From the Archives: Hadley Heavin Sees No Incongruity in Being a Rodeo Cowboy, Classical Guitartist, Educator and Vietnam Combat Vet
When I saw Hadely Heavin perform classical guitar at the Joslyn Art Museum in the late 1980s I knew I had to write about him one day, and in 1990 I sought him out as one of my first freelance profile subjects. I’ve culled that resuling story from my archives for you to read below. What I didn’t know when I interviewed him that first time is what a remarkable story he has. I mean, how many world-class classical guitarists are there that also compete in rodeo? How many are combat war veterans? What are the chances that an inexperienced American player (Heavin) would be selected by a Spanish master (Segundo Pastor) to become the maestro’s only student in Spain? I always knew I wanted to revisit Heavin’s story and nearly two decades later I did. That more recent and expansive portrait of Heavin can also be found on this blog, entitled, “Hadley Heavin’s Idiosyncratic Journey as a Real Rootin-Tootin, Classical Guitar Playing Cowboy.” When I wrote the original article posted here Heavin’s mentor, Segundo Pastor, was still alive. Pastor has since passed away but his influence will never leave the protege. Heavin was still doing some rodeoing as of three or four years ago, when I did the follow-up story, but even if he has completely given up the sport he’ll always do something with horses because his love for horses is just that deep in him. The same as music is. I hope you enjoy these pieces on this consumate artist and athlete.
From the Archives: UNO Instructor Hadley Heavin Sees No Incongruity in Being a Rodeo Cowboy, Concert Classical Guitartist, Music Educator and Vietnam Combat Vet
©by Leo Adam Biga
Orignally published in the Omaha Metro Update
Hadley Heavin defies pigeonholing, The 41-year-old Omaha resident is an internationally renowned classical guitarist, but to ranchers in rural Nebraska he’s better known as a good rodeo hand. The University of Nebraska at Omaha instructor’s life has been full of such seeming incongruities from the very start.
Back in his native Kansas Heavin is as likely to be remembered for being a precocious child musician as an expert bareback bronc rider, star high school athlete and Vietnam War veteran. Today, despite lofty success as a touring performer, Heavin is perhaps proudest of being a husband and new father. He and his wife, Melanie, became first-time parents last year when their girl, Kaitlin, was born.
Music, though, has been the one unifying force in his life. His earliest memories of the Ozarks are filled with gospel harmonies and jazz, ragtime and country rhythms. Home for the Heavin clan was Baxter Springs, Kan., five miles froom the Oklahoma and Missouri borders.
“Basically I grew up with music and I’ve been playing it since I was 5. My father was a jazz guitarist and always had bands,” said Heavin. adding that his late father played a spell with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
Heavin hit the road with his old man at age 7, playing drums, trumpet and occasional guitar at dances and socials.
“I was a little freak because I could play really well. I loved it, but it got to be a chore. I remember about midnight I’d start falling asleep. My dad would start to feel the time dragging and see me nodding, then he’d flick me ont he head with his fingertip and wake me up, and I’d speed up again.
“Most of my fellow students at school didn’t know I was doing this. I didn’t think I was doing anything special because everyone in my family were musicians. I grew up in that environment thinking everybody was like this. I couldn’t believe it when a kid couldn’t sing or carry a tune or do something with music.”
When Heavin was all of 11 he started playing rock ‘n’ roll, an experience, he said, that left him burned out on music, especially rock.
“I’m glad I got burned out on that when I did because I’ve still got students in their 20s trying to study classical guitar and wanting to play rock ‘n’ roll. They want to have fun,” he said disparagingly. “They just don’t realize rock is not an art form in the same sense. Classical guitar requires a lot of work and soul searching.”
Heavin doesn’t mince words when it comes to music. Since he studied in Spain with maestro Segundo Pastor, he performs and teaches the traditional romantic repertorie that originated there. He feels the music is a deep. direct reflection of the Spanish people, with whom he feels a kinship.
“Spanish people are much warmer than Americans. We’re not brought up with the passion those people are brought up with. That’s why I prefer listening to European artists.”
He said classical guitar “demands” a passionate, expressive quality he finds lacking in most American guitarists with the exception of Christopher Parkening.
“Who a student studies with makes a big difference. I don’t think I ever would have played the way I do if I had never studied with Segundo.”
Heavin feels Pastor selected him as a student because he saw a hungry young musician with a burning passion.
“He wouldn’t have been interested if he didn’t see things in my playing that were like his. Frankly, he doesn’t like very many American guitarists. He thinks they’re very shallow performers.”
The acolyte largely agrees, suggesting that part of the problem is most American musicians don’t face as many obstacles or endure as many sacrifices for their art as foreign musicians.
“My students are spoiled. How are they going to suffer for their art?” he asked rhetorically.
He said that when he turned to the classical guitar in the early ’70s, after seeing combat duty in Vietnam and having his father pass away, he knew what hard times were. “I suffered because by then my father was gone and my mother couldn’t support me. Somehow I played guitar and kept myself fed, but I didn’t have a penny, really, until I was 32. But I loved the guitar and I didn’t worry about those things. People are kind of unwilling to do that anymore.”
He dismissed the new guitarists who denigrate the traditional repertoire in favor of avant garde literature as mere technicians.
“I hate to say this but about all the concerts I’ve been to with the new guitarists have been very boring, driving audiences away from the guitar. It’s a real shame. They’re championing these avant garde works, which is fine, but they can’t play the Spanish and romantic repertoire at all. They just can’t phrase it. It’s not in them. They sound like they’re playing a typewriter.
“There’s a lot of great guitarists now, and they’re excellent technically, but there’s still only a handful of great musicians.”
He hopes artists like Parkening and Pastor help audiences “discern the guitarists from the musicians.”
It may surprise those who’ve seen Heavin perform with aplomb at Joslyn Art Museum’s Bagels and Bach series or some other concert venue that he as at ease on a horse as he is on a stage, as facile at roping a steer as he is at phrasing a chord, or as penetrating a critic of a rodeo hand’s technique as of a classical guitarist’s. But a look at his thick, powerful hands, deep chest and broad shoulders confrms this is rugged man. And he does work out to stay in trim, including working with horses.
“As a matter of fact this is the first year I haven’t rodeoed in many years,” he said. “The only reason I’m not this summer is that I’m in the middle of doing an album and my producer’s worried about my losing a finger. I team rope now because I’m too old to ride rough stock. If I do get out of roping to protect my hands I’m probably going to have to do cutting or something just to stay on a horse. It’s just that horses are in my blood. But it’s tough with this kind of career because it takes so much time.”
Heavin has competed on the professional rodeo circuit all over Nebraska. “It’s funny,” he said. “I draw good crowds at my concerts in western Nebraska because I know all the ranchers and rodeo people, and they’re curious to see this classical guitarist who rodeos, too. I was playing a concert in Kearney and there were some roping friends in the audience. After I was done I went up and said to them, ‘These other people think I’m a guitarist, so don’t be telling them I’m a cowboy.’ But it was too late. They already had. I try not to advertise it too much.”
Heavin took to the rodeo as a boy to escape the music world he’d run dry on. “I started riding bulls and bareback broncs. I wanted to be a world champ bronc rider,” he said.. He rodeoed through high school and for a time in college. He also participated in football, wrestling and track as a prep athlete, winning honors and an athletic scholarship to Kansas University along the way.
“I think my dad put pressure on me to be an athlete to some degree because he wanted me to be well-rounded.”
At KU Heavin played on the same freshman football team as future NFL great John Riggins, a free-spirit known for his rebel ways. “I’ve never seen a guy that trouble came to so quickly. We used to go to bars and there was always a fight and John usually started it. He had more John Wayne in him than John Wayne.”
Another classmate and friend who became famous was Don Johnson, the actor. Heavin hasn’t seen the Miami Vice star in years but stays in touch with his folks in Kansas.
It was the late ’60s and Heavin, like so many young people then, was torn in different directions. “I decided I really didn’t wamt to be in school but I had the draft hanging over my head. I took a chance anyway and dropped out…and I was drafted within two months.”
The U.S. Army made him an artillary fire officer and shipped him off to Vietnam before he knew what hit him. He shuttled from one LZ to another, wherever it was hot. “I was what they called a bastard. I was with the 1st Field Force. I was in the jungle the whole time. I saw base camp twice during a year in-country,” he said.
Heavin was shot in action and after recovering from his wounds sent back out to the war. Luckily, his tour of duty ended without further injury and he finished his Army hitch back home at Fort Riley, Kansas. While stationed there he began missing working with horses and on a whim one day entered the bareback at a nearby rodeo.
“I drew a pretty rank horse, plus I hadn’t ridden in years and I was still sore from my war injuries. I got hurt. When I got back to the base they were mad at me because I couldn’t pull my duty. They were going to court-martial me.”
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the incident was forgotten. “When I got out of the service my dad died shortly thereafter, and there was no music anymore.” Heavin had been working a job unloading trucks for two years when a friend suggested they see a classical guitarist perform. The experience rekindled his love for music.
“I was enthralled. And it just came over me like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “That’s how fast I made my deicison to play classical guitar.”
Until then Heavin said he had never really heard classical guitar, much less played it. He began by teaching himself.
“I worked really hard. As soon as my hands could take it I was practicing six to eight hours a day and working a full-time job — just so I could get into college.”
Heavin brashly convinced the chairman of the Southwest Missouri State University music department to start a degreed classical guitar program for him. “I said, ‘Look, I want to get a degree in guitar and I’m determined to do it. And I don’t know why nobody has a program in this part of the country.’ He said, ‘I agree, let’s try this and see what happens.'” As the pioneering first student hell-bent on finishing the program, Heavin graduated and he said the program has “grown into something really nice and become very popular.”
His chance meeting with his mentor-to-be, Segundo Pastor, occurred at a concert in Springfield, Mo., at which Heavin was playing and the maestro was attending on one of his rare American visits. Heavin was introduced to “this little old man who couldn’t speak English” and arranged to see him later. He played for Pastor in private and the master liked the young man’s musucianship. The two began a correspondence.
When Pastor returned the next year he asked to see Heavin. “I spent practically a whole day with him and I played everything I knew. Then he said, ‘If you come to Spain I’ll teach you for nothing.’ I didn’t realize then what this meant or how it was going to work out,” Heavin said. A university official aided Heavin’s overseas studies. But the student still had no inkling his apprenticeshup would turn out to be what he termed “one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.”
“When I arrive there was an apartment for me. The maestro’s wife was like my mom. His son was like my brother. And I realized only after I got there that I was his only student. He rarely takes them. There were Spanish boys waiting in line to study with him.”
Appropriately, the rodeoer lived a block from the Plaza de Toros, the bullfighting arena, and next door to the hospital for bullfighters.
“I lived in the culture. I wasn’t with Amreicans at all. My friends were all Spanish. I taught them English, they taught me Spanish. During the 10 months I was there I had a two-hour lesson from Segundo almost every day. He puts all of himself into that one student. That’s why he doesn’t take on many. It was really like a fairy-tale because the man literally gave me a career. The thing that’s odd about it is that I had only been playing about a year when the maestro invited me to Spain. It was confusing because there were Spanish boys who could play better than I.”
It was a question that nagged at Heavin for a long time. why me?
“The whole time I was in Spain I kept asking him, ‘Why did you pick me?’ and he would never answer it. The last night I was there he knocked on my door and we went to the university in Madrid. It was one of those romantic Spanish evenings. We were walking down a wet, cobblestone street and he put his arm on me and said, ‘Yeah, the Spanish boys are good guitarists but some day you’ll be a great guitarist,” recalled Heavin, still touched by the memory. “That gave me a lot of confidence to go on.”
Heavin often performs at Espana tapas bar in Omaha
During his stay abroad Heavin toured with Pastor throughout Spain, When the apprenticeship ended they performed duo concerts across the U.S., including New York’s Carnegie Hall. Heavin’s career was launched.
While the two haven’t performed publicly since then, Heavin said they remain close. “Now that I’m in the States he comes more often. When he visits we just have fun and enjoy ourselves. Two years ago he came with Pedro, a friend from Spain, and they did a duo concert here.”
Asked if in some way Pastor replaced his father, with whom he was so close, and Heavin said, “Oh yes. He’s like my father, no doubt. He’s my mentor, too.”
After earning a master’s degree at the University of Denver Heavin came to UNO in 1982. He heads the school’s classical guitar program, which he said is a good one. “I’ve got some students who play very well.”
Besides teaching Heavin performs 25-30 concerts a year, a schedule he’s cut back in 1990 to work on his first album.
“I’ve just finished doing the research on the pieces I want to put on. Now I’m learning the pieces. I’ll probably go into the recording studio in October or November,” he said.
As with Pastor singling him out for the chance of a lifetime, a patron has discovered Heavin and is helping sponsor him. “Another fairy-tale happened. A stockbroker heard me play and thinks I should have lots more recognition. He wants to get involved in my career.”
The guitarist is looking forward to touring more once the album is done. He has been invited to perform in Australia and Pastor has asked him to do concerts in Spain.
“People ask me why I live in Omaha and not on the coast,” he said. “I dearly love Omaha. I love the Old Market. I don’t like huge cities.”
Heavin, who practices his art about five hours daily, said success has little to do with locale anyway. “It’s an attitude. To do anything well requires an aggressive attitude. You have to just want to, and I’ve always done well financially playing guitar and teaching.”
- Journey Through Latin America with Classical Guitarist Michael Anthony Nigro (worldculturesaustin.com)
- From the Archives: Cowboy-turned Scholar Discovers Kinship with 19th Century Expedition Explorer (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
I first met Hadley Heavin 20 years ago. He was one of the first profile subjects I wrote about as a freelance journalist. I loved telling his story then, and I always knew I would return to it. I did a few years ago. Upon catching up with him, I found him and his story just as intriguing as I had before. It’s not often you find someone who combines the passions he does, namely competing in rodeo and performing classical guitar. He is a singular man whose twin magnificent obsessions make him one of my favorite and most unforgettable characters.
Hadley Heavin’s Idiosyncratic Journey as a Real Rootin-Tootin, Classical Guitar Playing Cowboy
©by Leo Adam Biga
Traditional Spanish classical guitar follows certain lines. It flows most directly from the source of this passionate art form, Francisco Tarrega, the father of Spanish classical guitar at the turn of the last century. Tarrega passed on his legacy to his musical progeny, a few prized pupils, who in turn taught it to select disciples, and so on down the line.
Improbably, this line of maestros, the great interpreters of Spanish classical guitar, includes a longtime area resident and an American to boot, Hadley Heavin. He grew up a cowboy, jock and blues-rock lead guitar player in Baxter Springs, Kansas. He learned guitar at 5, began riding horses soon after, adding rodeo, football, basketball, track and baseball. The Vietnam combat vet has been a University of Nebraska at Omaha music instructor since 1982.
Beginning in the late ‘70s, Heavin became the primary student of the late Segundo Pastor. Decades-before, Pastor was the favorite student of Daniel Fortea, once the anointed disciple of Tarrega himself. So it is this direct Spanish line goes from Tarrega to Fortea to Pastor to Heavin.
“… there’s a real lineage that goes to the source of classical guitar in Spain that’s been handed down to me, almost by rote. Not even Spaniards have that,” Heavin said. “That’s why Spanish music is it for me. And when I play Spanish music I play it very much probably how Tarrega played it, because it was passed down that way. I’m probably just one of a handful of people in the world that got that experience.
“It isn’t so much about reading the notes and learning the music as it how the music is played.”
As if not’s unusual enough an American should be part of that rare Spanish line, then consider that at age 59 Heavin still competes in rodeos and horse shows around his busy teaching-performing schedule. The fact he’s both a concert-level artist and competitive roper never fails to surprise.
“It’s so odd to people that I do these two things,” he said.
He and his daughter Kaitlin share a small, white, wood-frame house on a 25-acre spread he rents in Valley, Neb.. He’s at home there with his dogs, horses and steers. There are barns for storing hay and boarding horses as well as pens, a round and an arena, complete with box and chute, for working stock and practicing roping. He has a horse trailer and a truck parked there. His precious guitars, a Brune for classical and a Cordoba for Flamenco, always near.
Much like his boyhood home, when impromptu family concerts broke out, the sound of Heavin playing and Kaitlin singing often blend with the music of cicadas, crickets, meadow larks, steers and horses.
In a kind of dual life he alternately spends weekends playing paying guitar gigs or riding-roping for prize money. One weekend might find him performing solo or with his new Latin-influenced band, Tablao, at trendy Omaha spots like Espana and the Corkscrew. Kaitlin is Tablao’s lead vocalist. Another weekend might find him competing in American Quarter Horse Association or Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association team-roping events in such Nebraska backyards as Wilber and Burwell.
At home in his frayed tank-top undershirt, dusty jeans and worn boots, he’s the Marlboro Man. For a big guy he sits light in the saddle. The way he expertly handles a horse makes clear he’s no weekend warrior playing cowboy. He’s the Real McCoy. With a pull of the reins, a bump of his spurs or the command of his voice, his old bay, Champ, obeys instantly as he puts the animal through its paces, starting at a walk, building to a trot, then going at a full gallop. Rough stock is in his blood.
Cut to Heavin, the artist, this time in a freshly-pressed flowered shirt, clean jeans and polished boots, making love with his guitar at the Espana tapas bar in Benson. As he sits on stage, cradling and stroking the instrument like a woman in his thickly-muscled arms, he is every inch the maestro. His posture erect, his fingering precise, his feel for the music complete, he makes the expressive sounds his own. From soft, gentle trills to full crescendo runs, it is a seduction. Given his roots in the music, when Heavin plays, one hears echoes of past maestros Tarrega, Fortea and Pastor, a privileged connection he’s ever conscious of.
His sound is so much like Pastor’s, he said, a good friend from Spain named Pedro once got upset that a gringo like him should be able to master it.
Pastor entered Heavin’s life at a key juncture. The then-angry young American was not long removed from a war that “scarred” him. Then, his father, “an incredible guitarist,” died at 47. “And there was no music anymore…” he said.
At the time Heavin worked a job unloading trucks in Springfield, Mo.. On a whim one night he went to see a classical guitarist perform, and Heavin’s life changed.
“I was enthralled and it just came over me like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Right then and there I knew what I was going to do with my life. The feeling that came over me fulfilled me more than anything else ever had up to that time.”
“Well, for a lot of reasons. A part of it was the war had scarred me and right after that my father passed away, and I needed something,” he said. “Classical guitar was the thread that gave me something to hang onto just to get through life and the pain I had lived with. The guitar was my salvation.”
He began by teaching himself via recordings and books. When he exhausted those he found an instructor, who soon did all he could for such a prodigy.
“I worked really hard,” Heavin said. “As soon as my hands could take it I was practicing six to eight hours a day and working a full-time job.”
He then brashly convinced the music dean at then-Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State) to start a degree guitar program with him as its first student.
“I had such a passion for it that I was going to find a way…whatever it took.”
Then, a meeting changed his life. Pastor was touring the U.S. and saw Heavin play a late ‘70s concert on campus. Pastor asked to meet Heavin.
Mind you, Heavin was just a beginner in classical guitar, yet the maestro plucked him from obscurity to make Heavin his sole student and the privileged inheritor of a rich music lineage he now passes onto his own students.
Heavin and Pastor enjoyed a decades-long friendship that saw the American study under the maestro in the U.S. and Spain. Heavin arranged for Pastor to perform UNO and Creighton concerts. They toured together. Heavin once performed with him at Carnegie Hall. Their friendship deepened.
“He was like a father and a mentor to me. He not only gave me a career, he gave me back myself,” Heavin said.
It’s not unlike how Heavin became a vessel for his father’s and his family’s legacies.
In his small hometown fast on the Oklahoma-Missouri border, Heavin was weaned on Ozarks culture. Music, horses and sports were family inheritances. From early childhood he excelled at them all.
His father, Ernest played with such bands as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Several uncles played, too. Heavin played trumpet and drums in bands his father led, traveling to gigs at VFW post and American Legion hall dances, performing swing, jazz, ragtime and country. The family home was alive with music, too.
“Making music,” Heavin said, “was just something we did. I grew up with music and I was a little freak because I could play really well. I grew up in an environment thinking everybody was like this. I couldn’t believe it when a kid couldn’t sing or carry a tune or do something with music.”
The life he leads today balancing music with rodeo is not so different than the one he knew as a youth. Heavin’s father paid him for the band gigs he played as a boy. Child or not, young Hadley was expected to carry his own weight.
“I remember about midnight I’d start falling asleep,” he said. “My dad would start to feel the time dragging and see me nodding. Then he’d flick me on the head with his fingertip and wake me up, and I’d speed up again.”
The paying dates made Heavin rich compared to his friends. “I’d be sitting with $20 in my pocket where everybody else would have a quarter.”
The grind of playing “got to be a chore.” He flirted with blues-rock groups for a time, but got “burned out” on music.
Classical was not even a possibility. Early ‘60s rural Kansas had few outlets for it. Heavin still recalls the first time he heard it. A Rachmaninoff concerto playing over a music store loudspeaker enraptured him on the spot. That was about the extent of his exposure until years later.
Sports and horses became his new means of expression. Athletics, like music, were another Heavin family forte. An uncle, Charles “Frog” Heavin, played minor league ball with Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle. Heavin’s own mother was a catcher in the women’s pro circuit immortalized in A League of Their Own.
He was introduced to horses courtesy his grandfather — a horse shoer and blacksmith — and youth rodeos. His first brush with rodeo came at age 12, an experience as dramatic for him as when he first heard classical guitar.
“I was at the fairgrounds and these guys were bucking out stock. Just practicing. I was sitting on the fence watching and I asked if I could ride one. They said sure. The first animal I rode was a bare back bronc, Mae Etta. I sat on her and I was kind of nervous and they told me what to do and that horse came out and started bucking and I rode her about three jumps and got bucked off.
“I just jumped up and said, ‘I gotta try that again.’ And I tried it again. I couldn’t wait…It was like the biggest rush I ever had in my life. Then I rode a bull. I loved that, too. That’s where it started.”
He progressed from Little Britches events to amateur competitions on up, earning his spurs along the way riding bulls and bare back broncs.
His folks “didn’t understand it,” he said. But he stuck with it. He’d found something of his own. “The thing I remember as a teenager is…I wasn’t really sure who I was, and rodeo really gave me a defining sort of picture of…what I needed for my own life. And that’s why I still do it on some level.”
As a teen he moved with his family to Lawrence. Kansas, where he lost himself in sports. He possessed enough talent that he owned state sprint records and got a look from Kansas University as a football halfback.
“I played every sport in high school but rodeo was my favorite. Once I got into roping and horses, I’ve just never gone back,” he said.
He enrolled at KU in 1967 with the military draft on his mind. He walked-on for football and made the freshman team.
The huge campus and sea of strange faces were “a major culture shock.” He took his chances with the draft and in ‘68 had the back luck to be an Army conscript in an increasingly unpopular war.
Heavin was in-country 1969-70 as a forward observer and artillery fire officer with the 1st Field Force. He was shuttled from one LZ to another — wherever it was hot.
“I was what they called a ‘bastard.’ I would work with all different units. They would just send me wherever they needed me. I was on hill tops, some I can remember like LZ Lily. I was at Dactau and Ben Het during the siege. We were surrounded for like 30 days. I was in so many places I can’t remember them all. I was in the jungle the whole time…mostly in the north, in Two Corps, close to the border of Laos and Cambodia. I saw base camp twice,” he said.
Wounded by an AK47 round in a fire fight, he came home to recover. Stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, he impulsively entered the bare back at a local rodeo.
“I drew a pretty rank horse, plus I hadn’t ridden in years and I was still sore from my war injuries.” he said. “The horse came out and was bucking and bucked towards the fence and my spur hung in the fence and hung me upside down, facing the opposite way. He was kicking me in the back as he was bucking away from me. I got hurt. I could hardly walk that night. When I got back to the base they were mad at me because I couldn’t pull my duty. Here I was a decorated combat vet, and they were going to court-martial me.”
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the incident forgotten.
Back home he struggled with memories of the war and his father’s death. He floundered, looking to get his head right. He’d seen cruelty in the jungle. Fraggings. Buddies killed. Rapes, mutilations and killings of innocent Vietmanese women and children. “Emotionally, I was a mess from the war,” he said. “I had some years there where I had a hard time because I felt I was part of something that was wrong.”
He felt angry over what he viewed as U.S. betrayal of the South Vietmanese people. He wanted to forget it all, but couldn’t. He’d prefer to put it behind him today.
“When people find out I was in Vietnam they start asking a lot of questions and I find myself not wanting to deal with that issue at this point in my life,” he said.
He harbors hard feelings about U.S. military adventurism. “I’m not as patriotic as most people,” he said, “and that’s the one thing that gets me in trouble with my cowboy friends.”
He was in such a funk after the war he quit music, roping and riding for a time. He rediscovered music first or as he prefers to think of it, music found him.
It all began with Heavin’s classical guitar epiphany. But the real journey commenced when Pastor heard Heavin play in college and the great man befriended the green American. The Spaniard was unlike anyone he’d met before.
“I was introduced to this little old man who couldn’t speak English. He was very kind but very formal, very upper-crust European society. There was a definite respect one had to acquire. I spent an entire afternoon playing for him. He was helping me, showing me some things, and then he’d play. I think he saw in me that I was wide-eyed and open and very grateful that he would spend this time with me.”
More than Heavin could dream came next.
“He played a concert that night and it was awesome. He dedicated a song to me,” Heavin said. “Before he left he said, ‘When I get to Spain I’m going to send you some music.’ About two weeks later I got a big stack of music I started working on. He came back the following year and this time he worked with me for 10 days in Springfield. All this music I’d worked on I played for him. I studied some more. And at the end of the 10 days he said, ‘If you come to Spain, I’ll teach you for nothing. You’ll be my only student,’ and I was.”
At the time though, Heavin said, “I didn’t know what this meant or how it was going to work out.” A university official aided Heavin’s overseas studies by finding grant monies for him. But Heavin still had no inkling his apprenticeship would turn out to be, “with the exception of my daughter’s birth,” he said, “one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.” Off to Madrid he went.
“When I arrived there was an apartment for me. The maestro’s wife was like my mom. His son was like my brother. And I realized shortly after I got there that I was his only student,” he said. “He rarely took them. There were Spanish boys waiting in line to study with him.”
Heavin immersed himself in all things Spanish. “I lived in the culture. I wasn’t with Americans at all. My friends were all Spanish. I taught them English, they taught me Spanish.” Ironically, the one thing this former bull rider didn’t care for was bullfighting, yet he lived a block from the Plaza de Toros, the bullfighting arena, and next door to the hospital for bullfighters. He’d watch the injured fighters come out “all bandaged up,” but felt even worse for the bulls.
Mostly his life revolved around the music.
“During the 10 months I was there I had a lesson from Segundo almost every day,” he said. “He put all of himself into that one student. That’s why he didn’t take on many. It was really like a fairy-tale…”
To this day Heavin’s unsure what Pastor saw in him to make such a commitment. “Maybe it was my sound,” he speculates. He feels it must have also had something to do with “the fact I loved Spain and I loved to play guitar and I loved that music.” Even when Heavin struggled to get the music right, “he never gave up on me.”
“The thing that’s odd about it is that I had only been playing about a year when the maestro invited me to Spain,” he said. “It was confusing because there were Spanish boys who could play better than I.”
It nagged at Heavin the whole time he was there.
“I kept asking him, ‘Why did you pick me?’ And he would never answer it. The last night I was there he knocked on my door and we went to the university in Madrid. It was one of those romantic Spanish evenings. We were walking down a wet, cobblestone street and he put his arm up on my shoulder and he squeezed it and said, ‘You keep asking me this question. True, the Spanish boys are good guitarists, but you’ll be a great guitarist.’ You see, I was too naive to know if I was any good or not. But he knew. It gave me everything I needed to go forward.”
Not only did Pastor give him a career, Heavin said, “he gave me back myself.”
Pastor’s high praise for his student — “A brilliant guitarist…he likes to make poetry out of music” — has been seconded by others.
After graduating from Southwest Missouri State Heavin received a fellowship from the University of Denver and after getting his master’s there he joined the UNO music department. Wherever Heavin lived, he continued to visit Pastor in Spain and to spend time with him in the states.
In 1993 Pastor fell ill. Heavin flew to Madrid to be with him. When he got there he found the maestro confined to a wheelchair — weak and having not spoken for weeks. Heavin said when Pastor’s wife announced, “‘Look, maestro, Hadley’s here,’ his face just lit up. It was great. That night I slept on the other side of the wall from him. The next night I walked in his room, and as I was standing over him, looking at him, he awoke with a start. He rolled over on his back, pulled my face down to his chest and patted my head. He started talking. He said, ‘You know I love you. I hope some day you’re blessed like I have been with a woman. When my mind clears I’m going to write a great piece for you.” Those sentiments were the last words the maestro uttered. He died within a couple weeks.
Pastor’s gone now but Heavin keeps alive the tradition. He said the students who excel under him today are the ones who appreciate the gift Pastor gave him that he now passes onto them.
“It’s not just me they’re getting it from, they’re getting it from all of us in the line. The students that figure that out and treasure that are the ones that go off to other schools and blow everybody away,” he said.
One such student is 2002 UNO grad Mike Cioffero, an award-winning player and now a teacher at the prestigious New York City Guitar School.
“To have that direct connection is so important and wonderful,” Cioffero said. “Hadley definitely establishes that.”
Heavin’s “day job” is at UNO. He works one-on-one with students and ensembles and serves as a graduate lecturer. Some students have gone on to a good bit of success, like Cioffero. Teaching is something he loves. He’s not so fond of navigating academia’s politics and personalities. “I’ve stayed,” he said, “because of my students.”
In his 30s Heavin resumed roping and riding. “I started missing the horses, the competition and my cowboy friends,” he said. Without them, he was incomplete. As “the Good Lord saw fit to give me an extra shot of adrenalin,” he said, he needs both extremes in his life.
“Playing the guitar is a very disciplined, very quiet, very by-yourself, very sedentary thing. Mentally it isn’t, but physically it is. I couldn’t just sit on my ass and play guitar all the time — it’s too boring. When I was back from the war and just playing guitar, I was a little crazy, a little anti-social. For me, rodeo satisfied something in me that made it possible for me to play guitar. I think it helps me play a lot better.”
At first glance it appears as if he leads dual lives. Yet so intertwined are these pursuits with who he is, he can’t separate them. Each is an expression of himself.
“For me that’s my balance,” he said. “One balances out the other.”
Then there’s his hell-bent for leather nature. “I’ve learned to try anything,” he said, “but it wasn’t like I chose those things, it was like those things chose me. I was meant to do those things.”
He doesn’t just dally in one endeavor or the other. He’s trained by masters in each and performs at “a high level” whether in the concert hall or the horse arena.
His maestro, Pastor, toured the world as “Spain’s representative on guitar.” He had his own television show in his homeland. He was the subject of books. One book, printed only in Spanish, devotes a chapter to the Pastor-Heavin relationship.
Similarly, Heavin was schooled by roping-riding gurus D.K. Hewitt, Kent Martin and Jim Brinkman, “some of the best in these parts or anywhere,” according to Heavin.
Knowing the proper way of doing things is no small matter for a man whose art depends on his hands and yet who puts them at risk in a sport where injuries are common. Whereas, he said, “a lot of my friends are missing a thumb or fingers,” he’s never seriously hurt his digits. “I’ve skimmed up my little finger a few times heeling. Those coils are the dangerous things. It just cauterizes it when it burns through.” Every time he ropes he puts his music career in jeopardy.
“Lots of people tried to talk me out of roping,” he said. Pastor was not among them. He actually fancied his cowboy ways. “ He thought it was cool,” Heavin said.
Despite the hazards, Heavin’s confident in his training.
“If I was going to lose a finger it probably would have been the first year I was roping,” he said. “But for me the secret is being a good enough horseman. Like one time I was heading and the rope was wrapped around my wrist and I felt it coming tight against the horns. It would have broken my wrist pretty badly but I just kicked the horse up so I could get it (rope) undone, which saved me. Most guys when they get pain they stop their horse. Your horsemanship is the key… I’ve learned to do it correctly. There’s an art to it.”
He’s so adept he once qualified for the AQHA world horse show finals in Oklahoma City.
Plus, he’s never found anything like the thrill of running down a steer on horseback, swinging his rope high overhead, throwing it with a quick snap of his wrist and hitting his mark with a perfect figure-eight loop.
“The fact is I’ve tried everything. I mean, I’ve tried racquetball, golf, every sport, just so I wouldn’t take a chance on losing a finger, but nothing works for me,” he said. “When I’m running full-speed on a horse it’s exciting as hell. No matter how long you do it it’s always a rush.”
There’s a shared ebb-and-flow, give-and-take to his pursuits. “Music is like that, riding is like that, roping is like that,” he said. “It’s knowing when to be aggressive and when to back off.” In music, it’s as much knowing when the silence needs to be there between the notes as it is filling the silence. In the saddle, it’s letting a horse circle around or move forward or backward before getting him settled in the box for a run. For team roping, it’s the timing of the heeler working in tandem with the header to rope the bull.
“It’s figuring out when to do what,” he said.
There’s no where Heavin would rather be than home. At the end of a long day riding, roping, baling hay, caring for animals, he relaxes with his guitar. The instrument and the music he makes on it provide the counterbalance he craves.
“I pick up my guitar at night, when it’s quiet, and it calms me right down.”
- Spanish Fandango, classical/blues nexus (hermenaut.org)
- Could Chicago Guitar Festival in October 2010 Boost Local Scene? (thecontrapuntist.com)
- Guitar music that justifies the guitar. (ask.metafilter.com)
- Classical Guitar – Summer Listening List (kenekaplan.wordpress.com)
- Tarrega’s Gran Vals – The Nokia tune (merlinsnewrags.wordpress.com)