Andrew Gorny has an enthusiasm for music that is infectious. He is a working musician and teacher with thousands of hours logged studying Michael’s music, which he makes approachable and exciting to learn.
Growing up in a nerd community, of honestly the worst kind, it was almost a prerequisite that everyone in my circle of childhood friends was working on something that was way beyond what we were meant to be working on at our age.
It didn’t have to be music, it could be computer programming, woodworking, rebuilding a motor—hell, even cooking. If we weren’t doing that, we were bullied… But by nerds. It’s a conflation of identity, and bullying is really not the right word. I’d use the word “billying” – but that would be unfair to anyone named Bill, like Bill Evans.
So I took to writing funny little games in MS-DOS, and playing as complicated of acoustic guitar music as possible, after spending nearly a year working on a Lonnie Johnson tune called “Playing With The Strings.”
Wait, this blog has nothing to do with Michael Hedges, does it? Don’t worry, it does.
Eventually I was getting to a level of sophistication on acoustic guitar where I felt like I had exhausted every avenue of technique in existence.
We didn’t have YouTube back then, so basically whatever I could see someone do in a 3-mile radius from my home is “what was possible on the guitar,” and I was able to do all of it. That ended when someone in an IRC channel I frequented about programming heard one of my original songs on Audiogalaxy, and said “well, you are pretty good, but you’ll never do this.” And he sent me an mp3 of “Hot Type”.
I instantly became a fan of Michael’s, and went out and found Watching My Life Go By. “Hot Type” wasn’t on it, so I went and got more records until I eventually got the hallmark: Aerial Boundaries. I must have been about 14 or 15 at the time. It would be many years before I even attempted any of his music, mostly because I had no idea how it could be done. But also because I just simply enjoyed the mystery of it, and I really liked it from a musical standpoint.
My high school sweetheart knew I was a massive fan, so she miraculously produced a VHS from her military outlet purse: Windham Hill in Concert. I looked at the back. NO “HOT TYPE”?! I was heartbroken. But there was “Aerial Boundaries,” so we watched the video together; her, bored, me, arms folded, trying not to be impressed. Then the first notes of “Aerial Boundaries” came into play, somewhere in the middle of the show if I remember right. I stopped the video.
“Oh come on!” Who knew you could reassign the roles of each hand of a guitarist? Well, Michael knew.
So, thus began my acceptance of the old IRC super-nerd’s challenge, that I’ll “never do this.”
But where do you begin to tackle something as crazy as Michael’s music?
Thankfully, I was gifted the Fisher Price™ “My First Michael Hedges” starter kit: an original copy of Rhythm, Sonority, Silence from Stropes Editions, along with a Sunrise S-1. It was given to me by a quiet, funny, and very charismatic mid-40’s Portland Queen who hung out at the coffee shop I would hide at while skipping school. He was a spectacular guitarist. He’d hear me practice. He’d let out a belly laugh. “Buzz, buzz, buzz. Michael didn’t buzz.” — talking about my clammed out renditions of his songs.
“Who knew you could reassign the roles of each hand of a guitarist? Well, Michael knew.”
Nailing all of the notes is one thing. Getting all the techniques right is another. Making it groove is yet another thing.
But putting all of that together, and then incorporating the dynamics across the various voices in each “part” of a Michael Hedges composition. If there was an aural definition of impossible, that was it.
I didn’t have a whole lot of natural talent in the guitar technique execution department. My ear was my natural talent, so it was very easy for me to pick up on the phrasing of Michael’s playing, and then as the years went by, like a buffet, I started pulling in the various details. The string stopping that he picked up from Aaron Shearer. The “in-out” technique he developed from jamming at clubs. The grace of his long, florid strumming. Everything started coming together one at a time.
Because I learned Michael’s music this way, and having been blessed with not a lot of “play it right after you see it” talent, I became intimately familiar with the difficulty of executing every aspect of Michael’s music.
So, like any 21st century musician would do, I decided to start giving it away—for free! In a little podcast I call “Tips From the Couch.” TFTC is entirely request-based, but because there is such an overwhelming interest in Michael’s music, a majority of the episodes cover his work.
Here’s a clip pre-queued up to Aerial Boundaries — part of my full Michael tribute live show from 2020…
Michael made an indelible impression on the guitar, and honestly, composition in general.
His compositions are like gifts that keep on giving! You can start by playing any of his tunes without all of the string-stopping, without every finger in the exact place as he put them, and as his work emanates out of your guitar, it will bring joy to your soul! And then, when you have the courage to incorporate some of the more advanced techniques, you can! And it will bring joy to your mind!
Michael believed in chakras, and if there’s any truth to that system, playing his music surely will resonate inside you, from your root to your crown.