PUBLISHED: 4:29 PM on Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Classical guitarist adds welcoming tone to restaurant

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Dan Hopson, classical guitarist, plays soothing notes for restaurant audiences at the Gold Room, where he plays from 6-8 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 586-2660.
Tinkling glasses, intimate conversation and the perfume of food permeates the air. Best of all, is the soft and mellow sound of Dan Hopson's classical guitar floating through the restaurant; the perfect accompaniment to an evening out. It's also a busy night of bustling tables, restaurant traffic and waits staff scurrying to and fro the gregarious kitchen.

Beyond the Saturday night hustle, Hopson's talented fingers of 30 years experience, calmly pluck classical Bach chords to a lively rendition of Pink Martini's "Sympathique."

Hopson, 61, originally from upstate New York, visited Juneau in the 70s through a free ride with friends and ended up staying. He's a man of varied interests, ranging from biology to musical passions. He worked for several state and federal resource agencies through the years and is now retired.

Hopson said he had music lessons at an early age. He's had all kinds of vocal and instrumental instruction in high school and college, ranging from music theory to five years of piano. He's played the trombone, but jests it didn't look good bringing it in after the 60s folk era. He said he didn't really get serious about classical guitar until his 30s.

A turning point was his collaboration with Linda Rosenthal, Professor Emeritus of Music at University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, who contacted Hopson when looking for a more portable concert combination than violin and piano, for being out in the "bush," he said.

She asked me to work out some guitar accompaniment to classical violin pieces, and we were on the road for a couple years in the late 70s traveling all around Alaska.

"We got around to places such as Savoonga and the Northwest Arctic," he said. They were sponsored by the State Counsel of the Arts, performing a program called "Shows to Go."

"That was the time I realized I was in another bracket, and it was time to pick it up a notch to classical guitar," Hopson said.

He bought a nice classical guitar, which has a wider neck, nylon strings and a softer sound than steel-stringed acoustic guitar.

The instrument requires a finger-picking style using finger nails.

Guitarists hold the instrument in the lap versus over the knees; right and left hands are used at the same time.

Well-made classical guitars produce a deep and rich tone, resonating through the instrument's assemblage of Brazillian or Indian rosewood for the body, cedar for the neck, and silka-spruce or cedar for the top. During the 1800s, the classical guitar was first developed in Spain by Antonio de Torres and considered to be the model for all modern guitars.

Hopson took lessons locally, and then decided to go to music school at Montana State where he took a year's master class under classical guitarist and master teacher, Christoper Parkening.

"I absorbed so much from other students, and Parkening overhauled my whole style of playing and repertoire," he said.

As the years have passed, Hopson's continues his love of classical guitar through performances, teaching private lessons for the past 30 years at home as well as instruction at UAS, where he's been an adjunct professor for the past two years.

"The fun thing is trying to teach to each person's individuality because there are so many different types of mind sets and styles," he said.

"I try to shortcut them across all the mistakes I've made; the biggest satisfaction is starting them out right and steering people."

Concerning restaurant performances, Hopson has played for Juneau audiences including the old Salmon Bake equipped with buzzing bugs and also the Fiddlehead.

Playing in the Gold Room restaurant for the past year at the Westmark Baranof Hotel has been a continuation of his musical experience.

"We just wanted to do something for the locals versus just the visitors, and create a local atmosphere and good ambiance," said general manager Gerd Krause of the Baranof. He said they want to enhance customer's dining experience with soft background music and make it special.

It really felt comfortable to play for restaurant audiences, he said.

"I had an epiphany at one time," Hopson said. "I like to play among people then at them; it's fun to be part of the action."

"After I retired, it was a good way to keep old things polished, approach things in new ways and add new pieces," Hopson said.

Classical guitar is a type of guitar and not just a type of music.

He plays a large variety of music including jazz, folk and classical, and also transcriptions of piano and voice arrangements, for example.

What's rewarding for Hopson is being able to touch people with his music and making it a memorable evening for people.

Hopson remembers playing for a retirement party and the host wanted music from the 50s. I was playing the song, "Love Me Tender," by Elvis Presley and I see the husband and wife looking at each other; it was their wedding song!" he recalls.