Well, hello there! And in many cases, hi again. 🙂
If you are in India, like me, you are probably coming off a wonderful festival high. The Indian Guitar Federation just pulled off three simultaneous international guitar festivals around the country – it would have been four if Chennai hadn’t had its worst floods in a hundred years! If you came to the Delhi International Classical Guitar Festival and Competition, chances are I owe you a debt of gratitude for being a part of the wonderful response that made this event a huge success. Thanks for bringing all your great energy and turning the event into a five-day-long party – hosting the event was a memorable experience for me!
As the festival host and presenter, I was privileged to have almost limitless informal interactions with visiting colleagues. What’s better than meeting one great artiste for an extensive interaction, and having the opportunity to soak up their wisdom, philosophy, and technical experience? Meeting nine, of course! And with this many great players in one place, one couldn’t just leave it to osmosis to soak up all of that cumulative insight, knowledge, and inspiration. As a frequent onlooker throughout each day’s events, I was able to see what they passed on most, and most frequently, to guitar enthusiasts and students alike in all their workshops and masterclasses, and in all the informal interactions that make a guitar festival such a special experience for everyone concerned. While enjoying their company and learning about each of their perspectives and ways to lead a life in music, I asked a number of the artistes for one piece of advice above all else that they would like to pass on to all the participants they were interacting with – here’s a list of the best of it, some of it given to me, some of given out in masterclasses, some of it inferred from the conversations we had. As ever, their words in quotation marks, the rest is me paraphrasing.
Matt Bacon: “When you begin and end a piece, every note must have direction and intention. At the end of the day, you’re playing your hands and heart choreographed on a bunch of strings and wood.”
Matt deserves special mention in the context of this festival. He started teaching guitar at the KM Music Conservatory in Chennai earlier this year, and is the most recent addition to the guitarist community in India. He was also rather uniquely affected by the floods that Chennai is still recovering from – he found out that the floods had claimed his guitar the morning of his flight to Delhi! He never let this affect his calm, his poise, and his positivity though, trying out a number of guitars upon arriving sans instrument in Delhi, eventually playing his concert with a guitar made by Gurgaon-based luthier Karan Singh!
Leon Koudelac: It is important to think about it carefully and be very precise when you shift. [talking about the left hand]
Joey Woch: “Play every note like you mean it. Never neglect the easy sections, they will take revenge on you later.. never study music for mere display. Remember that there is a soul in music which is found only by those who forget themselves and seek it devoutly and eagerly. The players who shows off is unmoved himself and never moves another.”
Norman Villas: “Just keep practicing, love what you’re doing and enjoy every moment.”
Pirai Vaca: Your position, how you sit with and accommodate the guitar, is very important. It is the basis for playing well.
Pirai was, actually…well, what can one say? He was an honour the guitarists in Delhi couldn’t have dreamt of having a week before the festival. Maestro Pirai Vaca – and I use that term with intent – was the spirit of the festival in Delhi this year. He came to Delhi on his own business, (and very fortuitously for us) and attended the festival in a way you don’t see players of his class doing on a regular basis. He gave generously to everyone he interacted with over all four days, played a breathtaking concert at last-minute notice, and was an inspiration in so many ways to so many people. To list all the wisdom he shared that’s worth sharing further would make this post far too long, especially as he has kindly allowed me to translate the transcript of his TEDx talk in Spanish on how to play the guitar well! For Spanish speakers, I heartily recommend you give it a listen in the original, and/or read the transcript I will post here soon, for the rest, I will have a translation ready early in 2016.
Ekachai Jearakul: Practice hard, well, and with dedication.
This is not something Ekachai has said in my hearing. Others have told me he lives by it, though, and I have sensed this about him the two times our paths have crossed. Speak to Ekachai for any length of time, and the two things that become apparent about him are a deep personal calm, and an unwavering sense of purpose. Those are attributes worth cultivating, whatever the objective!
Ramoncito ‘Monching’ Carpio: Outreach is important.
Exposing children to classical guitar has the potential to enrich their lives forever, while creating a wider awareness of our art, and future concert audiences. This resonated a lot with me, as a lot of my work in India has been for people who have never heard the classical guitar before. From Monching’s work in the Philippines, my experiences here, and really speaking to trends all over the world, it is increasingly becoming universally true that sensitising new audiences in general, and children in particular, is going to become a vital part of the story of classical music in the world. Guitarists in particular will need to do this to keep playing, and now more than ever the world needs to be played to for its own sake.
Kevin Loh & Shyamant Behal: Listen to as much music of all sorts as you can, to shape and inform your own unique sound.
Immerse yourself in your milieu. Be aware of what’s relevant in the global cultural ‘conversation’ that is music, and don’t be afraid to incorporate this into your own voice, as you respond artistically to our times and circumstances.