Tim Berens A self portrait
I started playing guitar in 1967 at age 7, and took lessons from the very beginning. My first truly influential teacher was an older gentleman named Chic Gatwood, (that was Mr. Gatwood, sir to me). He worked me through the Alfred books, then through a long out-of-print method called The Oahu Guitar Method.
He was an old school jazz player, who thought that music stopped about 1960. As a result, I was learning tunes like "Shine on Harvest Moon" when other kids my age were learning "Stairway to Heaven". Mr. Gatwood taught me guitar technique, music theory, improvisation, and much more. He retired when I was 17. I still miss him.
I played my first professional gig at age 16 in a band that was led by an older cousin. It was a 6 piece wedding band, and after subbing a couple of times, I got the gig full time. I clearly remember coming home from my first gig and telling my dad "I can't believe they paid me $25.00. I would have done that for free."
I learned the fundamentals of classical guitar technique from Dayton guitarist Jim McCutcheon, and then undertook an intensive college guitar program at the University of Cincinnanti College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), where I studied with Clare Callahan. Clare is a one of a kind teacher.
All through college I played and practiced jazz along with my classical studies. I also gigged as much as I could, playing shows, wedding receptions, bars -- any sort of gig I could handle. During the summers of college I played guitar at Kings Island, a local amusement park. It was a show of 50's music, and the guys in the band had to wear bright pink tuxedos. I played a bright white guitar and did that Chuck Berry one leg in the air dance. It was not the greatest musical experience of my life, but it was a gig, and was my first taste of playing full time for a living.
The summer before my fourth year at CCM (1982), I was working at Opryland in Nashville, playing in a pit orchestra for one of the shows. I roomed with one of the other musicians, and he and I practiced several hours a day after the shows. Hands aren't meant to play 9 hours a day, and as a result, I injured my left hand from over-playing, and had to quit playing entirely.
During the next several months, various doctors scratched their heads about what the injury was and how to fix it. It was eventually decided that time was the only thing that would heal it, so I put my guitar in its case and cut my right hand fingernails off. I didn't play at all for a year, and it was 3 or 4 years before my hand was back to full strength.
During the time when I was unable to play, I took courses in computer programming to prepare for another career. My first job as a programmer started in 1983. I worked full time writing software for 3 years, then left my employer to start my own business as a contract programmer. For the next several years, I wrote code by day, and played guitar by night. Self employment worked well as I was able to schedule my work hours around gigs.
The best gig I've ever had is playing guitar for the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. This gig started in 1983, when my hand was still in bad shape. For my first concert with the Pops, I played one song, a wa-wa part on a dreadful disco song called "A Fifth of Beethoven".
Apparently they liked what I did because I got called again. As each year passed, they called more and more. The conductor, Maestro Erich Kunzel, likes to add spice instruments to the orchestra to achieve certain effects and to create stylistically accurate sounds, and I have been fortunate enough to be called to play many of those parts.
It has been a wonderful, challenging, difficult, rewarding and occasionally bizarre gig. With the Pops, I have played on more than 25 CDs, performed 4 times at Carnegie hall in New York, toured Japan 3 times, appeared many times on nationally broadcast PBS specials, and done hundreds of concerts.
Because of my work with the Cincinnati Pops, I began to get work with other orchestras including the New World Symphony, the Naples Philharmonic, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and the Dayton Philharmonic.
As my orchestral guitar work progressed, I also felt the need to develop my guitar playing in general. In 1990, I realized that while I had substantial skills on the instrument, there was still a great deal to learn, so I decided to get serious about guitar again. I began doing the sort of several hour per day practicing that is required to develop and maintain a truly professional technique. Two years later, in 1992, I finished my Bachelor of Music from CCM by completing the only piece of unfinished business: my senior recital. I couldn't finish it in 1983 because of my injury.
My skills improved from the regular practice, and as they did, more interesting work came my way, including solo concerts, accompanying flutist Jim Walker on a Mayor's Concert in Cincinnati, and many club dates as a jazz group leader.
In 1998 and 1999, I did my first recording as a leader, Another Rhumba for Armando. The recording was a self financed project, and was a great learning experience. I was overall satisfied with the project, but eagerly look forward to doing more recordings.