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Family brings guitar-playing tradition to a show at Gallo Center

When a new addition is born to the Romeros, "The Royal Family of Spanish Guitar," it isn't long before the little one receives a guitar.

Sophia, a 9-month-old family member, already strums along with a small version of the musical instrument when her older relatives gather to play.

Her grandfather Pepe, his brothers Celin and Angel, Celin's son Celino and Angel's son Lito will perform Wednesday at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto as part of the family's 50th-anniversary tour.

The guitar dynasty began in 1957 with a guitar quartet founded by now-deceased patriarch and Spain native Celedonio Romero with Pepe, Celin and Angel. The group rose to the top of its field, becoming to the guitar world what the Three Tenors were to opera.

Based in California, the Romeros have performed around the world in recitals and with symphony orchestras. In 2000, King Juan Carlos I of Spain knighted Pepe and his brothers into the Order of "Isabel La Católica," the nation's highest honor.

Pepe Romero, 64, said his family's great success comes from a deep connection to its art.

"I think we have always used music as a means to find joy and to feel and to transmit love," he said. "We have never gotten caught up in the actual image, using it to become famous. We have used it as a very genuine means of communication."

The five guitarists will perform a mix of Spanish and Brazilian music that encompasses a variety of moods from very quiet and gentle to very extroverted and extravagant.

"It goes all the way from the early Baroque to contemporary pieces written for us and one piece that I have written for the quartet and even some flamenco at the end," Pepe Romero said.

Musical selections will include Gaspar Sanz's light "Suite Española," Joaquín Rodrigo's technically challenging "Tonadilla" and Federico Moreno Torroba's "Estampas," which features Gypsy folk melodies.

Though Angel Romero is not a part of the family's core quartet anymore, he is appearing at the Modesto show thanks to the support of Gallo Center patrons Glen and Sue Ellen Ritchie. He is familiar to Modesto audiences from his 2006 solo show at the State Theatre and his performance with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra a decade earlier. Moreover, his wife, Nefretiri, is a 1995 Downey High School graduate.

This concert will be a tribute to patriarch Celedonio Romero, who was a talented performer and his children's teacher.

"We were taught guitar at about just the same time as we were taught about how to walk and how to talk," Pepe Romero said. "In our family, the guitar has just been something you do as you grow up. It's a very natural, normal thing."

Celedonio Romero played guitar until he died at age 83 in 1996. When he was on his deathbed, he told his children that he played guitar for them when they were born and that he wanted them to play for him as he died, Pepe Romero said. Music is a great way to communicate your true feelings, he added.

"It unites everyone who listens," Pepe Romero said. "That is one of the most wonderful, healing, energizing experiences a person can have."

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or lmillegan@modbee.com.

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