Michael Chapdelaine has had an unusual trajectory in his musical life, from a self-described illiterate, self-taught electric guitarist to a serious but rebellious classical student to a prize-winning classical and steel-string virtuoso and music professor. In the summer of 2019, Chapdelaine told his life story to San Francisco composer and guitarist Dennis Hayes, who then felt moved to compose a piece. “Within 36 hours, ‘Chapdelaine’ fell under my fingers,” Hayes says.
Though Hayes composed the song on a steel-string, Chapdelaine performs it on a classical, and it works equally well on both guitar types. The piece is in a fairly uncommon tuning—lowest note to highest, F A C G C D—in which strings 1 and 4 are lowered a whole step from standard, and strings 2 and 6 are raised a half step. “I learned this tuning from Canadian guitar god Erick Turnbull,” Hayes says. “It’s a modal portal that makes certain arrangements possible.”
While “Chapdelaine” isn’t forbiddingly difficult, it’s important to fall into the spirit of the piece, and to dial in a contrast between the A and B sections. “The outer A sections are rock ’n’ roll, freedom, anarchy, bad boy. Really go with that,” Chapdelaine says. “The B section is all the stuff that might happen to that same spirit when you throw in discipline, knowledge, inquisitiveness, humility. Oh man, Dennis really nailed this work!”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.