‘The Spirit and the Devotion to the Instrument’

How appropriate that the Facebook page of Stetson guitar major Liam Bombka features a drawing of classical guitar master Andres Segovia playing an electric guitar.

Segovia considered the electric guitar an “abomination” and he shunned them. But the whimsical drawing befits both Bombka and fellow Stetson guitar major Arelys Camargo-Delgado: The two first-year students each picked up guitar before the age of 10, inspired by such rock stars as Jimi Hendrix and Metallica.

Student plays the guitar with sheet music visible on a music stand in front of him.
First-year guitar major Liam Bombka practices in the studio of Dr. Stephen Robinson, founder and director of Stetson’s guitar program.

Eventually, the two students were enthralled by the quieter, although no less robust tones of classical guitar. They enrolled at Stetson and became students of Music Professor Stephen Robinson, D.M., who founded and has directed the School of Music’s guitar program since 1983. And Robinson was a student of Segovia, who’s widely acclaimed as the father of modern classical guitar.

That Segovia-Robinson lineage bore fruit for the two students this semester at the 2017 Florida Guitar Festival. Bombka won third place and Camargo-Delgado took fourth place in the Under-19 Division of the competition held at Florida State University in early October. Stetson University alumni, Morgan Stuart, D.M., won third prize in the Open Division. More than 50 guitarists from across North America competed in both divisions.

Student plays guitar outside, seated on a brick planter on campus.
First-year guitar major Arelys Camargo-Delgado picked up the guitar before age 10, inspired by rock guitarists.

“I’m really proud of these kids,” Robinson said of his two first-year students. “There’s a lot of pressure (at competitions).”

Robinson should know: An accomplished guitarist, he was a top prize winner in five major international competitions, including the XXIII Concours International de Guitare in Paris and the VI Concurso Internacional de Guitarra in Venezuela.

“I teach the students that, yes, I want you to work your tail off and try really hard to win,” Robinson said. “But in the end, when you walk out on that stage, I don’t want you to think that you’re competing — I want you to think that you’re performing. Your goal is to make the judges forget that they’re judging a competition and that they’re just hearing really good music-making.”

‘Polished’ and ‘Fearless’

The two first-year students recalled the Florida Guitar Festival and Competition, which also featured concerts, masterclasses and lectures by leading classical guitarists.

“I think I played very well in that final round,” said Bombka, a DeBary resident who began studying under Robinson in high school, and whose father also studied under the Stetson professor before pursuing a career as a psychologist.

Liam Bombka works to perfect his technique under the watchful eye of Music Professor Stephen Robinson.

“Of course, I always think I should do better,” Bombka said. “But participating and being around that community and working my name into their heads is what’s important – the leaders in the guitar community in the Southeast. I remember finishing and standing up to bow and seeing Dr. (Andrew) Zohn (one of the judges) smiling. That stuck in my memory.”

“I was really nervous,” said Camargo-Delgado, who moved with her family from Puerto Rico to Jacksonville when she was 6. “I didn’t feel that confident in my playing because beforehand I had a lot of memory slips and I would forget my parts. When I went in for the first round I played a few wrong notes and I was like, ‘OK, maybe next year will go better.’ But then at the concert that night I found out I was in the finals and it was such a big shock.”

“Both are really talented kids,” Robinson said. “They’re both very, very different players. Liam is a little more polished. Arelys is fearless, and there’s a ton of talent that just needs refinement, which is where we’re at now. They’re both really eager, really hungry.”

While Segovia has been lauded as one of classical music’s greatest guitarists, “a big part of his mission” was teaching and mentoring students, said Robinson, who studied under the legendary musician in a number of master classes.

Robinson recalled a time he arranged for his Stetson guitar students to attend a Segovia concert in Clearwater and meet the maestro backstage after his performance.

“This was very close to the time he died (in 1987) and he was not in great health,” Robinson said. “He still played a wonderful concert. After the concert was over, we went backstage and we’re waiting with a lot of patrons. The stage manager comes out and says, ‘I’m sorry. Segovia is not feeling well. He is not going to see anyone tonight except for the students.’ Whoa! We were the only ones to get backstage to see Segovia.

The student and professor are seated side by side in his teaching studio as he simulates playing the guitar.
Arelys Camargo-Delgado enjoys her lesson with Dr. Stephen Robinson in his studio in Presser Hall.

“In the end, with all the lessons I had from him, it was such a great experience because it wasn’t about technique and it wasn’t about all the basic things. It was more about the spirit – the spirit and the devotion to the instrument.”

Robinson recalled being accepted into his first master class with Segovia, when Robinson was still a student at Florida State University: “It was interesting that Segovia picked 12 players – the 12 apostles. It really was a spiritual experience. We all came out of that master class feeling like we had a mission to carry on.”

Camargo-Delgado described Robinson’s teaching style as being “more like a father figure. He calls himself ‘Dr. Dad’ sometimes. I’ve learned so much from him these past few months. I feel like I’ve improved a lot.”

Both Bombka and Camargo-Delgado aspire to follow in Robinson’s footsteps by pursuing a career in performing as well as teaching at the university level.

However, Bombka said, “I think I’d be content being some kind of gypsy busker. As long as I could make a living playing guitar, that would make me happy.”

— Rick de Yampert and Cory Lancaster