Music to Play: Kevin J. Cope’s Spare, Mysterious ‘Pneuma’


Kevin J. Cope is the current president of the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society and a graduate of the University of Delaware, where he earned master’s degrees in music composition and guitar performance. The former rock/metal guitarist and songwriter shares more about himself and this issue’s piece:

Kevin J. Cope playing a Douglass Scott guitar. Brian Mengini Photo

The first classical-guitar pieces that truly altered my path were the compositions of Roland Dyens and Nikita Koshkin. Their harmonic language and style of composition welcomed the influence of my many other musical loves and was the inspiration that guided me to be free to utilize whatever musical knowledge I acquired along the way in my own compositions. My personal goal since has been to write music that is always enjoyable, even if it is built upon the most esoteric of musical concepts. I believe that the first time a piece is heard it should have an impact, but if listeners choose to look more deeply into it, they will find more that will increase their enjoyment.

Pneuma is no exception. The concept behind the piece is entirely harmonically based, but not from a music theory–class perspective. In my guitar practice, there are two exercises that totally enrapture me: a stretching exercise and a finger-independence exercise. In practicing these one day, I decided to combine them and I was absolutely enthralled by the harmonic progression it created. This had to become the basis for a piece, and Pneuma is that piece. 


Ideally, performing Pneuma should be an extremely freeing experience. While it is notated like any other piece, pay attention to the “Breathing gently” tempo marking—it is to be performed with less rhythmic strictness. Pneuma in Greek translates as “breath” or “soul,” and this should be the one thought in a performer’s mind when playing the piece. It should not have a rigid beat, nor should it be constrained by the exact rhythms on the page. The notation is simply a guide. The tempo and phrases should ebb and flow with the performer’s long and thoughtful inhalations and exhalations. Be free and sit back to enjoy the ride.

Pneuma and many of my other compositions can be found on my recently released recording Destination Unknown. For more compositions, recordings, and sheet music, please message me at or visit