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AN AGGIE LINE: USU cheerleaders perform during the Aggies' final exhibition game. It's time to cheer for basketball. / Photo by Brianna Mortensen

Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 10, 2006

Q&A with Ed Bradley:

Q: What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
A: Foreign news.

Q: Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
A: When I first started in New York at WCBS radio, the assignment editor automatically assigned any story that had a minority in it to me. I objected to being typecast and told him if I didn't get a variety of stories -- as other reporters did -- then I would take it up with the news director.

Q: If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
A: If I had the talent, I'd play bass guitar and sing in a kicking band.

--Ed Bradley, reporter, "60 Minutes," died yesterday of leukemia at age 65 (2006)

Mike Christiansen: 'Guitar has been my life'

By David Baker

October 11, 2006 | The old saying, "Those who can't do, teach," doesn't apply to Mike Christiansen. Although he has been a teacher for 30 years, and was named USU's Professor of the Year in 1994, Christiansen is also a stellar guitar performer, recording artist and author.

Christiansen, 56, has been playing guitar for almost 50 years. In his office in Utah State's Chase Fine Arts Center, he is surrounded by guitars, amps and guitar cases. His first guitar, a 1952 Silvertone, still hangs in his house.

"[Guitar] has been my life," he said.

Christiansen is a professor of music and the director of the guitar studies program at Utah State. He has published 42 books, appears in 21 instructional videos, recorded 26 compact discs and averages 130 performances a year. He is a very busy man.

It's a "juggling act," and balancing the time is the hardest part, he said.

Christiansen said he teaches 250,000 lessons a week -- if you count instructional videos, books and private lessons.

He likens teaching to mining for gold. The way to get to the mother lode is different with every student, he said. And although teaching can be frustrating at times, Christiansen said he gets a great satisfaction in seeing students succeed.

"The goal is to have the students play better than you," he said.

That would be an accomplishment, because Christiansen truly is an artist. He has played with a lot of well-known guitarists and has had a lot of great experiences, but he doesn't like to name-drop. However, he has backed up Glen Frey of the Eagles and many famous jazz guitar players, including Joe Diorio.

Whether playing in a small venue like a restaurant or at a larger concert, he said there have been a lot of great moments.

"There is a rush that comes from performing that is a different kind of satisfaction than teaching," Christiansen said. "Not a lot of people get to finish their work to a round of applause."

Along with some work as a soloist, Christiansen does a lot of smaller gigs with the Lightwood Duo, his collaboration with clarinetist Eric Nelson. The group has issued five compact discs, and performs around the United States. They play in Cache Valley at Le Nonne and Hamilton's restaurants, and at Deer Valley during the ski season. He said he enjoys playing smaller gigs where people come to hear the music and are into it. The connection he has with Nelson is also an important part of these performances.

"Sometimes things click, they just work," Christiansen said. "We feed off of each other all the time. We can read each other's minds musically.

"Over the last two years, Christiansen said he feels his playing has improved, both as a soloist and with Nelson in the Lightwood Duo.

Recently he took time off to study Brazilian guitar in Rio de Janeiro. During his time in Brazil he was turned into a student again, learning Brazilian music like the samba and bossa nova. He said he had forgotten how fun it was to get up in the morning and go to lessons.

The new things he learned in Brazil added to an already diverse knowledge of playing styles. Christiansen has published books about jazz, blues, rock, bossa nova and classical guitar. Also, in 1977 Christiansen studied flamenco guitar in Madrid, Spain. But when forced to pick his favorite, Christiansen chooses jazz. He said jazz is special because of the freedom created by improvisation and the way a song is never played the same way twice.

"It's on a higher level than just screwing around," he said. "Constructing a really nice solo is a work of art."

Christiansen said he will always try to have a hand in teaching people how to craft these works of art, but he does have other interests -- including the occasional game of golf, working in the yard and being outdoors.

He advises budding guitarists to let the guitar make their lives more well-rounded. He tells a story about one of his students, a retired man, who sits around playing chords just because they sound so beautiful to him.

"People forget to recognize the beauty of it," Christiansen said. Playing guitar isn't a competition to be better than anyone else, just play to enjoy it, he added.

Even after all the years of teaching, performing and playing, his love for the instrument and the enjoyment he gets from it are still apparent. Just ask Christiansen what he plays for fun, and he will tell you, "I always play for fun."

NW
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