Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Guthrie Govan and Tommy Emmanuel

If you're a guitar player, Guthrie Govan and Tommy Emmanuel need no introduction. However, if you don't have a clue about what's going on in the guitar world these days, perhaps you can Google or YouTube them and find out. Like most things in life that are not designed for mass consumption, it may not be your cup of tea. Although, I fail to see how good music may not be an enjoyment for you. In my opinion, when it comes to the guitar, both these guys are masters at what they do. Their repertoire of songs will leave you in amazement.

Tommy Emmanuel's show was midweek, five days before Guthrie Govan's guitar clinic. It was my second time seeing him perform, the last one being a couple of years ago. As usual, his energetic one man band performance brought the house down. It was a smaller venue this time around and you could almost feel the music and his acoustic guitar vibrate through you. His joy while playing was infectious. Only he and Eddie Van Halen can smile through a two hour set and make sure everyone does too. It's amazing that one man and his guitar, standing alone on a stage, can entertain an audience for a full two hours without a break. There wasn't a dull moment in the whole show.

He gave the same advice as last time about practicing the instrument. It's about repetition and you have to do it alone...not in front of your family members or friends. No one wants to hear you play something a thousand times over until you get it perfect. You don't wanna get discouraged by them getting sick of you playing something before you have even mastered it. I need to pass that advice on to my son, who normally gets discouraged if we don't tell him he sounds great instantly when he plays something.

Guthrie Govan's solo album is my favourite guitar album of the last decade and his work with his supergroup "The Aristocrats" is mindblowing. His first visit to our neck of the woods, the weekend after Tommy Emmanuel's show, wasn't for a full concert but rather a guitar clinic/workshop. It was well worth attending. His thoughts and explanations about his approach to the instrument were enlightening in many ways. We all know he can play the hell out of the guitar, which he proceeded to do with a few tracks from his vast repertoire. The highlight however, was the question and answer section part of the afternoon. He is the opposite of the monosyllabic and inarticulate hippy that he claims he looks like. The tone and substance of the stuff he talked about can only be compared to a philosophy professor trying to put across esoteric ideas in an accessible way.

Of course, there is nothing esoteric or mystical about playing the guitar. You can get most of the answers you need from YouTube or Google these days. However, nobody is more eloquent at explaining the intangible than Mr Govan. He has a gift with words that the normal mortal doesn't and it's no surprise that he was an English Literature student at Oxford before he decided that becoming a guitar wizard was more fun. He has been travelling the world, displaying his brand of sorcery and garnering disciples ever since.

One of the most important things I took away from the experience is that you should focus on the most basic things first, like being able to play what you hear. Conditioning the ear has been forsaken these days. Most people are engrossed with the tactile aspect of the guitar, which is to be technically proficient by learning visually, through tablature and videos rather than by ear. He made a joke about knowing people who can play long and complex Dream Theatre songs but wouldn't be able to play "Happy Birthday" when the need arises. His point is that if you can't even play something simple by ear at the drop of a hat, all the other stuff is just pointless.

Hearing a song or idea in your head and being able to play it instantly is the same as forming thoughts in your head and being able to articulate it well when you speak. A native speaker of the language doesn't need to think about it. It will come naturally. Therefore, you should make communicating on the guitar the same as speaking your native language.

He also shared a lot of his other views and ideas including something interesting about how Miles Davis introduced modal jazz to get away from the complex changes in jazz music. You can stay on that one chord instead of always moving. That's why modern jazz fusion exists. You need people to think outside the box. Playing the wrong notes is fine, a long as you know how to land back on the right note after your excursion. Stuff like that...

I won't go into detail about what was covered in the clinic. Not everyone is a guitar geek. Neither am I, to be honest. The guitar is just a vehicle for me to let out my songs. However, I get inspired by gifted people who are able to do brilliant and tasteful things on the instrument. Guitar wizards like Guthrie Govan don't come by everyday offering their wisdom. Thanks to John Lau for bringing him over. It was very enjoyable.

For a proper write up of the workshop you can visit Az Samad's blog. If you're in the guitar community here, you will be aware that Az is one of the best fingerpickers and educators in this country. He did a great job covering all of the important stuff from the clinic.
Here's the link: http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=97

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Health is wealth

I'm back to working on music after a hiatus during the middle part of the year. There was a health crisis in the family. I'm glad to say that everything worked out for the best and things have returned to normal. Health is wealth. We take it for granted when we're busy chasing after other things. Make sure you and your family don't do anything at the expense of what is really important in life. It could all be over sooner than you think.

Mental health is equally important. Life may be short but it could feel incredibly long if you're not happy or struggling. We all need to do whatever it takes to pay the bills. However, apart from that, do what makes you happy even if it's only for short period of time everyday. You may need to stimulate your mind and creative juices rather than just be another cog in the wheel of everyday life. Having someone who sees the good in you also helps but you have to realise that happiness is a personal thing. No one can give it to you. You can't suddenly just choose to be happy and suddenly all the black clouds - or rather the haze that has engulfed us recently- will suddenly blow away. 

The luckiest people are those who are too busy to ponder existential problems. Their goal may be to make millions or billions of dollars or to chase whatever dreams they may have. If they are lucky, they will get what they want and life will be perfect. However, experience has shown me that human beings are rarely satisfied even if they have everything. Only those who would be happy regardless of whether they have a little or a lot in life, will find peace. If your happiness is subjected to variables, then it's out of your hands. We came into the world with nothing and we're going to leave empty handed too. As long as you don't leave chaos or carnage in your wake, you would have done alright.