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There and back again

January 21, 2013

“Can you put a little wobble on it?  Ahh, yes that’s better.”  We heard this phrase often as John Mills coached us through our repertoire. The maestro always had time for the beautiful note. The guitar society of Toronto had hosted him in concert and for a week of master classes afterwards. The experience inspired young virtuosos Lynne Gangbar and Dan Beckerman to study with him in England. The mid seventies were an exciting time as the talent pool of classical guitarists reached a critical mass. The guitar society continued to invite international artists for concerts and classes. Our imaginations were piqued and we were inspired to travel new paths. Gilbert Biberian’s wonderful informative classes motivated both Harold Levy and the Thachuk twins to work with him in the U.K. While Ako Ito and Henry Dorigny drew students to France to continue work begun in Toronto.

In my own case, Leo Brouwer had recommended working with Oscar Caçeres. So I set about finding him in exactly the wrong way. In 1977 I made my way to Paris and was waiting in line to audition at the École Normale de Musique when I heard from another student where Caçeres’ classes were held. To make sure I didn’t miss anything crucial I arrived an hour early. When the Maestro showed up, he was told that a student from Canada was hoping to audition for him. He asked for his class list and, having ascertained that one of his students had been conscripted, waved me upstairs. I followed him to the classroom and was playing my second piece when there was a knock on the door. A young woman came in asking to audition for him. He leaned back with his cigarette holder in his right hand and said “ Sorry, my class is full.”

The various guitar festivals that continue to be held in and around Toronto present us with numerous masterful performers and rich experiences. Our students continue to travel overseas to study with artists they meet first in Toronto.DSCN2932

Steve Thachuk met both Hubert Kappel and David Russell in Toronto before traveling to Europe to work with them. In his cases it was specific issues that appealed to him. “Hubert Kappel always seemed to demand more of students and to make them internalize. From the first meeting, I felt compelled to play better for him every day; to think and to analyze always. His technique of rotating focus during practice sessions is something I use quite a lot. David Russell helped me realize how to make things sound good and how to approach the learning process from the early stages through to performance. To make things work for your technique and listen, know the music and understand that you must serve it.”

The act of going abroad enriches us providing not only another approach to learning the guitar, but also immersion in the culture that formed the music.  Thachuk continues, “It seemed to me that the arts were more integral to society, there was a seriousness implied by the instructors as to the importance of art and interpretation.”

Returning home it is time to share the new ideas with our friends, students and colleagues. Such times of growth are remarkable opportunities, providing us with memories to cherish and, if we are lucky, some great friends.


It was a cold winter day, and a heavily dressed man noticed Nasrudin outside wearing very little clothing. “Mulla,” the man said, “tell me, how is it that I am wearing all these clothes and still feel a little cold, whereas you are barely wearing anything yet seem unaffected by the weather?”

“Well,” replied Nasrudin, “I don’t have any more clothes, so I can’t afford to feel cold, whereas you have plenty of clothes, and thus have the liberty to feel cold.”


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