MasterMinds 2017: Sammy Gonzalez's Guitar Strings Entrance Audiences

MasterMinds 2017 finalist Sammy Gonzalez
MasterMinds 2017 finalist Sammy Gonzalez Photo by Monica McGivern

The finalists in New Times' eighth-annual MasterMind Awards are a diverse bunch, representing the best locally created culture in South Florida. A group of editors and critics chose these nine talents from a pool of more than 80 applicants. The three winners, who will each receive a $750 grant, will be announced live onstage at Artopia, presented by Miracle Mile Downtown Coral Gables this Thursday at the Coral Gables Museum. The finalists will show off their work at the event. Here's what you’ll see.

With his curly mass of hair and a laid-back attitude, Sammy Gonzalez entrances audiences through the sounds of his guitar strings, flying faster than heart palpitations. The emotion, the harmonic minors, and the undulating pace — it's all part of Gonzalez's style.

"I'm trying to write something that has a lot of movement," he says of an as-yet-untitled guitar piece he's working on. He tries to conjure a visual experience through the sound. "It's very fast. I see birds flying and a dancer spinning really fast."

A classically trained guitarist who has played in rock bands and orchestras, Gonzalez grew up in Miami Beach and picked up the guitar when he was 10 years old. Now 31, the musician graduated from New World School of the Arts College and founded the nonprofit Young Musicians Unite, which engages at-risk youth in Wynwood and Overtown via free instruction and musical activities such as guitar ensembles and a rock band.

Though his educational work is his full-time job, Gonzalez says, he still finds time to produce and write his own music at late hours of the night in his Miami-based studio, the Bull Productions.

Classical, flamenco-style guitar isn't exactly the hottest musical genre. But for Gonzalez, the payoff is in using traditional sounds in modern contexts. At Artopia, for example, he plans to play original flamenco-inspired acoustic guitar pieces while a contemporary dancer interprets the music using stretches and sways.

Gonzalez emphasizes that unlike pop or modern music, classical guitar has no words; the challenge is to compose an instrumental story. "In my solo guitar works, I paint pictures with my playing. I make people feel something with no words. I always felt like the guitar works are something you listen to but you also see something in your mind."

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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth