Aldo Lagrutta and his magical guitar have journeyed far from heartbreak

NEIGHBORS

September 15, 1994|By MICHELLE HOFFMAN

"My wife, Kristin, says that a guitar is like a spoiled girlfriend. If you don't go to visit her once, the next day she'll hate you."

Italian guitarist Aldo Lagrutta has been called a prodigy by some, a master by others.

At age 11, he heard a neighbor play the classical piece Valse No. 3, a waltz composed by Venezuelan master guitarist Antonio Lauro for his daughter, Natalia. Enthralled by its beauty, Mr. Lagrutta begged the neighbor to teach him the piece.

When the neighbor refused, he felt compelled to search for an instructor who would teach him to play the classical style of guitar music he loved to hear.

While it is acceptable for many children in the United States to begin taking music lessons when they are 11, Mr. Lagrutta was refused 20 years ago by every Venezuelan conservatory to which he applied -- on the basis that he was too old to be taught.

Heartbroken but undefeated, he rode a bus for two hours to apply one last time for instruction.

"I was too young to travel that far," he said, "but I wanted to go." Sensing his tenacity and determination, Master Leopoldo Igarza became his mentor.

Thirsty to learn the skills of the legendary greats, Mr. Lagrutta made the two-hour trip three times a week. He practiced seven to eight hours a day, taping his music to a window "to figure out the notes."

He tuned out everything else. His dedication to music took over.

He had no exposure to television, didn't socialize with his peers, and finished his academic education by independent study.

When he finished a practice session, he said, it would be dark outside. His music consumed his life, and his life was music.

"Everything I learned, I learned from Mr. Igarza," he said.

By the age of 15, Mr. Lagrutta had earned the equivalent of a doctorate in Venezuela, the title "professor ejecutante." He was competing in international contests.

That year, he was a silver medalist in the "Alirio Diaz" competition, of which he is very proud. Mr. Igarza stated in a letter attached to Mr. Lagrutta's resume that "the judging was so close that it was announced the first-place contestant scored a 96.4 whereas Lagrutta a 96.3."

"I took each competition as training," said Mr. Lagrutta. "I used it to prepare myself to play better."

He said he was treated as a prodigy at home because of the phenomenally short time it took him to master entire scores of classical music.

"But I feel that my only talent is sitting down at home and devoting my time and energy to learn how to play," he said.

Mr. Lagrutta taught in Venezuela and competed internationally.Six years ago he came to the United States knowing one phrase in English: "I don't speak any English." Today, his English is as fluent as his music.

In 1990, he took first prize at the Music Teachers National Association in Connecticut, his first competition in America.

During a concert he gave Sunday at Messiah Methodist Church in Taneytown, he gave a miniature history lesson to the audience for each of the pieces he played. He tried to share the images of what he saw while he was playing.

For the polka "Rosita," his daughter, Siddhii, helped him to create the vision of a little girl in a red dress, to keep the music light.

The images he conveyed added to the sensitivity and emotion of his work. Three of the waltzes he played were written by Antonio Lauro, the composer whose work first lured him to the guitar. Mr. Lagrutta also studied with Mr. Lauro for a few years. When he was a teen-ager, Mr. Lagrutta gave the first premiere of Mr. Lauro's works. His waltzes were not based on the one-two-three beat of more familiar waltzes, but were rather springy and light with a faster tempo.

Asked if he is considered a master, Mr. Lagrutta seemed to shy away. "I guess I am considered a master by my students," he said, "but it would be impolite to think of myself in that way.

"When I sit down to learn a new piece, I realize I am not a master, but a student. I am a beginner, then a student, then a teacher teaching myself."

Mr. Lagrutta is the head of the guitar department at Morgan State University. He also performs local concerts and gives private instruction.

Of his love of music he said, "A guitar has a magic. It is the hardest to play, but once you learn it, you'll never leave it."

For more information about Mr. Lagrutta's concert schedule or guitar lessons: Kristin Lagrutta, 756-1129.

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