The text of the November 2014 interview is included below. View the entire interview, including photos and video, at the Register-Guard of Eugene, Oregon.
THE VIRTUOSO MENTOR: Acoustic Guitarist Mark Hanson Shares His Gift in More Ways than One
By: Sumi Kim, Taylor Goodman, and Michael McGovern
“As a teacher, I’m constantly rewarded by the interactions with my students and to see the satisfaction they get from learning something new or having an epiphany.” – Mark Hanson
He wanted to be the next Mickey Mantle, to play center field for the New York Yankees. Or maybe he was destined to play professional basketball. He certainly never thought he would walk up to the Grammy stage one day.
Guitarist Mark Hanson and his wife Greta Pedersen moved to West Linn, Oregon, from Palo Alto, Calif., in 1994. With them, they brought their two daughters and their successful music publishing company: Accent on Music. With Pedersen, who is also an accomplished musician, Hanson built the education-focused business around the fingerpicking style of guitar. This twangy, natural sound comes from the artist’s intricate plucks of each string versus the more blunt, rock ‘n’ roll sounds of pick strumming. He plays with a sense of calm, moving his fingers methodically into contorted positions and complex sequences. His performances are polished in an almost mechanical, yet fluid and interpersonal manner.
Hanson has shared the stage with the likes of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, singer-songwriter James Taylor [Correction: Mark interviewed JT, but did not actually perform with him.], and national fingerpicking champion Doug Smith. One of his books, “The Art of Solo Fingerpicking,” has been featured in Shawn Persinger’s “The 50 Greatest Guitar Books.” With Accent on Music, he has been able to make a living sharing his love of guitar.
“As a teacher, I’m constantly rewarded by the interactions with my students,” Hanson says, “and to see the satisfaction they get from learning something new or having an epiphany of some sort.”
As a teenager in Minnesota, when he was not playing sports, Hanson would sit in front of the record player with his guitar. He remembers playing along with acoustic songs of artists like The Beatles, Paul Simon, and folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. “I think that is how an artist develops,” he says. “You absorb all kinds of material and it mixes up in your head with your own ideas, and it comes out your own way.” He had played the piano and the clarinet, but the fingerpicking style of guitar mesmerized him and gave him more musical freedom. “In a way, these players were attempting to play piano music but on a guitar, which is largely what I do now,” he says. “But you can take a guitar to the beach. You can’t take a piano to the beach.”
Although given offers from other colleges to play basketball, Hanson decided to attend Stanford University, instead. He dropped his engineering major after one year and switched to music, focusing intently on his guitar. It was in the Stanford music school where he improved quickly and was trained how to listen to music. “Your ear absolutely has to be the deciding factor,” he says. “To hear what good music is, to hear it when someone else is making what inspires you, and to listen to yourself and make sure that you’re making it too.”
Music began to seep into all facets of his life. He met his wife while the two were singing in the Stanford choir. Together, they studied music abroad in Vienna, Austria, sang with the San Francisco Symphony, and shared many other special experiences together. They were married one year after graduation.
It was during this time that Hanson began holding private lessons and playing live shows at nightclubs and bars. He was not sure how he was going to make a living in music, but independence was important to him. “My college roommate could not understand not having a regular job or paycheck. There are an awful lot of people who don’t want to do that.”
In 1985, Hanson and Pedersen founded Accent on Music LLC, and have since produced many successful guitar books and instructional DVDs. He acknowledges that the landscape of music education has changed with the emergence of the Internet. They named the company Accent On Music so to have an alphabetical advantage in phone books. Now, with the digitization of content and dispersion of free content over social media, they have faced new challenges in the business.
“We’re trying to keep up with the times in the digital age by digitizing our products,” he says. “I don’t know that we’re going to be trendsetting because my mind doesn’t work that way; I’m not a programmer.”
He says that much has changed, but the high quality of instruction from professional players remains the same. They plan to keep adapting and are proud of what they have accomplished. “Playing at a professional level and making a living out of it, making it your life’s work, are two separate things,” Hanson says. “There are a lot of great players who can’t make a living out of it, so we’re thrilled that we’ve been able to.”
In 2004, Hanson was asked by producer James Jensen (of Solid Air Records in Southern California) to collaborate with other guitarists on a Henry Mancini cover album. Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awardee and Composer Henry Mancini was known especially for his music in the movie “The Pink Panther.” In 2005, soon after the 10th anniversary of Mancini’s death, Hanson walked onto the stage to accept the Grammy in the Pop Instrumental Album category for “Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar.”
Though a talented guitarist, Hanson had focused on teaching for so long that he did not expect to ever be on that stage. “Winning a Grammy was one of the thrills of a lifetime, but I was a father and a businessman, so I couldn’t really travel and didn’t want to,” he says. “So, a way to make a living was teaching. I put more eggs in that basket, in teaching and publishing, than in performing. But you don’t get a Grammy for writing a guitar book. You get a Grammy for putting out recordings.”
Today, he is still writing guitar books. He expects to print his newest one in early 2015. He still performs, mostly with Pedersen, something he cherishes with his wife, best friend, and business partner. After playing competitive recreation basketball for more than 40 years, he recently stopped after breaking a metacarpal bone in his left hand. It healed quickly, but it was time to reevaluate the risk to his guitar-playing fingers. The virtuoso, the music mentor, wanted to continue doing what he loves. “My priorities in my career have been to, first of all, make a living and provide for my family, and I’ve been fortunate to have been able to do it with an activity that I thoroughly enjoy, that I love, and that my heart is really in.”
About this story: The JAM [Journalism Arts Multimedia] Workshop was offered during the Fall 2014 term at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. Teams of students created profiles of local artists and musicians who exceed in their craft. Each profile entails written, photo, audio, and video elements.
Founded in 1912, the UO School of Journalism and Communication continues to produce leaders in journalism and media. Through classwork that emphasize the power of storytelling, our students profile notable faces, provide coverage of emerging programs and upcoming events, and report on local and statewide issues.