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A Bluegrass-grown Baroque Lutanist

January 16, 1986|CHRIS PASLES

At 28, lutanist John Schneiderman has made enough musical career changes to last a lifetime.

The curly-haired Newport Beach musician has already mastered the five-string banjo, guitar, electric bass and, most recently, the lute--both Renaissance and Baroque varieties.

Now completing his master's degree program in music performance at UC Irvine, Schneiderman will give a lute recital tonight at 8 in the Fine Arts Concert Hall on the college campus.

The program will include music by composers Silvius Leopold Weiss, Johann Kropffgans, Ernst Gottleib Baron and Blohm.

(Schneiderman will be joined by violinist Julie McKenzie and cellist Dean Ferrell in the Kropffgans' works.)

Schneiderman's route to this instrument has been anything but direct.

He started out playing bluegrass and folk music when he was 10. "I had heard Pete Seeger play and also Peter Tork of the Monkeys," Schneiderman said in an interview. "That got me into it."

A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Schneiderman was delighted when his family moved to the Southland in 1969 because there was "a pretty active bluegrass scene here.

"There were a lot of banjo and fiddle contests and (bluegrass) festivals in Topanga Canyon, Norco and Julian. And I won prizes in them."

Meanwhile, while attending high school in Corona del Mar, Schneiderman also picked up the electric bass to play in a school band.

Then he began four years of study with Fred Noad, well-known in guitar circles for his transcriptions of Renaissance and Baroque lute music for the guitar.

"It was the repertory for the instrument, rather than the instrument (itself) that attracted me," Schneiderman said.

"The lute used to be a very important instrument, like the piano is today. It was the most popular instrument in England in the 16th Century, and when it died out there, it became popular in France in the 17th Century and had a great influence on French keyboard composers.

"And when it died out there, it became popular in Germany in the 18th Century," Schneiderman said. "So you have these different countries and this different repertory.

"I don't like to knock guitar repertory, but it isn't as broad or cover as many centuries."

He said guitarists can make a fairly easy transition to the Renaissance lute because "the tuning is very similar and so the left-hand techniques are close."

But for the later Baroque lute, which developed by adding more lower strings, the transition is much harder:

"The tuning is not at all like a guitar," Schneiderman said. "There are more strings--24 of them--and so the left hand is completely different.

"People see all those strings and think that a lute is four times as hard as a guitar. But it's not. The music--at least that written by the composers who were performers--was built around the instrument."

For all that, Schneiderman still didn't make the lute his top priority.

He began attending UC San Diego in 1976 as an economics major ("My friends had told me to earn a living in another way if I could because I could always play music on my own") but continued to drive back to Newport Beach on weekends "to take (music) classes and to perform in a jazz quartet that played in local restaurants."

Then he dropped out of school and traveled for three months "trying to figure out what I wanted to do."

"I landed back where I started from--Orange County. I decided to go to UCI (in 1978) for music. It was close, it was convenient."

Meanwhile, while establishing a musical career--and to help pay the bills--Schneiderman has turned to teaching.

He taught in the Emeritus Institute at Saddleback College in 1981-82 and currently teaches at the Yamaha Music Education Center in Irvine and the Guitar Shoppe in Laguna Beach. He also gives private lessons in his home.

He still plays "funk, jazz and rock."

"You have to be practical," he said. "And it's senseless to isolate yourself. As long as you play enough on each instrument, it's OK. You won't forget."

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