BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
The guitar is a versatile instrument. It goes with the flow. For hundreds of years, it’s followed the hottest trends and in the last century alone has woven its way through jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, pop – the list goes on. But this weekend, guitar virtuoso Minh Le Hoang will take the instrument back to its roots with a performance of music inspired by Spain, Latin America, and J.S. Bach. The Australian National University Head of Guitar and member of leading ensemble Guitar Trek chats about the instrument, the ups and downs of music competitions, and his role as a teacher.
Why did you first become attracted to guitar, and what is it about Spanish guitar specifically that you click with?
Growing up in Vietnam, I was exposed to the guitar from an early age. My family had a very simple dwelling and I have fond memories of my dad playing the guitar during our dinner preparations. He had a Spanish friend named Pablo who lived in our village (I’m not sure how a Spaniard ended up there) and he would often join us for meals. He was a very good Spanish guitarist and also used to play for us. Sitting around together and listening to this music was very inspiring and I guess this is what ignited my passion. He also taught me a few pop tunes and I will always remember his kindness – and that cigar hanging out of his mouth!
You’ve studied under leading guitarist Timothy Kain, and you’re now a teacher yourself. How do you now feel about having the authority not only to pass on what you’ve learnt from one of the best, but go beyond that to share your own ideas about music and technique?
Tim was fantastic to study with, also Carolyn Kidd before him, and Pablo back in Vietnam. I am fortunate to have had many inspirational and dedicated people around me, so I try and do the same for my students. To inspire them is to empower them. I try not to impose my own style on them, as each player has their unique voice and ability and I want to nurture that as much as possible.
You started playing guitar at nine years old. As a teacher, have you noticed any differences between those who pick up the instrument young compared to later, as in their teenage years? Do you think the age at which a musician starts playing has an influence on their future skill?
At nine, I wasn’t super young. If I was a violinist or pianist they might consider that old. Guitar is slightly unique; many great players I know started the guitar late in their teenage years and have gone on to have much success. Most importantly it is the desire and drive to learn and practice, which is what will make you a great player.
You won the 50th Tokyo International Guitar Competition and we’re pretty sure that makes you a superstar. What does it take for a good musician to really shine?
Not sure if I would call myself a superstar. Competitions in music have only recently – I’m talking about the past 100 years or so – become quite a phenomenon. Fundamentally, the idea of the music competition is flawed in the way that it aims to rank the ‘quality’ and ‘worth’ of artists; abilities as coldly as ‘one, two, three’, etc.. And that doesn’t really sit well with what music is really about, does it?
Do you feel the genre of classical guitar has longevity, considering the ways the instrument has been adopted and normalised by contemporary styles such as rock and pop?
Yes, I do feel like the classical guitar has some fantastic years ahead of it as both a solo and chamber instrument. The fact that the instrument has been adopted and normalised through contemporary music to me speaks more of the guitar’s ability to transcend genre like no other classical instrument. I feel like the guitar is a very personable instrument and its intimate qualities will see it last as long as music exists.
Presented by the Melbourne Guitar Foundation, Minh Le Hoang will perform at 7.30pm, 9 May, St Mary’s Church, 430 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne. Tickets at the door or www.melbourneguitarfoundation.com.