Chamberfest: It’s all in the family with the Romero Guitar Quartet

The Romeros will play Dominion-Chalmers this week.

For some 60 years, it’s been all in the family for the Romeros.

The family business is the guitar both in the famous quartet that will be playing at Domininion-Chalmers United Church this weekend and in the workshops of a son and a grandson, both of whom are hand-making guitars.

Call it life on a string.

The Romero Guitar Quartet was founded in 1960 by Celedonio Romero who was a well known guitarist in Spain. He started training his sons to play when they were very young, said Pepe Romero.

“I learned this from my dad,” he said in an interview with ARTSFILE. “And it has been passed on to the next generation. This concert in Ottawa in fact will begin the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the quartet.”

Pepe and his brother Celin are the two remaining founding members still with the quartet.

Pepe said he was about three when he first picked up a guitar.

‘It was small, but it still was big for me. I have pictures of Celin playing when he was maybe two and a half. His sitting position and hand position is absolutely perfect. Looking at the picture you could tell this boy knew how to play.”

The brothers never took a lesson from anyone else. His father taught his children and now the brothers are teaching the next generation of Romeros. Celedonio died in 1996.

Pepe was born into the Spain ruled by Francisco Franco.

“Of course, our life was affected by it. Anybody who was not a member of the (Falangist) party was deeply affected by it.My brothers and I grew up perfectly aware of all the problems that the regime was causing.

In 1957, the Romero family moved to the United States and three years later the quartet was formed.

“Music was always a rescue from everything. Music is the most wonderful friend a person can have.”

These days, he says, he believes children grow up with too many computers and smart phones. People are becoming more visual than auditory, he said, adding that over-stimulation concerns him.

“Nobody wants to listen to a record, they want to see a music video. Visual stimulation has become what people are looking for. Looking at a beautiful landscape or looking at nature can be very calming and healing.

Music, too, he said, is very healing.

“The sense of hearing in itself is more peaceful. It makes you feel a deeper connection to your own self. It heals your soul and it heals your nerves.”

As someone who lives with music every day of his life, he believes “people need to realize the importance of music and make it a part of every day. I am very grateful music was a living part of our lives.”

The program the Romeros will play in Ottawa will create a musical image of Spain.

It includes piece that Pepe wrote for the ensemble called Suite flamenca: En el Sacromonte, Colombianas.

The guitar “has been really the voice of Spain. It has been the instrument of the people. Spain is a country that loves to dance and sing and nothing is better to accompany this than a guitar.”

The rest of the lineup is also very Spanish. Even a piece by the Italian Luigi Boccherini (Guitar Quintet No. 4: Introduction, Fandango) has a Spanish dance at its heart.

“Boccherini was writing for the court of Spain. It is a fandango and one of the most Spanish pieces in the program.”

There are pieces that evoke the cities of Granada and Seville.

And then there is a melancholy piece about a young gypsy woman who kills herself for love in Andalusia, in the southern part of the country. This one is by the composer Manuel de Falla and is called Danza Española No. 1 from La vida breve.

Finally the concert will include a piece by the patriarch Celedonio called the Fantasía cubana which is from his Suite Andaluza.

The Romeros always play a piece by Celedonio in a concert. It is their way of paying tribute. That Pepe will play a guitar made by his son Pepe Jr. or one made by his grandson Bernardo adds a further connection.

To play the guitar well, Pepe offers this advice: “You have to start with a born talent for it. But then you need to develop that talent through hard work, through dedication, passion for the music and for the instrument. You must love the arts and have a poetic soul and the need to express all that through your instrument. And you need the patience to spend a lifetime with an instrument to make beauty and to share it with the public.

These days a fourth generation of Romeros is coming to the fore. So far, Pepe said, there is no fifth generation of Romero guitarists — yet.

But he isn’t worried.

“To me it is wonderful to see that that there is a third and fourth generation to come into the quartet in its 60th year. I hope future generations will keep our tradition going for another 60 years.”

Chamberfest presents the Romero Guitar Quartet
Where: Dominion-Chalmers United Church
When: Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.