There are many
things that have to fall into place to make a career in the arts
possible - for the vast majority of us, strong family support from an
early age is a key element to success. I could fill a book with words
to describe how much my parents' legacy means to me and how much I miss
the dedicated, brilliant, kind people that they had been - and yet I
find them frustratingly hard to come by right now. What I can say, and without
hyperbole, is that if it wasn't for their love, support,
tireless work ethic, and unfailing dedication to their three sons, I wouldn't be doing what I do today.
On Saturday, 30 September 2017, one
of the world's pre-eminent guitar composers and most
creative teachers suddenly passed away in Melbourne,
colleague Zeah Riordan messaged me on Monday with the news of Phil's
passing. Many players and teachers far more renown than I have noted
the esteem in which he was held in the greater guitar community - you
can see for yourself
here. Phil truly was a mentor to the stars. Tributes to the
memory of this remarkable man are
starting to appear on-line, such as this one from
Daniel Nistico, via
Fine artists all, they have their memories and testimonials; I'm very fortunate to have a couple of my own from my brief time in Australia in 2002, and it will be to my everlasting regret that I don't have more. Phil was living in the Brisbane area at the time, and I'd met him at one of the Queensland Guitar Society's events. My teacher Julian Byzantine suggested a couple of his pieces to me, so I gave Phil a call and took a bus ride out to his very modest house in one of the Brisbane suburbs (I wish I could remember which one!) to buy some scores from him. I found Phil to be very gracious and generous with his time - we had a long visit over a cup of tea, and at the end of it he loaded me up with a large number of scores: solos, duets, and trios (And all I'd wanted from him was "StÚlÚ" and "God of the Northern Forest"...). In fact, the hard part was getting him to take money for them - he was prepared to give them to me (and in retrospect, I'm sure I paid him far less than what that number of scores would be worth now)!
A couple of months later, three weeks before my final performance exam, I headed out to Phil's place again, this time for a lesson. I recall the timing of this visit being a tad tricky, because he and his partner had just had a baby, and they were having lots of sleepless nights with a restless newborn. Regardless, he graciously found some time for me, and I spent well over an hour in his kitchen, getting his feedback on my rendition of "Bronze Apollo". I can now look back on that hour (which was certainly at least two) as one of my most insightful experiences in my academic career - one point that continues to have a profound effect on me as a guitar teacher is the extent to which Phil the Artist could detach himself from his own artistic output on a personal level. Phil asserted that the performance of a piece is a collaboration between the composer who wrote it and the musician who's playing it. "Give these fingerings a good go," he said (I'm paraphrasing - it _was_ fifteen years ago!); "I put them there for a reason. But: if they don't make musical sense to you, find ones that do, and play them with total conviction. The audience will buy into it if you do. I wrote the piece, but you're playing it now, so it's as much yours as it is mine." Absolute Platinum! And for the record: Phil flatly refused to take any payment at all for the lesson, and no amount of arm-twisting on my part would sway him. "Keep yer loot, Paul; just go and play an awesome exam." To him, service to the art was far more important than money (which may have partly explained the humble nature of his surroundings - but he never struck me as the kind of person to surround himself with the trappings of anything but a simple life, regardless of how much money he may have had).
Of a slightly more whimsical nature: earlier that year, shortly after I'd met Phil, he and I had a passing conversation at the Conservatorium. "How ya making out with the program," he asked. "Fine," I said, "I'm working on the Bach E-Major Prelude at the moment, and it's turning out to be a bit of a bear..." He said that it was really important with Bach to make sure that you're sustaining the notes in each voice for its full value, and you have to pick fingerings to allow this to happen. "But Phil," I said, "There are so many different scholars who say so many contradictory things - it's hard to know for sure which groups of fingerings are the best ones..."
"Sure, Paul", he said (Again, I'm paraphrasing), "And you really need to do your homework. But once you've read everything you can, you decide which choices make the best sense to you and go with them. It's something that I call 'Informed Instinct' - inform yourself as much as possible and then trust your gut." He then went on to describe Informed Instinct: Two elephants are gallumphing along - one elephant isn't looking where she's going, and gallumphs off a cliff. The other elephant, an older and wiser elephant, sees what happened to the first elephant, says to herself, "I know what _that's_ all about; I'm not going over there...", stays far enough away and _doesn't_ gallumph off the cliff. That, said Phil, was Informed Instinct.
I blinked in amazement. This bloke had just used gallumphing elephants to teach a lesson in the interpretation of the music of J.S. Bach... and blimey, it made sense!
So long, Phil - I wish that I'd had the opportunity to learn more from you; I'm saddened beyond belief that the next generation of Australian guitarists won't experience the pleasure of your deep wisdom, artistic selflessness, and gentle, off-kilter humour. But I'm thankful beyond belief that I got to meet you and learn from you what I did. Peace and blessings, mate.
(Photos from Phil's website - www.philliphoughton.com.au)
On Wednesday, 19 January 2011, the Suzuki Guitar community was deeply shaken by the sudden passing of Frank Longay.
Three days later, another mentor gone. Finding words to describe Frank's legacy is something that the SAA can do far better than me:
"Frank was a founding member and chairman of both the Guitar Committee of the International Suzuki Association and the Guitar Committee for the Suzuki Association of the Americas. Frank took a leadership role in developing a graded repertoire for the guitar through Suzuki methodology and, as a registered Teacher Trainer, he worked tirelessly to pass along his knowledge and experience to guitar instructors in the U.S. and around the world.
Frank's efforts distinguished him as an internationally recognized music educator. He performed and conducted teacher development courses and children's workshops on numerous occasions in Australia, several countries in South America and Europe and across the United States. His students have won prestigious awards including the Bay Area Unicef Concerts and the Junior Bach Festivals. He was featured in articles in Suzuki World, the American Suzuki Journal, Soundboard (the journal for the Guitar Foundation of America) and in an interview for Acoustic Guitar Magazine.
For his dedication to the development of Suzuki Guitar School and the creation of the Longay Conservatory of Guitar, Frank was honored as a 2006 recipient of the distinguished Creating Learning Community award presented by the Suzuki Association of the Americas."
The Suzuki Guitar path has been very good to me through the last fifteen years - I'll always be deeply indebted to Frank for his crucial role in creating and illuminating that path for me. My deepest disappointment is never having told him so personally (but I think on some unspoken level he knew, and still knows). Goodbye, Frank, and thanks for everything.
On Sunday, 16 January, Ron Thompson lost his battle with cancer; the Brandon corner of the greater guitar world lost a dear friend.
Ron was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the summer of 2010, so we all knew his time was coming soon. He made it through the Christmas holidays and past his birthday and wedding anniversary a bit later, and then peacefully and mercifully crossed over.
Ron wasn't the sort of guy who wanted to be mourned so much as celebrated - there was certainly a lot about his life that was worth celebrating: his kindness towards and genuine fondness for people; his passion for the art of guitar-playing, and his unquestioned devotion and support for those among us lucky enough to do it professionally; his unfailing and beautiful sense of humour; his unmistakable broadcaster's voice - and what a voice!! The voice from the CKX weather report was real, gang - it was the same voice on the other end of the phone when he'd call you about the latest concert at Cafe Bru, or during our weekly Sunday morning curmudgeoning sessions at the 18th Street Forbidden Flavours. The thought of that voice falling silent saddens me.
Thanks for coming this way, Ron - thanks for the cheerleading, the support, the friendship, the hearty belly-laughs, the passion for music-making. You made a world of difference to at least one guitar player in this world and helped him believe a little bit more in what he was doing, and this guitarist thanks you for that. Most of all, thanks for just being Ron. Easy Does It, buddy...
Ron Thompson photo from the Brandon Sun archives; Frank Longay and Dr. Shinichi Suzuki photos from the SAA website