From rock & roll, to heavy metal, Music Unites Artist John Alvarado does it all.
by Chantal Incandela
Growing up in Indianapolis, classical guitarist John Alvarado always had a guitar nearby. “My dad played guitar, and he was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and that sort of stuff,” Alvarado says. “So that was a big influence growing up.”
Whenever their dad wasn’t around, Alvarado and his siblings would find his guitar and pretend to play it. “He’d be really mad when he found out, but I think, after a while, he figured, ‘Well, if he is going to knock around on the guitar, he might as well play,’” he says.
Alvarado started learning guitar on his own with encouragement from his dad, but classical music was nowhere on his radar at the time. “When I got to junior high and high school, I started playing in rock bands and really got into harder stuff,” he says. “I became a big heavy metal fan and started playing that, as well.”
As a high school student, Alvarado had no intention of going to college, but his parents were desperate to change his mind. “They found out you could play the guitar at the university level; you just had to audition on classical or jazz guitar,” he says. With the possibility of studying guitar as bait, Alvarado began classical guitar lessons to prepare for college auditions, never suspecting that he would fall in love with it.
His conversion to classical music isn’t as uncommon as one might guess. “If you scratch the surface of a lot of American classical guitarists, there’s a heavy metal fan underneath,” he says. “They’re drawn by the virtuosic playing in heavy metal, and they reach a point where they wonder what more they can do—how it can get even harder and more interesting. The complexity appealed to me.”
Alvarado auditioned and got into DePaul University in Chicago for his undergraduate studies in guitar. There, he got very interested in contemporary music. After moving to Arizona State University for a graduate degree, Alvarado became intrigued with flamenco guitar. “It took the things I loved about rock music—the energy of it, and also the complexity, intricacy, and history of classical—and mixed things up in a nice way.”
When Alvarado’s wife got a job offer in Indianapolis, the couple packed up their home in Phoenix and moved back to Indianapolis. In 2013, he was awarded a two-year Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis to study the roots of flamenco guitar music. For a while, he taught as an adjunct instructor and played gigs. Eventually, he became a senior lecturer of guitar in the Department of Music and Arts Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
At IUPUI, Alvarado teaches classical and jazz guitar, and all the pedagogical things that go with them, but his real aim is to help create artists. “We’ll have classical music pieces that incorporate technology and electronic music, or classical work played on electric guitar,” he says. “We have so many people with different backgrounds here, which pushes me, too. A student comes in wanting to do something that I wasn’t trained in, so I’ve got to look at some of these ideas and see how I can help students grow into the artists they want to be.”
In addition to teaching, Alvarado is busy with a family. His two children (ages 10 and 8) are starting to show an interest in visual art and piano. Alvarado is also president of the Indianapolis Society of the Classical Guitar, which hosts five concerts a year.
On top of that, he is one of Classical Music Indy’s Music Unites Artists. That role permits him to share classical music throughout the community and to reach people who may not be drawn to concert halls. “We hear all these stories about how classical music is dying,” Alvarado says. “I don’t think people dislike classical music; I think some people dislike what they perceive the classical music experience or setting will be like. When people hear classical music in environments where they feel relaxed and comfortable, they love it. I have a lot of respect for the traditions of our art form; I just don’t think we need to be limited by them.”
You can hear John play flamenco guitar on the first Thursday of every month at Sangrita Saloon in Broad Ripple. His performance schedule can also be found at his artist website, http://johnalvarado.weebly.com. For more information about Indianapolis Society of the Classical Guitar concerts, visit http://www.indianaguitar.org.