Monday, February 22, 2010

Recollections (part 1)

My Robert Ruck guitar arrived at my door step late January 2010. It was a like a long awaited dream finally coming to fruition.

I remember my first classical guitar - a Yamaha CG110 - was my parents bought for me back in the mid 80s. I had just joined the guitar society in my secondary school, and needed to have my own guitar so that I could practise at home and be familiar with the instrument. I was fortunate in that my mum had 'forced' both me and my brother to learn the piano from a very young age (I must've been 6 or 7 years old then), so I already possessed a good foundation in music theory & knowledge, as well as a 'sense' of music - things like rhythmic sense, appreciation of pitch & tonal qualities, etc. - by the time I picked up the classical guitar.
Of course, in those days, a guitar is as good as any other guitar. I was simply happy to strum on the 6 strings of my guitar and to hear the sounds of the melodies and chords that I could play. I performed with the school ensemble, and I vividly remember that I played the guitar 1 part in Besame Mucho. I had no knowledge of position-playing, and it was good enough to just hit those notes using any/every technique possible.

The Yamaha stayed with me throughout my school days. In my Junior college years, it was my faithful companion as I was appointed the Song/Singing Section leader in the Chinese Cultural Society due to my ability to grasp chords of the (then) popular chinese pop songs. Singers & song-writers like Eric Moo(巫启贤), Liang Wen Fu (梁文福), and in general the Xin Yao (新谣) movement was very strong then, and a lot of people, including myself, were hooked on these locally produced songs which featured little more than an unplugged guitar accompanying a singing voice. Though the arrangements of these songs may seem simplistic and 'bare' by today's standards, these songs possessed a kind of simple charm and flavor, which is difficult to find and almost impossible to replicate in modern pop compositions some 20+ years down the road today.

It was until I joined the NUS Guitar Ensemble (GENUS) in the mid 90s that I started to have a better appreciation of the classical guitar as a 'proper' concert instrument - as compared to one which is meant only for accompanyment-styled music such as strumming and/or chord playing.
During my years as an undergraduate in GENUS, I was exposed to a myriad of songs varieties, from different genres of music. The Resident Conductor then was Mr Alexander Abisheganaden (more fondly known as Mr A), who'd almost single-handedly arrange the repertoire and prepare the ensemble for its annual music affair - the Genus Annual concert. It was there that I first encountered experienced solo guitar players - people who were able to play a piece of music in totality without depending on a singer/other guitar voices. Prior to this, I'd always thought of guitar as a group instrument (as compared to the piano, which is obviously more easily recognised as a solo instrument).

I remembered listening to John William's recording on cassette tape (in fact, I got that recording as a birthday present from one of my seniors then!) and I wondered how it was possible for a person to play Asturias (Leyenda) which sounded like easily 2 or 3 players playing at the same time! Or for that matter, Receurdos de la Alhumbra also remained a mystery to me for quite a while....

I guess that was when I really decided to take on this instrument as a life-long hobby and to enjoy playing it for as long as I live. I took the money which I saved from giving tuition and my work attachment to purchase my first 'proper' guitar - a second-hand Asturias model. It was a large step up for me. The sound produced from this instrument compared to what my Yamaha could produce was akin to listening to a CD-quality sound compared to that from a cassette tape. I fell in love with my guitar and that fueled my passion to begin playing and expanding my solo repertoire.

While some players feel that ensemble-playing is second-rated compared to solo guitar playing, I must say that at no point did I feel that ensemble playing was in any way inferior to solo playing, as I continued to stay with GENUS and enjoy the process of group playing. While not all ensemble players may make excellent soloists, it also dawned on me that technically strong solo guitarists may not necessary be competent ensemble players too. The reason being, different sets of skills are required for these 2 areas, and while the technical competency requirements may be higher for a solo player, the listening and rhythm skills are of much more value (and importance) in a ensemble player.

It was also in GENUS that I found like-minded guitarists who enjoyed playing the instrument and wanted to take it far beyond it being an "extra-cirrucular" activity in our varsity days. That was how Guitaresque (first called Genres Guitar Quartet) was formed, sometime in 1999-2000.
Back then, we had a member in the quartet who'd bought a Richard Howell guitar, and it was easily the best sounding (not to mention most expensive!) guitar we have all come across at that time. I must say, even now, I still think it is an excellent instrument. Pity then , that the player no longer seem interested in the instrument and its music....


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