The Washington Post

John Kerry’s guitar diplomacy: A critical review (UPDATED with Esteban’s thoughts)

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UPDATE: The Washington Post on Friday received urgent, important and instructive feedback from Esteban. Yes. THAT Esteban. His comments have been added to the bottom of the post.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday showcased his guitar-playing talent, holding a lunchtime jam session during talks with officials in Beijing.

“Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong urged him to do so following a lunch at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, that concluded 5th Annual U.S.-China People-to-People Exchange,” reads the YouTube description of clips from Kerry’s concert. “It followed the conclusion of a Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the two nations on July 10, 2014.”

Sure. Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong just had to hear U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry play guitar. Like: “Oh my goodness! Who could have left this guitar lying around here at the 5th Annual U.S.-China People-to-People Exchange?” And then Liu Yandong was all, “Oh … OK … would you like to play, since we have concluded the Strategic and Economic Dialogue between our two nations?” (Actually, it sounds like a nice little moment, according to Yahoo.)

So, was he any good? To break down Kerry’s international performance, we reached out (via e-mail) to a few experts, who offered the following analysis:

Expert: Michael Molenda
Qualifications: Editor in Chief of Guitar Player magazine
Analysis: “For the first piece in the clip, Secretary Kerry sounds very good — like a well-practiced amateur with a love of the guitar. His fingering is fluid and the notes sound full, robust, and accurate. But in the second piece, you can hear buzzes and muted notes that betray a certain lack of fingering technique. His flourish at the end, however, is awesome.”

Expert: Brad Tolinski
Qualifications: Editor in Chief of Guitar World magazine
Analysis: “Charming Amateur … he plays like someone half-remembering something he was once good at 20 years ago. The first piece is very simple and goes well enough, but the second piece is bit out of his reach. Like any good politician, he knows when things are starting to go bad, and reacts quick enough to get out while he still can!”

Expert: Esteban

Analysis: “John actually did a pretty great job for being ‘on the spot’ like that! The last piece he played, a version of Leucuono’s Malaguena, sounds like he might have learned if from an Esteban Instructional Video, where I include very cool techniques that Maestro Segovia showed me in Spain, including that exact song played exactly that way!

“My only helpful comment is about his right hand position. He needs to form more of a 90 degree angle with his wrist, so his fingers are actually perpendicular to the strings when he plays. Everything will get better very quickly, if he trains his right hand a little!

“He could easily have a second career as a concert guitarist!!

“Peace and Love to all, ROCK ON!! Esteban”

Sarah Larimer is a general assignment reporter for the Washington Post.

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