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St. Louis Virtuoso Launches Guitar Society Season

Douglas Niedt
David Coblitz

Guitar virtuoso Douglas Niedt never really thought about making a living by playing the guitar; it just happened.

“My dad learned the guitar when he was in the Merchant Marines down in Mexico, Peru, South American countries,” said Niedt, a St. Louis native. “When they went into ports, he would take lessons from whoever was playing the guitar down there.”

When his father returned home, he taught Niedt’s older sister how to play.

“She was pretty awful when I think back about it,” Niedt said. “But I liked the sound of the guitar. I liked how they played it, the sound of the instrument. So I asked my dad if he’d give me lessons too, so he did.”

Niedt learned to read music and chords, then started taking lessons from teachers in St. Louis. In the sixth grade, Niedt said a crush taught him the power of music.

“Cindy didn’t pay any attention to me at all until our rock band — this was the time the Beatles came out, and I started playing electric guitar and we had formed a little rock band,” Niedt said. “So our rock band played at the school, we had a little concert, and after the concert Cindy finally realized I existed.

“I laugh about it now, but that was a turning point, a realization that the guitar, music could communicate with people. You could get reactions from them.”

When he was 13, Niedt began giving guitar lessons at the YWCA, and he hasn’t stopped since. He’s now the chairman of the guitar program at the University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance.

“I just kept playing and I’d get gigs and I’d get paid for them and I’d get more students. They paid me to teach them; I just kept doing it. I got more concerts; I kept doing them. I got paid and one day I realized ‘Oh, I’m making a living out of this.’ ”

On Saturday, Niedt will perform at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, launching the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society’s 2014-15 season. Niedt will perform a tribute to Jorge Morel, an Argentine guitarist that Niedt discovered through his mother.

“I was probably less than 10 years old. My mother was shopping at Famous Barr downtown — this was back in the ’60s. She came across an album and she had no idea who he was, but she looked at his picture on the album and thought ‘It looks like this guy knows how to play the guitar.’” She bought the album.

“That changed my whole way of playing the guitar because of his arranging, the repertoire he chose, the whole bit.”

Niedt also will perform pieces Saturday that he has arranged. He said jazz and popular American music present the most challenges when arranging for classical guitar.

“When I start arranging them, I want to make them sound better than the original or bring out some aspect of the music that the original version could not capture. And to do that usually requires a boatload of technique. It just brings about all kinds of new problems you have to solve to make something sound good.”

Related Event

St. Louis Classical Guitar Society: Douglas Niedt

  • When: 8 p.m. Sept. 27, 2014
  • Where: Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road
  • Cost: $28
  • More information

St. Louis Classical Guitar Society master class: Douglas Niedt

  • When: 1-3 p.m. Sept. 28, 2014
  • Where: Washington University's 560 Music Center, University City
  • Cost: $5
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.