Universal Chords

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

There cannot be many musicians who can claim that their music has been played in outer space.  Guitarist Muriel Anderson can – her album “Heartstrings” was taken into orbit by the astronauts on a space shuttle mission.  You don’t have to travel quite so far to hear her play live this Thursday, however, as she will be appearing at Brookdale Lodge, just a few miles along Hwy 9 in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Muriel Anderson describes her music as “fingerstyle guitar music without boundaries.”  She is equally at home playing Irish reels as she is Japanese koto music, as comfortable with classical pieces as with any pop song.   Anderson attributes this to her exposure to a wide range of musical influences as a child.  Born in Downers Grove, IL, Anderson’s family was a musical one.  Her grandfather had played saxophone in John Philip Sousa’s band and her mother taught piano.  “We always played or sang some sort of music around the house,” recalled Anderson, “especially around the holidays.”  From an early age she was exposed to folk and bluegrass music, and began playing guitar at around eight years old.  “My first performance was for my third grade class.  I played ‘Naughty Sweetie Blues’ and ‘Nobody Knows You When you’re Down and Out.’”

Anderson studied many styles of music during the course of her schooling, playing in the high school jazz band before going on to study classical guitar at DePaul University in Chicago.  While at university, she studied with classical guitar virtuoso Christopher Parkening and took mandolin lessons from Jethro Burns.  Through Burns, she found the music of his brother-in-law, Nashville legend Chet Atkins.  It was only a matter of time before she was studying with Atkins too.

Muriel Anderson first gained wide recognition when, in 1989, she won the National Guitar Picking Championships. She was both the first woman and the first nylon-string guitarist to win, playing a piano ragtime standard, “Nola,” that she had learned as a child from her mother.  Since that time, she has played all over the world and released 10 CDs, seven in the United States and three in Japan.  She has composed works for the Nashville Chamber Orchestra and the Vox Caelestis Women’s Choir.  She is also the author of several instructional books and numerous magazine articles.

Anderson is also founder of the Music for Life Alliance, which provides new and refurbished musical instruments to schools and community music programs, particularly those for disadvantaged children.  She also organizes twice yearly “All Star Guitar Nights,” where the nation’s top players get together to perform and raise funds for the program.

Muriel Anderson’s dedication to music and to music education is as impressive as her playing.  Her upcoming projects include a music therapy project alongside renowned jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, and the development of more music for the Harp Guitar.  Anderson currently lives in Nashville, TN, where she teaches at Belmont University.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, February 3, 2005

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