The melody is one of the most familiar in the string repertoire, but when Pachelbel’s “Canon” is played by nine guitarists — that’s 54 strings, count ’em, and no bows — it takes on a new and interesting sound, and a pretty substantial one at that.

The East Carolina University Guitar Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Elliot Frank, opened its final concert of the 2008-09 year with Michael Fink’s arrangement of the Canon, and the nine students gave it a good reading. Five students played the initial lower theme and four the secondary accompaniment, before dividing further for the various layers of melody line. The fingering was crisp, with virtually no squeaking, and the accompanying Gigue, which doesn’t get played as often, offered a nice rhythmic contrast to the slower Canon.

Frank directed the full group, which also played three short pieces by contemporary Chilean composer Carlos Perez. The middle “Entonacion” piece had nice harmonics at the end of phrases, as well as a bell-like sequence at the end of the movement. The opening “Refalosa” is a lovely dance, and “Cueca” features muted bass strings played by four of the guitarists.

A trio of Robert Kent, Chris Bennett and Brandon Essick played Albeniz’ “Bajo la Palmera,” a beautiful piece with lilting rhythm, and then a quartet of Armin Abdihodzic, Chris Adkins, Paulina Puljek and James Wrenn played works by Bach, Boccherini and Bizet to close the program.

The quartet acquitted itself well with Bach’s “Little” Fugue in G minor, BWV 578, another familiar tune in the classical repertoire. Two players took the treble lines and two the lower lines; other than a few finger squeaks here and there, and what sounded like momentary gaps of silence, the reading was quite satisfying. So, too, was Boccherini’s “Introduction and Fandango,” which starts out with a brief section of understated elegance and then unfolds into a splash of high energy that certainly sounded more Spanish than Italian. A few missed notes did not detract from the performance.

The program closed with three pieces from Bizet’s Carmen, the “Aragonaise,” “Habanera” and “Toreadors,” as arranged by William Kanengiser. The four guitarists provided a rich sound for these familiar melodies, and the arrangement (and playing) made the music sound as if it were written just for the guitar, instead of orchestra and voice. The “March of the Toreadors” was especially thrilling.

ECU’s guitar program might not get the notice of, say, the university’s choral music program, but Frank, who started the program, has a group of talented students who show great promise on the instrument, if this concert is any indication.  

The annual East Carolina University Guitar Workshop will take place July 11-14. The workshop generally attracts students from across the state, as well as some from around the country. Nationally and internationally known performers and teachers make up the faculty, and many give recitals during the workshop. Guitarists Jason Vieaux and Andrew Zohn return, along with Adam Holzman, Marko Feri and the Akerman/Teixeira Duo. Additional information:  252-328-6245 or OR see the CVNC Eastern calendar for details when these events are posted.