Drexel’s Eric Zillmer Assists in Bringing World-Class Guitarist David Russell to Campus

David Russell, pictured, will perform in concert at Drexel’s Mandell Theater on April 8 at 7:30 p.m.
David Russell, pictured, will perform in concert at Drexel’s Mandell Theater on April 8 at 7:30 p.m.

Grammy award-winning classical guitarist David Russell will be performing at Drexel’s Mandell Theater on April 8th at 7:30 p.m. Carl R. Pacifico Professor of Neuropsychology and Director of Athletics Eric Zillmer, PsyD, was instrumental in bringing the guitarist to Drexel’s campus. In this Q&A, he discusses the upcoming concert, his personal love of classical guitar and how music influences his teaching of neuropsychology.

The concert, which is co-sponsored by the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society and the College of Media Arts Design, is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased here.

Dr. Zillmer, how did you bring David Russell to Drexel?

I’m a board member of the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society (PCGS) and we regularly organize classical guitar concerts throughout Philadelphia. Every year, our Spring Guitar Festival is the musical highlight of our season and David Russell represents our premier concert of the year. We were lucky that David was on a U.S. tour and that the dates worked out to book him.

We are always looking for new venues for our concerts and as a Drexel faculty member, I know that our Mandell Theater is a hidden gem. My colleague and friend Allen Sabinson, dean of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, helped us secure Mandell Theater for the event. We also reserved nearby Zavinos restaurant for our VIP after-concert reception. We are expecting 300–400 attendees for the concert and 50 VIPs for the after party and thus the size and location of those two venues is perfect. 

Tell us something about David Russell

David Russell is arguably one of the greatest contemporary classical guitar players in the world. He is a sought-after performer on the international stage. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, but now residing in Spain, Russell, in recognition of his great talent and his international career, was named a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Music in London in 1997. His album “Aire Latino” won a Grammy award in 2005 for best instrumental soloist in classical music. In my opinion, he has it all: amazing technique, an exceptional tone and a deep repertoire.

He and his wife Maria will be staying at my Old City flat during their stay in Philadelphia. While I will give the couple a lot of “room,” I hope to learn some tidbit about the maestro or at the very least have him sign my David Russell CDs. I know his music well and I can attest that April 8th will be a spectacular solo concert at Mandell Theater.

Eric Zillmer performing on the classical guitar.

What should one look for while attending Russell’s concert?

It will be an acoustic solo concert — meaning there is no amplification. Classical guitarists are proud of the fact that the guitar and the playing of it is a natural affair. Any amplification may mess that up. The fingers, and typically the fingernails, of the hand physically touch the strings, which in turn translate energy into vibrations on the soundboard of the guitar. It is really a very beautiful, organic process to make music in this way.

Also, a guitar player of Russell’s status is able to play a variety of genres, including Spanish, classical and Baroque, among others. Thus, he is capable of reproducing all emotions of our innermost being and this concert presents a great opportunity to sit back reflect and let one’s mind wander.

While Russell will play an exceptional quality concert guitar, and no performer of his caliber plays quietly, one should sit as close to the stage as is possible. And please turn your cell phones off during the concert!

Do you also play the guitar?

I do, but of course not like David (laughs). I have played acoustic guitar and drums since I was a teenager, but for the last decade I have been studying classical, flamenco and jazz guitar. I own three beautiful guitars from Mexico, France and Spain. I consider them to be part of my family. When my work in the Drexel athletics department becomes too hectic, I reach for my guitar and I may play “Preludio de Adios,” a Venezuelan piece, or a jazz standard like “Autumn Leaves” to calm myself down. So when you come to the DAC, don’t be surprised to hear guitar music coming out of the administrative offices! I feel lucky to work on a University campus were the performing arts are part of our educational mission, so I feel I fit right in with my guitar.


As a neuropsychologist, do you have an opinion about music?

Of course! As a teacher, I feel that the most interesting intellectual questions are asked when considering two different disciplines. The art of music and the science of the brain is a great example. As a result, I am very interested in the neuropsychology of music — that is, how does the brain process sounds to experience music? An entire species of humans play and listen to music. Yet, there is no music center in the brain, since music is perceived in many different parts of the nervous system. Many scientists argue that music is not essential to human life and may even be a byproduct of the brain. I beg to differ. In my opinion, music is essential to experiencing human life. How else do some patients with neurological disorders only respond to music therapeutically? How is it possible that we can hum along to unfamiliar music? What do humans perceive as beautiful and what sounds atonal? And why is there music?

I find the fact that our brain is exquisitely tuned for music fascinating and I often bring this neuro-scientific mystery of music into class to discuss with my students. Recently, I supplied an entire class of mine with different percussion instruments. I started a rhythm on my conga and within five minutes, the entire class was jamming perfectly synchronized without having to exchange one word. How is this possible?

What mission does the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society have?

The Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and has provided a place for lovers of the classical guitar to come together to discuss, perform and experience this beautiful instrument. By presenting concerts throughout Philadelphia that have featured many of the greatest classical guitar performers of our time, the Society has filled a niche that stands alongside our great cultural icons of Philadelphia. There is no doubt in my mind that the activities of five decades of the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society have elevated the arts in our City and we take great pride in contributing to the artistic and cultural fabric of Philadelphia.

Director of Athletics and the Carl R. Pacifico Professor of Neuropsychology Eric Zillmer, PsyD, is the senior author of the textbook “Principles of Neuropsychology.” Zillmer will be teaching “The Rise of ISIS” in the spring quarter in the Pennoni Honors College.