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Classical guitarist Christopher Parkening thought climbing the ladder of worldwide success in music would fill his inner hunger.
But as much as he loves music, even performing all over the globe with the finest ensembles left him exhausted and so disillusioned that he totally quit music for a time.
Then he thought becoming a top-flight, competitive fly fisherman would satisfy him.
When he reached that pinnacle, he still was hollow.
Only when he sacrificed his relentless drive for success and embraced the Christian faith more than 30 years ago did he find rest — and a new passion for his music.
“I can’t exactly stand before a concert audience and say, ‘Well, excuse me ... ,’” he said, referring to his Christian testimony while speaking by phone from his home in Malibu, Calif.
The 65-year-old Parkening, retired for more than a year from the concert stage after years of back problems linked to his playing posture, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.
Parkening decided on this once-only show after his manager spoke with him about Philharmonic music director David Bowden. The conductor, with musical contacts nationwide, long has been outspoken about his faith, which impressed Parkening.
“I’m making a special exception only this one time,” Parkening said.
Other than this weekend, he will stick to his current regimen of leading master classes and speaking engagements. Parkening understands that most media interviews revolve around him discussing an upcoming appearance. But he politely dismissed that protocol to talk about his Christianity — important enough that his 2008 biography is titled “Grace Like a River.”
After Parkening spoke this summer to the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, someone mentioned that Johann Sebastian Bach’s personal Bible was displayed at nearby Concordia Seminary’s library. Bach’s life decision to make music that glorified God profoundly influenced Parkening’s early days of faith.
“I held it, and I couldn’t believe it,” he said, his voice rising with childlike enthusiasm. “I thought, ‘If Bach could use his great ability and talent for that purpose, then that is the least I could do.’”
Irony lies in the fact that his words today ring heavy with humility. But others regularly lavish praise upon him and his gift.
“He is considered perhaps the finest classical guitarist in the world,” Bowden said.
The late celebrated Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia, who taught Parkening for several years, had similar praise.
Parkening recalled at age 11 seeing Segovia in concert in 1959 and getting an autograph on his souvenir program after waiting in a long line of admirers.
Today, Parkening is father to his own son, 9-year-old Luke, who keeps his father humble and vulnerable. Just the other day, when Parkening and wife Teresa got into a mild argument, Luke intervened.
“Daddy,” he told him, “I want you to go right back downstairs and apologize and give Mommy a kiss.”
Parkening laughed joyfully over the story, grateful for a life that he considers a blessing and an anchor.
He gushes over the fact that the Christian, Malibu-based Pepperdine University, where he launched the classical guitar program and serves as a distinguished professor, allows him the spiritual freedom to open each class with prayer.
He recalled once performing on the White House’s south lawn at an event and was briefly proud of the fact that he was playing for the president.
“And then I thought, ‘No, I’m really playing for the Lord. That is what is most important.’”
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