Marina Alexandra

Marina Alexandra’s passion to play and teach classical guitar is changing our corner of the world.  Her brainchild, the Southern Guitar Festival and Competition, held its inauguration on June 23rd and 24th, 2012.  Bringing world-caliber guitarists to this city and inspiring its current guitarists is the realization of a decade of planning.  Ms. Alexandra, by way of the city of Kharkov in the Ukraine, explains her desire to enrich our city’s culture in the following interview.

What brought you to Columbia?
I came to Columbia in 1996 to join my husband when he was offered a computer-programming job here. I arrived with my bachelor’s degree in guitar performance, with a minor in pedagogy and conducting. I applied to the USC School of Music and was truly overwhelmed when I found out that I was offered a scholarship and assistantship to continue my Master’s Degree under Christopher Berg.

What inspired the organization of the Southern Guitar Festival and Competition?
It has been a longtime dream of mine. For several years, I have been competing and performing at national and international guitar competitions and I have seen the great impact such events have on their communities.  I discussed this idea with Christopher, on and off for about 10 years. In October 2011, I laid out the plan of how this guitar festival would be a great success and why it would contribute not only to the South Carolina guitar community, but also to the general community. Christopher gave me his “blessing” and encouraged me to start making my dream a reality. He also went beyond providing moral support by becoming the first donor to the Guitar Muse fund that I created to sponsor all guitar activity in Columbia.

Classical guitar still is not as well-known and respected as piano or violin is in the musical world, so classical guitarists are always looking for ways to promote and introduce our instrument to the general public. A festival and competition is an ideal situation for inspiring guitar students of all ages and an opportunity to feature some of the best guitar virtuosos in the world.
To take advantage of this opportunity, I invited Romanian, Russian, and American guitarists that enhanced the culture in SC. The Saturday concert on June 23rd featured an amazing flamenco trio and on Sunday, June 24th, featured classical guitarists that focused on more traditional guitar repertoire such as Classical, Spanish, and Modern music.

What motivates you to be its director?
Even though I am the official director of Southern Guitar Festival, I couldn’t do it without a strong team of guitar players and teachers on whom I rely for advice and expertise: Steve Sloan, Matt Smith, Chance Glass, Alan Knight, Jeff Harris, Chris Essig, and Drew Spice. Their support has been invaluable.
I believe and am confident in how this event can benefit South Carolina. Having performed in many competitions, I know exactly what I want and I am trying to avoid the mistakes of other guitar competitions. I am sure I will make my own mistakes and I will do my best to avoid them in the future.

How were you able to secure funding?
Well, as crazy as it might seem, I had absolutely no funding at the beginning.  Being a musician, not a businessperson, I always focused on what inspires me and how I can become better at what I do (teaching or performing). Money was never my priority or agenda.

Well, apparently, money is a very important part of any project! As director, I knew I had to create a fund to secure the artists’ concert fees and competition awards. We musicians, always underpaid, learn how to be creative in raising money. My colleagues and I came up with the idea of a Guitar Gala fundraising event, at which the artists mentioned earlier agreed to play for free.  I also invited several local visual artists to become part of this event. They allowed us to sell their works and donated 50% of the sale toward Southern Guitar Festival and competition. Thanks to this collaboration we were able to raise enough money to secure the necessary funding.

What challenges have you faced in directing the Southern Guitar Festival?
I have encountered nothing but great support from local guitarists, students, and their parents. I was sincerely surprised with how eager guitar teachers were to become a part of this event. The teachers who chose to collaborate created several projects that are extremely beneficial and educational for the community. We had performance classes that were intended for everybody interested in learning how to perform in public. These classes also gave guitar teachers the chance to exchange teaching ideas and network. Achievement Day, a biannual event, focuses on examining the progress of students. Students perform in front of a panel of judges and receive verbal and written comments on their progress and recommendations.

How did Columbia College become involved?
Columbia College is a tremendous supporter of the arts in our community, and I am fortunate to have a long-standing relationship with them.  I work at the Arts Studio there, and the concert hall in the Wright Spears Center for the Arts is perfect for presenting classical guitar. Columbia College kindly agreed to partially sponsor Southern Guitar Festival and allowed all participants from out of state to use dorms on campus for a very low fee.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
This is a hard question for me to answer. I do have goals and dreams that I hope to realize, but in my culture we don’t talk about things that have not taken place yet. I sure hope to bring more awareness about the potential for classical guitar to this community. I would love to see the younger generation picking up this great instrument and learn something more interesting than just a few chords. I also hope that the principals of our public schools will become more open-minded about hosting the guitar programs that will be taught by professionally trained guitarists.

What are some positive aspects of music culture in the Columbia area and what do you think could stand to improve?
It is amazing that so much is happening in Columbia. Somebody can be entertained daily by going to very affordable, often free, concerts, exhibitions, and theater productions. There is lots of creativity going on to promote new music and to make art very affordable, but with all this creativity comes the reality that we artists are dependent upon what people are willing to pay to go listen to a great musician or a concert. We often find ourselves playing for free or for a really laughable fee. I truly hope that people will start placing as much value on the arts as they put on their food.

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