “Serenade” is unmistakably American, and some believe there’s a reference to “Oh When the Saints…” but in a slower, more evocative manner with the bass line mirroring the one measure melody over four measures. Mitchell’s choice of a 3 over 2 cross-rhythm was initially inspired by music of his favorite American Master, George Gershwin.
In the late 1990s, Mitchell helped to get Rosheger’s music out to players including David Russell and arranged publishing of several pieces with Guitar Solo Publications. In 2001, Mitchell formed a publishing company, “Serious Music” as a platform for Rosheger and other composers. Rosheger was scheduled to record a CD that captured the full range of his music. He spent time in a recording studio in New York City engineered by Dominic Frasca, but Rosheger was unable to complete the recording due to health issues. Rosheger had decided that he needed a day job and wanted to become Cabbie but few of his friends supported the notion. Mitchell offered him a monthly stipend in an effort to enable him to focus on his music. That business decision didn’t work out for the two and the friendship broke down. Rosheger refused to return Mitchell’s phone calls and in 2006 “Serious Music” was shut down. Those still close to Rosheger also tried to get him back on his feet but with little success. According to sources close at his side, Rosheger continued to battle personal demons until his sudden and untimely death in 2013.
“The Father Song”, an homage to Philip Rosheger based on his “Serenade”, after twenty one years of slow evolution through a loose collaboration of friends, was sadly a work that Rosheger never heard in its final form. The piece has been played as a part of Good Friday services, representing the ascension of the soul and simultaneous descending of the body. The ultimate victory juxtaposed with simultaneous sadness is reflected in this poignant musical statement.
It has since become Ian Mitchell’s signature piece and a personal dedication to a man whose memory haunts him to this day. Mitchell’s future plans include the creation of a film project honoring the maestro, the music and the friendship.
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