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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Guitar Camp In The Jungle

Carlos at the jungle guitar camp with Padet Netpakdee and Evelyn Cheong - note the wild animals hiding in the foliage

- The joys and fears of a simple plucker as he braves the unknown -

There is a rain forest jungle two hours' drive from Kuala Lumpur which is everything you could ever imagine of a tropical forest. From it rises a hill 1500 metres. On Friday morning I was headed for the top, to fulfill my engagement for something called Guitar Camp at Fraser’s Hill. I was driven by Simon and Evelyn Cheong, the very same people who had presented and hosted me in Kuala Lumpur last weekend.

To climb Fraser's Hill by car you spend the best part of an hour turning sharp bends, first left and then right, and then another left and another right, some three hundred in total. Huge leaves overhang the road while monkeys stroll by. Beyond them, deep in the forest live tigers and wild boar.

When I reached the top my head was spinning. Here finally I had reached my destination, and so too had 82 other adventurous souls of whom 10% were under 13, 50% in their teens, 30% between 20 and 30 and 10% were - how shall I put it - of more mature appearance. In addition there were more than 20 teachers, helpers and administrators.

I have never been in anything called a guitar camp before and have to admit I was a little apprehensive. I half -expected to be teaching in a field and sleeping in a tent with mud, worms and creepy crawlies underfoot. Dark thoughts disturbed my usually calm mind at the mention of prowling tigers. When I saw the monkeys I imagined them sitting on the field's edges chattering away like old women knitting while we valiantly tried to make music with our guitars.

You can imagine my relief when we drove up to a spacious modern hotel, in which I had a room to myself and, oh what joy, an actual bathroom with running water, not a dripping tap half way up the hill to be shared between us all! What’s more we had a suite of large meeting rooms for the concerts and teaching, so no setting up music stands in a jungle clearing with armed guards keeping wild animals at bay. I felt a delicious sense of safety behind concrete walls while at the same time being within touching distance of the savage jungle.

And so begun a memorable weekend organized with admirable precision and time-keeping packed full of events with distinguished performers and teachers. They included Johannes Moller from Sweden, Padet Netpakdee from Thailand,
Huy Thanh Nguyen and Phuong Hoai Tran from Vietnam, and yours truly from Great Britain. The weekend was organized by The Classical Guitar Society of Malaysia, with its President Simon Cheong taking very much a hands-on role in the proceedings. The Committee members exuded an air of total professionalism in all their activities, from stage management to teaching ensemble groups.

Carlos with Simon Cheong, President of the Classical Guitar Society of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur December 2012

Of the guest artists I was already familiar with Johannes’ great talent as guitarist and composer, since he had been my student at the Royal College of Music, but the other artists were all new to me. Padet, Huy and Phuong presented excellent concerts and are advancing the cause of guitar-playing and music in their countries with their teaching and playing, inspiring a new generation to take up the challenge.

As for me I had a jolly good time presenting my Magical Mystery Guitar Tour programme on the Saturday night to an enthusiastic audience mostly made up of very young people. I love playing to such an audience for I feel a special responsibility in introducing them to great music for the first time.

After the show I was introduced to an English couple who had come to the concert out of curiosity.
“Are you on holiday here from England?” I asked politely.
“No, we are cycling around the world. We are in our third year.” I believe this is the most startling reply I have ever received to an innocent question. Something stopped me from warning them about the chattering monkeys and prowling tigers lurking outside. Nor did I enquire where they sleep when local hotels are full, nor what precautions they take not to run out of food or water, or whether they have ever killed a wild boar in personal combat.

At midnight on Saturday it seemed that all 82 students were madly practicing in groups for their ensemble and solo performances in the Sunday students’ concert. Their determination was a sight to behold. Their efforts were well rewarded by a fine concert in which they all excelled.

By Sunday afternoon it was all over. The students boarded their shiny white coach. Artists and organizers climbed into their various vehicles. We started the engines, and woosh, off we roared off into the jungle, downhill this time. Three hundred bends later we encountered civilization as we know it.

No doubt back in the foliage the monkeys and tigers breathed a sigh of relief that we had left them in peace for another year. It’s just a pity I never got to serenade one of those big cats. Actually I never even saw one, but monkeys yes. Did I see one of them wave shyly as we drove past and discretely wipe away a tear? Now, now, don’t fret we will back next year and maybe we can find space for you in the classes too.

9th December 2012, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1786 .
© 2017.

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