Hint: I don’t have feathers
Let me summarize my life in a few words.
I am a nobody and proud of it.
I played bad classical guitar for years, then one day I bought a Carlos Montoya record and started to learn flamenco – It was about 1985. I was struggling with rasgueados for a long time and just wanted to hide myself away to give me time to develop a good technique. But nothing turns out the way you plan it. At least it doesn’t for me.
I’ve been planning to win a major lottery for years but that hasn’t happened yet. The local dancers started to notice me and I learned the basics of rhythm from playing for classes. I soon realized I could not have learned that stuff on your own, despite my best intentions. There is much more to flamenco than playing fancy runs and making a lot of noise on the guitar.
Because the dancers I worked with naturally wanted to perform their pieces, they looked sweetly in my direction. I must have been pretty naive because it never occurred to me that the end game of all the dance classes was to go public. When I turned to run, they grabbed me by the short and curlies before I could get very far and tied my shoelaces together.
I did not think I was ready for public performance, but there is no escaping determined females. I was basically pushed onto the stage, ready or not. I was terrified by all the blank faces in the audience staring up and thinking negative thoughts about me (or so I thought). I know now that wasn’t true but I couldn’t help thinking they were all expert aficionados examining every mistake I made and making unkind subjective judgments about me.
Of course my focus on what the audience was thinking didn’t help because I was more aware of my mistakes and limitations that anyone else. This resulted in more uncalled for blunders because I was not
focusing on my music. In the bigger venues, I couldn’t even see the audience because of the glare of the spotlights. But I knew they were there like hungry wolves waiting for me to make a mistake. It’s hard to keep out of sight if you play flamenco.
The way it panned out, I had to play complex solos to start the shows and also to fill in time while the girls changed costumes. I love sitting in dark corners on stage where I am out of sight. Performing complicated solos center stage was not easy for a shy, self conscious person.
No matter how prepared you think you are, stage fright can set in big time on the night and really stuff up a good number. It was pretty daunting for me at first. In retrospect, this was the best thing that could have happened as it gave me valuable experience in live performance. Many theatre shows, weddings, outdoor fiestas and wild flamenco parties later, I was beginning to get used to it. I also discovered why flamenco guitarists hold the guitar up high, rested on the thigh, instead of between the legs like a classical guitarists. It’s because when you play in a crowded room you are squished up against the wall and you really have no choice. A couple of times I took a break from it all, once for 5 years. I did a bit of busking in markets, played solo in restaurants and taught private students at home. I was becoming a cliche for other people’s fantasies
Even though most of what I play is classical style music with a bit of ragtime thrown in for fun, I discovered I was branded forever as a flamenco guitarist with nowhere to hide. I would be billed on the café chalkboards as “live flamenco guitarist” despite my protests. As it turned out, nobody yelled out during their meal, “Hey buddy! That’s not flamenco”, even though it wasn’t. I realized nobody really cares. Most punters don’t know what flamenco is anyway. As long as I played a couple of Rumba numbers that sound vaguely like the Gipsy Kings, the customers could walk away and tell their friends that they heard some flamenco while they enjoyed their meal. Who am I to argue. So I was able to relax and just play what I liked. For the record, I do what I do simply because I enjoy it, not because I’m an expert.
Who I am is not important
Who I am is of no consequence in the greater scheme of things. I am what I am and that’s all anyone needs to know about me. I hate emails that question my “qualifications”, authenticity and experience because they completely miss the point of making music. Apart from that, feel free to email me and discuss flamenco, the meaning of life, or anything else for that matter. I am approachable. Although I am kept chained up in a dark cellar most of the time, my master is very fair and does let me wander around the compound to feed the kangaroos and emus if I behave.
I live a simple life and I have simple philosophies (life’s little rules of engagement) because they make more sense than complicated ones. First and foremost I am a solo guitarist. I did my boot camp for years with the major dance schools in Adelaide in South Australia. That gave me a sense of rhythm and compás. I enjoyed playing for dance classes and doing shows with dancers, especially in smaller venues like crowded cafes. Playing improvised rhythms is what I’m used to and is what I do best as far as flamenco is concerned. Apart from the occasional rehearsed numbers I did with singers in groups, I never had a great desire to accompany singers.
A simple teaching philosophy
I reasoned that if I can’t stand bullshit and just look for stuff I can actually use to help me play guitar, there must be other people like me in the world who want the real stuff without all the fairy floss.
My philosophy regarding teaching guitar is simple:
“pick up that guitar and let’s play something …NOW. Never mind all the theoretical fluff and endless talking about it.”
Right and wrong is an urban myth
What I do and teach is the way I do it. It is neither the “best” way, nor the only way, or even the most common way. It’s just my way of doing things based on my experience. If you can use it, great. If not, move on. I make a point of telling people to use my techniques as starting point only and to find a good teacher to develop a technique that is suitable for them. Everyone’s hands are different. There is no single, gospel or best way to do something on the guitar. The best advice is “just play the bloody thing” and stop intellectualizing about it. Make your music sound the best you can and play with feeling. This is what transfers to the listener, not the theories or technical details. Let the classical guitar players worry about “correct” ways of sitting.
I will never forget watching a classical guitar student set up for his recital. He fiddled around for 5 minutes adjusting his footstool, arm protectors, music stand and last minute nail filing. Life is about living and playing a guitar is about expressing yourself with feeling. At the end of the day, comparing yourself to someone else or getting hung up about fiddly details like optimal footstool height (that have nothing to do with making music) is a total waste of head space.
It really saddens me when someone leaves a message on my You Tube videos and says that I am not doing something right according to their highly subjective definition of “right”. “Right or wrong” means nothing to me, especially when such comments come from classical guitar players who seem to be brainwashed with institutionalized “correctness”. It’s no good trying to explain my deviant behavior in terms of personal interpretation. If it’s not played exactly as written, or exactly like the original artist it is automatically wrong as far as these critics are concerned. End of story. I feel like saying, “There is a life out there, go get one.” But what’s the point? I just carry on regardless.
Stuck up snobs
With regards to information, I do not have vested interests to taint the outcome of my research. As a teacher of flamenco guitar who has been faced with many strange enquiries from students who want it straight from the hip, I am instinctively driven to share my findings and conclusions in plain English. That’s it in a nutshell. I have come across so many self proclaimed “experts” who are not only unwilling to share, but are also stuck up snobs who ignore emails and letters. I say self proclaimed because they proudly display academic letters after their name. It’s their subtle way of saying, “Be amazed, I’m an expert”. I don’t want to be like that. Life is too short for that sort of ego-based nonsense. Conversing with intellectuals can be a pain and you may have guessed I prefer the intellectual company of real people at street level who have a sense of humor and an easygoing outlook on life.
My basic philosophies
I believe in giving first before you can receive.
I believe in the goodness and abundance in the world.
I believe that everything that happens to us is a direct result of the way we think.
Enjoy your stay