Atrailblazer of a musician, Michael Carenbauer '73 has taught guitar at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock for over 25 years and is considered the only full-time guitar teacher at the collegiate level in that state. He has adapted a computer program to help guitar students learn how to read music, has led residencies across the planet, and still maintains an active freelance schedule averaging over a hundred gigs each year, earning him recognition as one of the country's most talented and versatile guitarists. It's a surprising but fitting path for someone who didn't actually begin studying guitar until well into his Bowdoin career.
"I had always liked music 'on the sly,' but had never engaged in it directly," Michael says today, reflecting on his first experiences with guitar. He transferred to Bowdoin from Georgetown ("My year at Georgetown was the year of the student strikes in the middle of the Vietnam War," he recalls. "I think I was looking for a place that was a bit more detached so I could figure out some basic things about myself"); driven to boredom by a sociology class during his first year at Bowdoin, he picked up music as an alternative study option. "It chose me much more than I chose it," he says. "I went from never playing music to practicing 10 hours daily."
Bowdoin’s guitar teacher at the time, Tony Boffa, exposed Michael to the rigors of the instrument and its many roles in the musical canon. “I knew right away that this was the most difficult thing I had ever encountered, Michael says, “and that it would take my absolute best effort if I wanted to get anywhere with it, much less pursue this as a career.” Professor Marion Brown encouraged Michael to join the Bowdoin band Tamarack ("half-folkish, half-jazzish, and half-rockish… I know the math there is not too good"); that group would participate in the 1973 Collegiate Jazz Festival at the University of Notre Dame and, at Bowdoin, would open for Chick Corea's Return to Forever band. "I still recall listening to Chick Corea play piano in the auditorium prior to the soundcheck when no one else was present," Michael says. "The immediacy of his connection to the music still resonates with me."
Michael went on to earn advanced degrees in both jazz and classical guitar and, after initiating a highly successful pop-rock guitar program at Lansing Community College in the mid-70s, joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock in 1982. (He is now that school's director of guitar studies.) As a professor, he maintains private studios in both classical and jazz guitar, teaches music courses, and leads guitar ensembles. In addition to his university teaching, he has completed numerous residencies abroad, including stints in Monterey, Mexico and Graz, Austria. "I hope that I have passed on a lifelong passion for music,” he says, “and passed on some of the support and kindness that was shown to me by [Bowdoin's] faculty and my fellow students."
Hometown: Wheeling, West Virginia
Title: Professor of Music, Director of Guitar Studies, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Goals: Be the best whatever I can be—father, son, husband, brother, musician and friend.
Song playing on his iPod: It's on shuffle mode, so Scarlatti is on deck. Very cool.
Favorite song(s) of all time: Probably the most important piece for me was the Bach “Chaconne” I performed on with a pick on a jazz guitar in E minor as part my senior recital at Berklee! Wrong instrument. Wrong key. Whatever. I worked incessantly on this piece daily for two years before playing it on my recital. What a glorious introduction to the world of music and all of its potential.
Favorite Bowdoin memory: Certainly the people there. The person who I was probably closest to was [classmate] Don Hoenig, who was about as solid a person as I have ever run into. I have not really kept up with anyone, but there was a very diverse and interesting student body. I think all of the folks I encountered prepared me for pretty much anyone else I would run into—except for my wife, of course!
I think that the faculty was outstanding there. Very supportive and genuine in their desire to help students help themselves. Bowdoin was unusually flexible without compromising standards. I recall taking a Fortran class there as part of my requirements in Economics. This was in the days when "white out" was the latest technology available. Learning the Fortran programming language was very labor intensive and "pedestrian." I basically told my advisor that this class was cutting into my practice time with the guitar and somehow he found a way to substitute something else. Hope they don't take my degree away now.
A final memory is a bit off track. I took a Philosophy class that was a learning experience of a different sort. The readings were fantastic, but the professor was a bit unbalanced. Classes were pretty much like what I imagined taking LSD would have been like. One of the questions on the final was something like... “Is snow white?” Rather than fill up five blue books with meaningless text, I put down “She was in the movie.” That did not go over so well.
Coolest thing you've ever seen: Kind of a tossup between Being John Malkovich and The Three Amigos. Just kidding. This is an easy one. The first glance at your newborn child—three times for me.
Posted August 12, 2010