There is a saying in Sweden: ”Tiden går fort när man har roligt” (time goes really fast if you’re having fun), and this is no exception to this weekend! I woke up this morning (an ordinary monday with duties and responsibilites as usual), not really believing that this weekend was over. I’m still there, in my thoughts and in my mind, left in conversations, studies, in playing and in the warm feeling that a only a really good gathering of friends and likes can accomplish. Oskarshamn international guitar festival does that to you. It grabs you with a warm welcoming hug when you arrive and ends in good trust in your fullest capacity – as a musician and as a human being.
The new age of the guitar
For those of you that weren’t there this year, I can truly say that you missed something very special. The festival isn’t even near it’s peak and it’s delivering a massive amount of new-thinking, forward-striving and bold ideas worth trying in the new age of the guitar! (Not new age as in the spiritual New Age… the new Guitar Age! We are still evolving). The theme for this year was composing, improvisation and creativity. This to open our eyes to what’s possible and to try to see what’s on the other side.
For my part, that meant teaching what has been and how to relate to it. To put those ideas to the front, so we can react to them in an educated way. Because, in a way, we guitarist are among the least educated musicians in the classical field. And this is known by everyone else besides us.. (don’t mention to pianists that you’re a classical guitarist. They will lecture you..).
For me, this festival meant bringing up old ideas, old tools of expressions, so that the participants can do more informed choices in their musicianship. So that they can motivate their art. Sure, we as musicians are tools to express the un-writable, the un-seeable and the un-touchable.. We create a world of sound that feeds the very basis of our human existance and need – talking to the sheer emotion of being. We are supposed to ewoke a feeling in other people’s minds. That’s why we exist! But it is not without intellect.
Intellect and emotion
To ewoke emotion in somebody else, it takes a radical understanding of both music, it’s tools of expression and an understanding of in what ways people can consume music and how they are intellectually capable of understanding music. It takes immence planning and ”courtship” to ewoke a strong emotion in a performance of a piece. It can all be put down into words and you can – for the most part – plan how you want a reaction from the audience. The trick is to formulate these ideas intellectually, put these into practice and then try to recreate these moments of emotional response. On the stage, we only have one shot of doing this. That is why we practice.
We live in a time with a lot of expressional tools in music. We can measure expression and we can trust in certain tricks to get emotional responses. But are we using all of them? I think that some of our expressional tools have vanished and been obscured into very strange concepts with no actual expressional meaning. Take Tempo, for example. If I ask what ”Allegro” means for musicians, they will at a moments notice say ”oh! I know that. That is 120 BPM on my metronome!”. But what does it mean? Allegro has a meaning. ”Lively. Brisk. Fast.” Those are adjectives. Not BPMs. Allegro is a mood, not a tempo.
The tempo is ruled by the mood. It’s a way to add energy to a piece. Are all Allegri (that should be the italian way for Allegro in plural?) equal? No. I would argue – they are not. It depends on the energy in the piece. Is it Adagio? ”At ease”? No. Then don’t play it that way. Is it Presto? What is Presto? How does that relate to Allegro? You Need to discover this and make an adventure into this world of expression. You need to care, for the sake of the audience and the music you are playing! Tempo is one of many tools of expression. It’s a way you add energy. So how do you use it? It’s really up to you. But you need to explore it.
A festival for the future and now
We need this opportunity to test new ideas. We need this platform. Oskarshamn international guitar festival is testing the limits for what can be done for the guitar. Just the fact that we had at least four composers in the team of teachers says something about the optimism for the future. We had Bo Hansson, Stefan Levin and Hans Nyman – some of the finest composers Sweden have to offer – at the festival, giving lectures in composition and improvisation. We had the internationally renowned composer Annette Kruisbrink and her collegue Arlette Ruelens on both master classes and ensemble teaching. We had Elena Casoli – the most educated and internationally renowned guitarist in contemporary music – as a teacher on the festival! The sum of all of that competence is nerve-wreckingly high.
On top of this, the festival invited the best luthiers (guitar builders) of Sweden to show off their new creations. On the festival we even had one of them – Per Hallgren – showing a guitar built partially in papier-maché! In a concept that actually worked very well. Old method – new discoveries!
I am not sure that people fully grasps what is going on at the festival in Oskarshamn. The importance of the festival and impact it has on guitarists in Sweden (both amatuers, established and up-and-coming) is highly underrated. It is a festival that stands in deep contrasts to other festivals in Sweden. It has a bold agenda and a fresh scent of the European art scene in its fullest bloom. It delivers a giving, international, scene with titan-guitarists as main acts. Realising this, while writing, makes me humble. To even be a part of this experience is a gift; worthy more than the fee of going there.
Last: Take care of all the festivals we have in Sweden. Support them. Support every scene in some way and contribute to make Sweden a guitar nation to count on. I know that some of you have grown up with these festivals and that they are the back-bone of your very musical existance. For me it’s the dreams and stories from those festivals (while not attending – I still got to hear wonderful and amazing stories from attending friends) that keeps the guitar growing.