Guitar Camp 2013 by Jong Choong Shyr
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Friday, 19 September 2014 17:06

I had asked Jong if he would like to write something on the festival/camp when I saw him for class and sometime in May 2014 a few months later, I got this. I usually do edit what is given to me but this time I will reproduce this entire article as is written by Jong. So, please note that all opinions and perspectives are those of the writer and is not of the Society.

Simon Cheong



In our lives and learning process regardless of discipline, we ask many questions and often they will not be returned with answers no matter how hard we seek. Also, growth or progress in our lives isn’t just how or whether we had defined things, but how we start questioning more. After all, to humans, life without questions doesn’t seem to be living at all. This article is dedicated to tell my experience with the guitar and my encounter with the guitar festival and guitar camp

My encounter with the guitar started when I was 19 years old (27 now) when I’ve gotten a cheap steel-strung guitar (Kapok) from my uncle. Since then onwards with many lessons and experiences, my view on the guitar has went through an entire morphosis*[1]. The affair with the guitar is often discontinuous, a stop after I was doing my degree, a break after my former teacher was expecting and another when I broke the extensor tendon in my pinky*[2]. Playing the guitar leaves many questions which I can imagine the outcome of what the answer would be. Questions often in my mind are: am I considered good? What is a good guitar*[3]? Why my tones don’t sound like those of my teachers or those recorded by professionals? Why play music in more cumbersome manner*[4]? And finally, why play the guitar?

Somehow, I still returned to play the guitar even after each long break due to new insights. At such point, playing has become something I truly love but there seem to be much missing. Even though I matured to think that the guitar (or any passion) isn’t for show or to impress others but ourselves first. That comes the hardest part, impressing ourselves. How? Motivation sways as challenges in life makes it take a plunge. Playing becomes more like a routine as the tone produced lacks sonority, luster and even meaning. I am sure these problems are what commonly plague many or most, if you will guitarist and musicians.

Quite recently (2013), I got to participate in the classical guitar camp for the second time, the first time was in 2012. This camp is an annual event since 1993 as part of the classical guitar festival organized by the Classical Guitar Society (CGS) of Malaysia. Despite being a player, an event like this is unheard of prior 2012. That moment of got-to-know has incited an uneasy feeling that how much a frog I am in a well, at such an age and with every collection of every experience with the guitar. That’s why I think it will be very conducive if I share my experience with music connoisseur and guitar enthusiast alike.


Before the camp begins, there will be scheduled performances by the invited artists in accordance to the guitar festival. Hence, I had the luxury to witness their performances prior the camp. This is how I remembered my first experience watching. It was very exhilarating; it got me very much excited and flabbergasted. These humble giants*[5] played with such depth, flexibility, dynamics, power and humility in style that words carried by literatures can never be more expressive poetically and beautifully. Moreover, I could not believe the sound emanating from the classical guitar could sound so different in the hands of maestros. That instant, I knew I had made the right decision to participate in the camp because it would give me such privilege to have more time and room with people of such caliber. Perhaps breathing the same air as these giants got me very much inspired and motivated, so much that I told my teacher “please train me harder!*[6]” the very moment I met him outside the hall. Same thing in 2013, the performances prior the camp has gotten me more excited over the camp. It was truly an experience that redefined music for me and I believe many audiences. My brother and a friend who came along to the performance already knew what they will be missing.

The Beginning of the Camp

Each time the camp begins with long ride all the way up to Fraser Hill. What I’ve seen during both trips are mostly sleepy faces*7[7] and not to mention young*[8]. After a few stops*[9], with each more appreciated than the previous, we have come to Fraser Hill’s Shazan Inn at about noon (both times). After some exchange of formalities, we have ice-breaking-sessions with our guest artists and all campers. Almost immediately, the familiar sleepy faces seen in the morning trip vanished taken over childish grins accompanied by snorts and giggles*[10]. The guest artists have dropped their professional demeanor much to everyone’s amusement, thus effectively forming the perfect catalyst between mentor and student conducive for effective learning. Speaking of effective learning, the gut has to be filled first, what better than a nice scrumptious meal which is free helping *[11].

After lunch, all participants are immediately put to the drill. Rarely each participant is seen without his or her guitar. As time is limited, each precious moment enervates energy in exchange for greater skills, knowledge, perception and fun through master classes, workshops and group ensemble. Master class allows participants regardless of level and mastery to present or play a chosen piece of their choice in front of the guest artist and participants in return for guidance and suggestions. The workshop is a good chance for participants to share and discuss ideas, also a good chance for participants to throw out as many questions as possible during the session *[12]. The group ensemble is a program where participants are segregated to groups according to their level of mastery in preparation for the performance on the last day of the camp. Each group is required to play a few chosen pieces that commensurate with their level while under the tutelage or supervision of an assigned mentor.

Master classes, workshops and group ensemble

As much as I would like to share my experience with readers about the master classes, work shop and group ensemble more personally, I have to keep some restraint since many of the participants might experience something different due to having different mentors. Thus what I say here would be less specific but more general. From my observation, I think the master classes had allowed the participants to learn to perform more effectively as we are subjected to the crowd*[13]. It has also allowed room for participants to learn to interpret their pieces better, embellish better, gain more tips, insights, learn effective techniques, recognizing and rectifying bad habits and mistakes that would seem innocuous to most inexperience players, advance players and even experienced instructors. The workshop serves as a platform to motivate participants and create a chance for them to get answers from professionals. Throughout this program, mentors have reassured troubled players, debunk commonly misunderstood concepts, encouraging and reaffirming good ideas and addressing many possible issues. As for the ensemble, it is the chance for participants to play together like a mini-orchestra which could be quite rare opportunity since the guitar is made as a solo instrument. Here, participants learn to coordinate, keep their rhythms checked, converse in music and most of all heightening teamwork*[14].


The Trill and Excitement

Although what I had described so far may seem arduous to readers, there is much room for pure enjoyment for the participants. This comes after dinner for the first and second night whereby the masters themselves take the stage. With only warm ambient lightings and a dimmed atmosphere, it was the serenading moment that made us jaw drop and gap our mouths open like inhaling fish*[15]. The moments could even be comical and funny particularly in 2013, whereby multi-talented Bobby and multi instrumentalist Sanna had unorthordoxically incorporated some stage acting, teasing and poked fun at audience thus making their live performances livelier. We also have diverse music from many origins, they are: Pavel’s Czech music, Tolgahan’s Turkish music using his peculiar microtonal guitar and Johannes’s (2012) Indian music have been a breath of fresh air. Watching how they incorporated techniques that are seemingly uncommon among most guitarists was an experience that could totally redefine our usual sense of music. What I had implied about diverse and a breath of fresh air before means that it is less heard in standard repertoires whereby origins may come from Spanish, Italian, German, South American, English and Japanese. These are by no means less exotic, elegant, beautiful and challenging. Huy, Phuong and Padet all who played in 2012 displayed their virtuosity in such areas that leave most players envious. Carlos Bonell who has been well known in the classical world played us many classical pieces and his cover from The Beatles which have successfully topped the UK charts. Have I mentioned Johannes before? Forgive me for repeating this because he and his father Mats Moller have given us a magical moment with their flute and guitar combo. Each night’s performance lasted about two hours,it may seem long but it was never enough for the most of us. Hence, for as many times as we can, we made sure we had encores*[16]!

Putting aside professionals, the camp has allowed many of us to take the stage for ourselves to go solo. Many of us from beginners to advance players took such opportunity to present pieces we learned the best we know and could. Most of us may seem unpolished, but it was a chance to overcome stage fright, to take part in something more privilege to professionals, to express in the language we are picking up bit by bit and for all to witness progressions from beginners to advance players. While I did not perform in 2012 because I lacked preparation, I took this opportunity in 2013. It really puts much mental preparation to the test. As for those who did not partake in the solo, they too have a chance to take the stage in the ensemble during the last day. Here we witness creativity of the participants in another form other than music whereby each announcement of group name has made us laughed harder than the one before. This was the moment where the practice for two consecutive days becomes fruitful. It may sound cliché, but the ensemble had certainly instilled many soft skills such as communication, bonding, team work and leadership all expressed on the stage and what could be more rewarding from hearing these qualities exuberating through music.



We had a lucky draw right after the ensemble and solo performances by the CGS committee members themselves. After that, as ceremoniously as possible*[17], the committee members of the Classical Guitar Society presented a gift to each of the guest artist with much heartfelt appreciation and gratitude which I believe is mutually felt by all participants. After that, it was time to pack up and have lunch before departing. We left with our hearts heavy*[18], as we know that it would be hard to meet such great people and it was time to part from our new friends.



As I had talked about questioning, my experience with the camp has provided me answers to most of my many questions. It showed me the reason to continue playing the guitar, it showed me why I could not be impressed with my own playing, it showed me how the guitar has many advantages over other instruments and it has allowed me to try out many good guitars. While finding many answers, more questions seem to arise adding in to the list of questions with answers that seem elusive. Through my experience, I guess it would perhaps take a longer journey and more effort to find out. This could be a testament to growing love and passion for the guitar and music. This growth makes me more unsettled, knowing that the horizon is ever expanding. So how much is within my reach before I grow old and before my time is over?

Here I would like to take this chance to apologize to readers and CGS members. The former for my article being arduously long and could be rather impertinent*[19] and boring. The latter for the trouble I may have given them during the camp. I also would like to thank CGS committee members for all their sacrifices made and effort in making the guitar festival and guitar camp possible. Also, I would like to thank readers for reading up until this point. Aside from promoting the experience and benefits of the guitar festival and guitar camp, I wrote this article in hope that it would somewhat benefit everyone and inspire people to pursue their passion. Remember that in our short life, we may never know what our talent is, but at least we know what our passion is, so better get started.


[1] Almost literally like a caterpillar going through multiple phases each more different than the other.

[2] I know readers are definitely curious, I am always supportive to curiosity. Yeah, I broke my extensor tendon while grabbing a rebound when I played basketball. Sounds painful, but not being able to play the guitar hurts more.


[3] It always begins when one guitarist starts listening to another be it through recording or live, the sound production from fellow players always differ to our own. So pick either curiosity or narcissism.

[4] Here is the list to backup my point:

i. Takes at least 2 fingers, one from each hand to produce just a tone unless it is open strings, unlike the piano or other instruments.

ii. Strings need replacement too often.

iii. Making choices between two same notes from different strings to get the right timbre. (for starters, try plucking the open first string and the 5th fret on the 2nd string.

iv. Awkward positioning and stretches of the left hand

v. Calluses and keeping fingernails.

[5] I didn’t mean size. We had Carlos Bonell, Johannes Moller, Padet Netpakdee, Huy Thanh Nguyen, Phuong Hoai Tran, KLGE II (Simon Cheong et al.) in 2012 . As for 2013, we had Pavel Steidl, Duo Nihz (Bobby Rootveild and Sanna van Elst), Tolgahan Cogulu and Chuah Yeong Chin.

[6] Mix feelings of accomplishment and regrets here, more to the latter.

[7] We gathered at Hotel Armada in Petaling Jaya before 8 in the morning, get the picture?

[8] Enough to have me feeling old.

[9] Long journey, inevitably drinking some water, savvy?

[10] Over lively young children, headache material in my opinion.

[11] Effective learning here only applies when one does not have too much helping.

[12] Wink!

[13] Not to mention in front of a professional!!

[14] Almost everyone puts their heart to it, training even after rehearsal sessions and whenever seems possible.


[15] Maybe it was just me.

[16] Sure! Many helpings with food, many helpings with music! Food is life, music is life!

[17] It was hard to be so formal since we are already all amigos at heart.


[18] Heavy in the gut too.

[19] Pavel once told me “Never take things personal.”