From Folk Music to Flamenco: Max Huang ’17 Explores Genres through Classical Guitar

After suddenly feeling homesick one late night in Fall Term, Max Huang ’17 needed something to cheer him up. He immediately turned to his classical guitar resting by his bed. As he began to play “Nan Shan Shan,” a Chinese ballad by Ma Di, he felt connected back to his hometown, Beijing.

“When I’m sometimes missing home, there’s these really great Chinese songwriters that have music for guitar. I play that, and I sing along to it, and that’s really nice. I just really enjoy the feeling of the strings coming off of my fingertips, and how I can feel, with my left hand, the strings vibrating and the whole guitar vibrating, and the sound is emanating from it. My mind is focused on the music itself such as the rhythm, the melody, and the emotions the piece is trying to evoke. Those moments are when it’s just so enjoyable,” said Huang.

During his time at Andover, Huang’s passion for the classical guitar has allowed him to develop a repertoire of songs from around the world. Recently, he has become an avid Chinese folk song, jazz, flamenco, and pop song guitarist. His expertise in performing Chinese songs has also allowed him to perform in iFest for the past three years.

“I love the sound of guitar especially now I’m doing classical guitars. It’s just really warm and has a full sound. I think it’s more intimate. When you say classical guitar, it can be the genre, it can be the guitar — the way it’s built, the nylon strings, the different kind of woods. And you can play jazz music, you can play flamenco on it, you can even play pop, I play Chinese folk songs and sing along in Chinese with my guitar, and so there’s a lot more you can do than just classical guitar,” said Huang.

Huang has a distinct technique when playing and performing pieces. His Junior year, said Huang, he decided to grow out his fingernails and use a nail filer to shape them specifically to improve the sound of the chords when striking his hand on the strings. While the process varies for each guitarist, Huang recalls the importance of keeping his fingernails in good condition — not too wet, too long, too short, or jagged.

“When my fingernails are right, with 60 percent humidity in there or something, and my guitar is sounding great, I really get into it. I play it for like an hour or so and really forget that I’m thirsty or that my back is aching because I’m sitting up straight. Those nights are always great,” said Huang.

Despite developing his own interests in various genres, Huang is constantly in communication with students and faculty around campus to expand his knowledge on music worldwide, according to his friend Emir Sahin ’17.

“[What I like about his music is] how he is curious about different styles. So, in the beginning of the year, we searched with different guitar pieces with him. I’ve shown him some Turkish guitar pieces which he played quite nicely. He does research a lot of different pieces as far as I’ve noticed,” said Sahin.

First introduced to classical guitar by his mother’s friend several years ago, Huang re-discovered his love for the guitar during his first year at Andover through lessons with Peter Lorenço, Instructor in Music. He has taken lessons with Lorenço ever since.

“Max has been for me the perfect example of what I love most in a student. Simply stated, Max is in love with the physical beauty of the sound of the classical guitar combined with the indescribable magic he feels in being able to produce it. Furthermore, he listens to a lot of new music. He brings to me new works many of which I was not aware. To work on this repertoire helps me grow as a teacher. What more could I ask; the perfect student,” said Lorenço.

Looking forward, Huang hopes to showcase his passion for music through a small chamber music group incorporating the guitar, singers, and a violin. He hopes to perform at a senior recital to culminate his time at Andover.

“Everyone should pursue music or an art. I think it is a great thing to have. My guitar is always lying around there and so it is something I can always rely on, unless my nails are wacky that day. I just love the sound of it and how intimate of an instrument it is. You are directly manipulating the strings with your fingers and when you get it right, it is really a wonderful experience,” said Huang.