By Ann Ireland
The hallways of the music building
at Concordia University are oddly hushed this morning. Young men perch on the edge of tables,
guitars on lap, tuning up or running through a piece that they are soon to
play. The tension is low-key, but
The first round of Montreal’s
International Classical Guitar Festival and Competition has already begun. One
of the contestants is already inside the studio, playing in front of judges
Jeffrey McFadden and Patrick Kearney
Tomorrow I will appear in an on-stage
interview with Jonah Snyder (classicalguitartraining.com) to discuss my novel
The Blue Guitar. Is it a coincidence that my novel takes place at a classical
guitar competition in Montreal? Not really; I attended the G.F.A. here in 2004
and made copious notes.
A door opens, and a young man
scurries out of the studio with his guitar, his face pink. Another enters, hoping to play well enough to make the
semi-finals. A friend from Toronto is competing in this first round; he’s only
been taking lessons for a couple of years – so this is a big deal for him.
I am staying in a house with noted
Scottish guitarist, Matthew McAllister. Yesterday we hiked alongside the canal
discussing music and Scottish politics, my ear tilted to his Sean Connery
accent. This evening, at the concert hall, Matthew plays soulful Scottish lute
pieces that he’s transcribed for guitar. When he finishes, the crowd surges
towards the merch table.
The amateur guitar orchestra
members file on stage, dressed in black. They peer earnestly at their music
stands, bi-focals in place, as the conductor, Dave Pilon, lifts his baton. The
audience is jammed with relatives and friends who wave to their pals in the
orchestra between pieces. This looks like major fun.
At intermission, Patrick Kearney
announces the names of those who made it to the semi-final round. My friend’s
name is called. I hope I don’t
embarrass him by my noisy ‘Yip Yip!’
Back at the house the guest artists
are bagged from a day’s work judging and performing and are keen to rehydrate
with a drink or two. Soon the
stories start to flow, mishaps of international guitarists, scandals, horror
stories.... It occurs to me that hanging out with musicians is way more fun
than partying with writers.
The semi-finalists enter one at a time and play for ten
minutes – and Patrick Kearney is strict about this. In the middle of a
soul-baring Adagio – tough luck,
pal; you should have timed it better.
Nerves are poorly concealed: hands swipe knees, then brush back hair. A
smile is more like a grimace.
Matthew has a two-hour Master Class directly afterword judging
the round, and when I reach him to ask – ‘You going to join us for dinner?” –
‘I’m totally fried,’ he says. ‘Can’t eat. Can’t talk.’
So Jeffrey, Patrick and I hit the
St- Hubert chicken joint, a must-visit for anyone coming to la Belle Province.
We hoover up moist chicken, beer and bloody Caesars.
My friend didn’t make it past the
semi-finals, but he’s happy to have gotten as far as he did.
Last day: After recitals and master
classes and the on-stage interview with me, it is time for the the presentation
of awards for the youth competition.Tim Beattie pulls off the win. A raffle is
held for a brand new guitar and the kid who’d played Bach’s First Cello Suite
snags the winning ticket.
Five adult finalists will now
perform half hour recitals, the crescendo of the weekend. The audience has
bulked up with guitarists who didn’t make it to the final round. One sits forward, elbows on knees. Another
nods as a performer nails a tough passage. Another looks sleepy, maybe hung
Joseph Palmer’s low ‘e’ string breaks mid-stream: a loud
‘ping’ followed by a hush. He disappears into the hallway to fashion the string
change. Within five minutes he’s back to continue his program. He comes in
second overall. Nice recovery.
I try to figure out who will win, but I’m stymied. One
performer excels in musicality, another flies by the seat of his pants and
nails what seems, to this amateur player, an impossibly fast section.
The winner is Misael Barraza,
Mexican. Second is Joseph Palmer from Texas. Third is Brent Crawford from
Patrick and his team act like
they’ve been released from a cruise ship stuck at sea. We head out for Chinese food, giddy
‘What about next year, Patrick?’
‘It will be magnificent. Adam
Holzman’s coming. And we have a snazzy new venue for the concerts. We’ll
showcase composer Denis Gougeon –”
‘And so much more?’
‘You got it.’
If you want to hear/see an edited
version of my on-stage interview with Jonah Snyder of
classicalguitartraining.com – here’s the link:
About the Author:
Ann Ireland is a prize winning novelist, former president of PEN Canada, and coordinator of the Writing Workshops department at the Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto. Her most recent novel is: THE BLUE GUITAR published by Dundurn Press.