Since his childhood in Bosnia, Armin Abdihodžić has studied and played classical guitar. He acquired a high-end, handcrafted guitar and is studying with masters to expand as a musician. He learned growing up that music is enrichment for the culture.
“It’s not enough to just pick up a guitar and start playing,” Armin Abdihodžić says as he unlatches the case resting at his feet in his office. “You want to pick it up and be inspired.”
When he plays his new, custom guitar, it’s tempting to assume that Abdihodžić possesses easy access to some mythical, transcendent space reserved for only the most skilled and capable musicians. His fingers dance a rhythmic, carefree pattern along the guitar’s nylon strings and fretboard. The warm, full-toned melody is hypnotic.
When he stops, however, Abdihodžić smiles wide and laughs, breaking the spell. He is as rooted to earth and the ordinary demands of life as anyone else.
“When you’re done with all the schooling, and you have the full-time job, and you’re building a family and then the kids come along, you really have to seek out the time in a day you’ll give your instrument. And then when you find that, you need to inspire yourself to dig in and practice.”
When he applied for his Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship Award, Abdihodžić stood at a crossroads in both his creative work and career. He’s studied and played classical guitar since his childhood in Bosnia, and now boasts a doctorate affirming his mastery of the instrument. Today, he oversees the work and progress of students passing through his classes at the University of Anchorage Alaska, where he is an assistant professor in the music department. Despite his considerable achievements, he recognizes the risk of plateauing.
“A life in music isn’t the same as a life in many other careers or trades,” he says. “In music, your education can be limitless. There’s no end to how much you might improve your technical skills, your knowledge or your interpretation of others’ works.”
And while he’s embraced each opportunity to perform publicly and to produce recordings, he knew he needed to explore new possibilities to thrive in a vital and relevant way as a musician in Alaska.
First, he needed one essential upgrade.
“A career photographer needs a good camera to produce the work he or she needs to compete as a professional in the field,” he says. Should we expect any less of a musician?
Abdihodžić long admired Gregory Byers’ handcrafted guitars. The revered California luthier produces, on average, just one guitar a month and keeps very precise schematics of each guitar. Potential customers face a three-year waiting list. Abdihodžić had played on a couple of Byers’ guitars over the years. He had no doubt the investment would be worth the price and the wait.
“The quality of your tools makes a huge impression on how you approach playing, too,” he says. “And when you hear what it sounds like in a performance hall, you hear the difference in quality immediately.”
He laughs. “It’s a lot like owning a really good, high-end car. When you have a good car, you don’t want to lock it up in the garage and hide it from everyone. You want to get out there and drive it! I love this guitar so much I look for any opportunity to play it.”
Acquiring the right instrument with the help of his Foundation award led to the next phase. “As a musician, you need to be creating and reinventing yourself constantly,” he says. “It will kill your creativity if you don’t keep striving to improve.”
He had the instrument. Now he was ready to expand as a musician. Classical guitar composition, he says, is having a cultural moment. He elected to invest the remainder of his award in opportunities to study and learn with touted masters.
So far, he’s studied in Virginia with the renowned guitar teacher and composer Miroslav Loncar, a native of Croatia. He has his sights on additional study with award-winning guitarist Matthew Dunne, as well as Brazilian guitarist and composer Sergio Assad.
“In a lot of circles today,” Abdihodžić says, “music is considered merely as a form of entertainment. It’s not viewed as enrichment for the culture in the way it was when I was growing up in Bosnia, or as an essential discipline to cultivate for the good of society.”
Alaska’s distance from burgeoning music cultures presents challenges in keeping attuned to cultural trends. The recognition has proven critically validating and encouraging.
“It’s a great feeling knowing [Rasmuson Foundation] thinks I’m worth this investment and that they recognized what I’m striving to do,” he said. “Very few artists can afford to improve their tools and craft regularly, and this opened me up to opportunities I couldn’t have achieved any other way.”
Listen here to Armin Abdihodžić playing “Serenade Round” by Lou Harrison:
Jonathan Bower is a clinical therapist and songwriter working in Anchorage, Alaska. He is currently at work on a collaborative music project with musicians in New York City.
Image credits - Artist portrait courtesy of the artist. Gallery images 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 are courtesy of the artist. Gallery image 4 is courtesy of the writer Jonathan Bower. Writer portrait courtesy of the writer.