Monday, June 25, 2007

The soloist and the ensemble player

An interesting topic was brought up over dinner (with Owls and Barber) last night:

"Is it necessary for one to be a proficient solo guitar player, before he/she can be a good ensemble player?"

Not a new topic really. But certainly one which Suitcase man appeared determined to champion (and to prove).

I remember not too long ago, he requested for a presentation session with the (then) Genus Committee, along with Dr Casteels, Raj and our (then) CFA office representative, Shyan Hwei. There, he spelled out his master plan and project to instill a structured and comprehensive approach to revamp Genus - the main crux being, to ensure all our members learn and take guitar exams so that they become proficient solo guitar players FIRST, thereby improving as a guitar ensemble player SECOND.

I wont bother to go into details (again), suffice to say that this seems his #1 pet peeve about the Genus culture/structure. Accordingly to Barber, Suitcase man actually posed the same question to the Concert Master of the Rheine ensemble when they were in Germany for the recent guitar ensemble competition/festival. Guess what was the reply he got?

It is a no-brainer if you asked me whether a good solo guitar player can also develop into a good ensemble player. At the minimum, he would have less difficulties when it comes to the technical aspects of playing (e.g. how to execute a hammer-on or pull-off slur; how to do harmonics, etc..). As Owls put it, "someone who can play Caprichio Arabe should have little problems playing a single line melodic guitar part" - IF - he is also a good listener and team player.

And THAT - is where the problem usually is, for some solo guitarists.


假如郭靖,杨过,金轮法王,裘千刃,公孫止,等等, 这些一等一的高手联合起来和全真七子的七星剑阵对抗,我想他们未必占得了任何便宜. 原因在于,这个阵法一旦合成,威力便相等于数十位高手的力量,而不单是七子各自功力加起来的结合体. 因此,就算郭靖等人各自已是数一数二的武林高手,但假如他们无法,或是各怀各的心眼儿,所以没兴趣合作抗敌,结果也是徒劳无功.

Some solo players just aren't interested in playing in an ensemble setting, while others may be 心高气傲, thinking that playing ensemble is "second class" as compared to playing solo. The reasons are plenty...

An interesting fact I've noticed in the years I'd spent in Genus is that, we seem to have many ensemble players who, after enjoying ensemble guitar playing, then develop an interest in playing solo guitar. It's like a rub-on effect. And these players continue to enjoy playing in groups, even after they become more proficient in their solo guitar skills. In fact, I myself am one such example.

On the flip side, there really arent many examples of (already) proficient solo guitar players joining the ensemble, and STAYING with the group for many years. For some reason, they usually lose interest and leave after a year or two.

My conclusion is thus: while we can (and probably should) encourage our ensemble members to pursue solo guitar playing if they develop an interest in that direction, it is UNREALISTIC and counterproductive to ENFORCE solo guitar lessons and exams for Genus's present members, or to use Guitar exams grade (ABRSM or Yamaha) as a criteria for choosing new intake of undergraduate members. Simply put, I'd take in a person will little music/guitar background but a strong keen interest in learning teh instrument to play in a guitar ensemble, rather than a ABRSM Grade 8 (guitar) fellow who deems himself "too good" to play alongside others in the ensemble.

"Don't compare me with them" - A quote from someone, when asked to contribute to Genus by rejoining and playing in the group, together with the rest of the Alumni players. Sounds familiar?


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