What makes playing a musical instrument so enticing? Maybe it is the lure of being a rock star. Perhaps it is the desire to impress someone or capture their attention. Or possibly, it is a family legacy. In the case of husband and wife performing team of Dr. Fernand Vera and Dr. Olga Amelkina-Vera, playing the guitar resulted from a deep passion for music and a love for the instrument.
As Fernand closes his eyes, his hands embrace the guitar, plucking the beginning of a piece. Olga nods her head in confirmation, ready to join her husband in a musical journey. The couple can hardly sit still as the melodies overcome them. With every vibration of the strings, listeners travel with the couple through a seamless yet emotional experience. No words are needed as the instruments have an open dialogue with each other and the audience.
The couple’s personal journey with each other started at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. The couple met when Fernand was using audio recording equipment and Olga approached him out of curiosity. Fernand had seen Olga and already had a crush on her, so he seized the opportunity to start a conversation. With a common interest in music, the couple hit it off.
Classic Rock Leads to Classical Rock
Their love for the instruments, however, started back in their teenage years.
“When I was 15, I really loved the British rock bands that were popular at that time,” Fernand said. “I picked up a guitar because I wanted to recreate the sounds I heard, and play in a band. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I actually started to play classical guitar.”
Olga agreed that the guitar sounds in rock and pop music appealed to her. Though she had formal training in classical music as a child, she only heard the guitar in the context of rock and pop. It was not until she met her husband-to-be in college that she decided to focus on classical guitar.
“I was listening to Fernand practice before his senior recital, and a light went off in my head,” recalled Olga. “I always loved guitar, and I really love classical music, so why not put them together? I was so inspired that I signed up for lessons the next day.”
Since that day, the couple has worked together to push each other to develop and perfect their skills. Nothing demonstrates their dedication to the instrument more than when they play together.
During their graduate student days at the University of North Texas, the married couple often performed recitals together. But they did not realize the potential offered by playing as a duo until they were approached to play their first professional concert together.
“Picking the name wasn’t all that hard,” Fernand said. “We knew we wanted a connection to the guitar.” They eventually settled on Kithara Duo. Kithara is the name of an ancient Greek musical instrument.
Since then, they have enjoyed performing all over the world.
Love of Music Shines Through
Getting a chance to watch Kithara Duo play gives a window into their passion and virtuoso abilities. While performing at this high level as a duo could result in a lot of stress between the couple, they believe being married has allowed them to be honest with each other, giving them more flexibility when trying new ideas. In fact, their dedication to Kithara Duo is so great that the couple does not even own a television, concerned that it would pose too big a distraction.
Their commitment has paid off. Kithara Duo continues to be recognized with numerous local and international ensemble and composing awards, a critically acclaimed album and several educational guitar books.
As if teaching and performing were not enough, the duo’s passion for guitar goes beyond the classroom and the stage. For several years they have also organized a guitar festival each spring.
The festival is a three-day event open to the public, for all levels of experience, with performances, workshops and master classes featuring well-respected guest artists from around the country. Students have the chance to get one-on-one time with Fernand and Olga, as well as the featured guest artist. On the last day of the festival, the participants showcase what they have learned by playing in a guitar orchestra together.
The festival started as a way to create a classical guitar scene in North Texas and has since grown. In its infancy, the guitar festival started at a local music school. After moving from the school, the venue would change each year, but since both are professors of music in the guitar studies program at Collin College, the festival found a new home.
“It’s nice that the college hosts the festival,” Fernand said. “Even when the guitar festival was held outside of the college, we had great participation from the students. They would always show up and learn from the master classes.”
Robert Makowski, a student who attended the festival, said the opportunity to learn is unmatched.
“The festival is great,” he said. “We get hands-on, up-front and personal interaction with world-class performers and teachers. We also get a chance to perform and make connections with faculty and fellow students. I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
Jamming in the Hall
The passion Fernand and Olga have for the guitar can be felt in the air and heard in the hallways of Collin College. Thanks to the guitar studies program, students often find themselves spontaneously erupting in a jam session. These impromptu guitar sessions fill the college with a liberal arts vibe that invokes intangible benefits and a great atmosphere.
Even though the duo credit the college for the program’s success, being able to relate to their students help the program thrive.
“I was that student,” Fernand said. “I understand where they are coming from. Most have a passion for guitar, but like me, didn’t go into classical or reading music until college.”
According to Olga, “I want students to have a healthy approach to the instrument. This program is all about giving students solid fundamentals before they go to a four-year university.”
Through their background and enthusiasm for teaching, Fernand and Olga easily relate to their students, helping them achieve success in the program.
About the author: Francisco Penalver is the digital and social media coordinator at Collin College.
About Collin College
Collin College is a community college located in North Texas’ Collin County, the only public college in the county. One of the fastest-growing community colleges or universities in Texas, the college serves nearly 53,000 credit and continuing education students annually and offers more than 100 degrees and certificates. With seven campuses throughout the college district, Collin College is a partner to business, government and industry, providing customized training and workforce development. Collin College has locations in Plano (Spring Creek Campus), McKinney (Central Park Campus) and Frisco (Preston Ridge Campus). In addition, there are satellite centers in Allen, Plano and Rockwall. For more information, visit collin.edu.