Great teachers don’t expect gratitude as a reward for their efforts—the reward comes merely from seeing growth and change in their students. But the unexpected happened for Christopher Berg on September 27th, 2003, when more than 30 of his former guitar students gathered in the Recital Hall at the School of Music to present a concert to honor the man who has run the guitar program at USC for 25 years. The concert, which had been in the planning for two years, was a complete surprise to Berg. Former students-many of whom are now guitar teachers themselves-had traveled to Columbia, SC, from Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, and throughout the Carolinas and had rehearsed in secret. Together, they represented not only 25 years of teaching, but also, through their contributions to the field of music, a legacy that is a true testament to the influence of a teacher who loves the guitar and cares deeply about his students.
The concert began with a performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 44 in D transcribed for guitar orchestra by David Stevenson (BM 84), the organizer of the event and professor of guitar at Clemson University . The orchestra consisted of students ranging from those who studied with Berg when he came to USC in 1978 to current undergraduates. Other works on the program included two of Berg's original solo compositions from his CD The Pilgrim Forest, performed by Rod Lewis (MM 90, DMA 98), who teaches guitar and music theory at Columbia International University and Marina Alexandra (MM 2001), professor of guitar at Wingate College; Landfall II: Flaming Skull for MIDI guitar, composed and performed by McGregor Boyle (BM 81), Chair of the Composition Department of Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore; and Anton Diabelli’s Grande Sonata Brillante, Op. 102 for guitar and piano, performed by James Buckland (DMA 97), professor of guitar at Limestone College and Converse College, and Karen Wisser.
“I was floored by their gratitude and generosity of spirit,” Berg said. “It seems I am now learning from them. It was an amazing event, and I was thoroughly humbled.” The concert was preceded by an announcement that the former students had established the Christopher Berg Guitar Endowment Fund, which was set up to provide additional scholarship support to future guitar students at USC. The proceeds from sales of CDs of the concert and of the Mozart transcription will be added to the endowment fund.
Stevenson summed up the feelings of many who participated: “Besides feeling genuinely appreciative towards Christopher Berg and his personal style of teaching and playing the guitar, I believe all of us involved wanted to let him, the university, and the community know how we felt. Having an opportunity to pursue my dreams there has made all the difference in my life and enriched me far beyond what I ever expected or believed possible.”
Greg Shirer (MM 1990), who teaches guitar at Booker T. Washington Magnet High School and Auburn University in Montgomery, added, “I wanted to show my gratitude to Mr. Berg by spending the time and energy needed to learn the music and to travel from Montgomery, Alabama. I have been teaching guitar now for fourteen years. It’s been very rewarding, and I owe much of my success to Mr. Berg. He taught me how to break down problems without breaking down the student. My time as his graduate assistant gave me the practical experience needed to become a confident teacher.”
In 1978, when Christopher Berg started teaching at USC, he had about 25-30 students, but few of them were actual guitar majors. There were few places in South Carolina from which he could recruit students who had significant background in classical guitar, and he accepted students on the basis of sincere enthusiasm, motivation, and curiosity. His success is due to his approach to teaching. As he explains, “I stress critical thinking and problem solving to help students discover the value and meaning of things, whether it has to do with moving their fingers more effectively or exploring ways to shape a phrase. I throw in a lot of music theory and history, and science in the form of physiology, and eventually an exposure to divergent thinking to stimulate their artistic creativity, and those who succeed will have learned invaluable lessons applicable to anything.”
Clelia Reardon, who studied with Berg during summer workshops at USC during the early 1990s, is owner of Clelia's Guitar Studio in Charleston, SC. She credits Berg for more than her success. “There are certain special teachers who come into your life and influence you for the rest of yours. Christopher Berg is one of those teachers for me. He did more than teach me guitar-he made me a better person. I am still a performing classical guitarist and I own and operate my own guitar studio. I am happy to report that his influence is still alive and well when I teach my students. Almost 300 guitar students a week come to my studio, and I owe a great deal of my success to my studies with him. I would not have the confidence I do now if it had not been for Christopher Berg.”
“With each passing year I have come to a deeper understanding of the profound effect Mr. Berg has had in my life as an artist and as a teacher,” Christopher Teves (BM 88), professor of guitar at Charleston Southern University said. “He taught me to regard my teaching with a great sense of responsibility, and for that I am grateful. I also credit him with the nurturing of my artistic endeavors, which have come to occupy such a personal and central role in my life, in the lives of my students, and in my life as a performer.”
Currently, Berg teaches about 20 students, oversees the guitar ensemble program, and teaches guitar pedagogy and guitar literature classes. He has also published two books, Mastering Guitar Technique and Giuliani Revisted, which have garnered attention from his colleagues throughout the U.S. All of this is in addition to giving solo concerts throughout the country, and his former students feel fortunate to have had a teacher who is so good not only at teaching but also at performing. It’s no wonder that they have created an endowment fund-they want to be sure that no deserving student will miss out on the great opportunity that they had.
For more information about the Christopher Berg Guitar Endowment Fund or to make a contribution, contact Leslie Wrenn, Director of Development of the School of Music at USC, at 803-576-5897.