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Guitar Now! Festival to present workshops, concerts and jams in May

Updated 15 March, 2013

Following three successful Jazz Camps, Carleton University is hosting its first “Guitar Now!” festival from May 3 to 5, 2013. The festival will be a new opportunity for guitar aficionados, keen listeners, and players of a wide range of skills and ages. They will be able to listen to and learn from renowned teachers from Ottawa to the U.K. to Brazil and each other, jam together, socialize, and even enter a friendly competition for some impressive prizes.

Guitar Now! will present a variety of guitar music. ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Those who enjoy listening to guitar rather than playing can purchase tickets to any of the three evenings of guitar-only concerts. Fans of Vic Juris will be able to hear him play again with Roddy Ellias in the Saturday jazz concert (their November show was canceled by Hurricane Sandy). Ben Monder, a fave of Ottawa jazz audiences, will also be featured, as will shorter performances by Tim Bedner, Brandon Bernstein, Garry Elliott, Mike Rud, and Matt Warnock.

Friday's opening concert will present an eclectic mixture of performers, including the popular fingerstyle 'heavy wood' Don Ross, in-demand country player Steve Piticco, and Brazilian educator and award winning guitarist Guilherme Vincens. Sunday's concert will appeal to classical guitar listeners, featuring Jérôme Ducharme and Guilherme Vincens, with shorter performances by Julien Bisaillon, Andrew Mah, Sylvie Proulx and Steve Raegele.

“We've got a really winning combination of people,” said Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias, one of the three Carleton University music department faculty who have been helping arrange “Guitar Now!” for the past year.

Ellias called upon his more than twenty years experience performing and teaching at universities (starting at Carleton University 20 years ago, then SFX and Concordia Universities), and connections and friendships in the guitar world to activate this project. He convinced many of the highly-acclaimed musicians and experienced educators to come to Ottawa, from as far away as Brazil and Manchester, England, to participate in a festival which has no track record yet.

As a project of the Carleton University music department, with its many experienced guitar instructors of different genres, the festival naturally includes a strong educational component. Participants will be engaged throughout the three days by fifteen, 50-minute lecture/discussion-style workshops. Unlike the more focused evening concerts, players of different genres will teach the workshops following each other (“all mixed up” as Ellias says). Participants might learn from a jazz guitarist, then a country guitarist, followed by a classical guitarist.

Ellias copied this workshop model and much of the conference approach from the successful Western Illinois University (WIU) Guitar Festival. He last participated in 2011, the most recent year it ran.

“I thought that worked really, really well. The idea is to not overwhelm people with one person or one thing. I noticed some people would come for three, four workshops in a row, then maybe come back for more. It's interesting for them to go from one guitarist to another.”

“I remember Lenny Breau and Jim Hall used to say this: 'Listen to all kinds of music, not just jazz'.”

Ellias himself is both an accomplished classical and jazz composer and player. Complementing that, Wayne Eagles has taught at Carleton for twenty years and run the Fusion Ensemble for 7 years. He is a fellow festival organizer and one of the many highly experienced guitar instructors at Carleton. Wayne believes he was the first person to teach rock guitar at a Canadian university, although currently his teaching is more improvisation-based in jazz fusion.

“Carleton was quite ahead of the curve with doing courses and musicology courses on popular music and rock music and so on,” Eagles said. “So they decided to reflect the eclectic nature of the program by opening up the performance side of things. At Carleton you can study in whatever musical style you are interested in, as long as you can find a suitable instructor.”

I remember Lenny Breau and Jim Hall used to say this: 'Listen to all kinds of music, not just jazz'.
– Roddy Ellias

“Realistically, musicians listen to a wide range of music. There's a real value in exploring all kinds of different music, spending time with people who are playing different from you. You learn not only from their perspective of music but their technical approach and so on. Music's evolving and it's good to reflect that.”

Award-winning Brazilian guitarist and educator Guilherme Vincens is one of the workshop leaders and concert performers who will contribute to this welcomed diversity. Vincens said he is looking forward to playing Brazilian bossa nova and samba with others at the festival, and possibly teaching Brazilian rhythms in his workshop.

“I am excited about playing some Spanish and Italian pieces for the classical guitar, as well as some of my arrangements for songs by Milton Nascimento, A.C Jobim, and others,” he told OttawaJazzScene.ca

“I think the Brazilian guitar and the jazz guitar are a great match!” he wrote, reinforcing the festival organizers' belief that bringing different guitar styles together is worthwhile.

However, it won't be all "work" and no play. It is a festival, after all. “Connections” is one of the four platforms of this festival.

“We're going to be hanging out and having fun. There will be lots of time for conversation and asking asking questions and interacting. That's the difference. It's meant to be a gathering,” Eagles responded, when asked about the advantage of this event for learning more about guitar playing.

Matt Warnock organized the Western Illinois University Guitar Festivals that this one is based on, and he is attending “Guitar Now!” He wrote that the most satisfying outcomes of the WIU festivals for him was “the relationships that were built between myself, my students at WIU, the community and the guest artists. I still keep in touch with performers that appeared at my festivals years ago, and my students were able to meet and collaborate with performers that they first met at a WIU festival.”

Jam sessions will follow the evening concerts. As with any jams, nobody knows what will arise. But they will certainly be another opportunity for teachers and students to mingle and perhaps play together, and to discover or explore something new.

Sponsors have been generous, donating studio recording time, guitars, high-level pedals, and more. Deciding that these were too valuable to be given away in a random draw, the organizers decided to award them to guitarists who could make best use of them. After the Saturday afternoon workshops the festival will now hold a “friendly competition” for these prizes, where guitarists from 15 to 25 years old will play solo in front of festival participants and be judged by committee. Performance evaluations are a normal part of the university environment, so this approach seems highly appropriate for “Guitar Now!” After a day of workshops, it should also get the adrenalin going again for at least some of the participants.

Often you learn more about the guitar and music in general in an event like this than in a long time in formal schools.
– Guilherme Vincens

"Guitar Now!" is a relatively affordable ($160, or less by the early registration deadline of March 15) compared to many summer camps. It's also an uncommon opportunity to hear guitarists who rarely or have never before come to Ottawa.

I asked Matt Warnock, with his experience organizing the WIU Guitar Festivals and as an active on-line music educator, to compare “Guitar Now!” to other forms of music education. “Having the chance to workshop, listen to and chat with players/teachers of the calibre that will appear at this festival doesn’t happen often, especially all in one place, so it should be a great time from a musical and personal point of view for anyone attending.”

Guilherme Vincens was also enthusiastic. “Events like this can change the lives of guitar students because it is a great opportunity to learn from experienced professionals and to be exposed to many different styles, concepts and philosophies in music. So a student might...be introduced to something that he wouldn't be on his own, or even with a good teacher. It is about having different perspectives on music and the guitar... Often you learn more about the guitar and music in general in an event like this than in a long time in formal schools.”

Ellias hopes that the conference will help the local and nearby music scene. “I just think it's a good service for people here and for any guitarist in Montreal or Toronto who want to come here and check it out. A community-building thing and that's why I'm doing it.”

    – Brett Delmage

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