“It’s the best thing in life,” says Tommy Emmanuel. It seems that even with two Grammy nominations, two ARIA awards, a designation as a ‘Certified Guitar Player’ from the legendary Chet Atkins and an Order of Australia membership from the Queen, the pull of home remains the strongest thing in a person’s life. “I wish I could do what I do and still live in Australia, but it’s too far and it’s just impossible,” he says. Luckily for him, Emmanuel will be returning to Australia in early September for a four-day guitar camp in Sydney, where he and a swag of teachers will be imparting their knowledge upon the students of these classes.
The camp aims to inspire its students; teaching them about the instrument and allowing them to spend more time playing than they perhaps ever would in a concentrated period. “[The students] get red up about their playing and their passion for music,” Emmanuel says. “You need to be inspired and camp is a good way to get inspired.”
The idea for the camp was first conceived when Emmanuel was asked to hold a guitar clinic in Ohio about 15 years ago. After teaching less than 20 people, he realised that he could probably run a similar clinic with a lot more people, which lead to him running a camp in upstate New York for about 85 people.
“I did a kind of test run. I put on my own camp in upstate New York at a resort near Woodstock, and I got 85 students for four days, and it went so beautifully. So then I started doing more of them and hand-picking my instructors, giving them ideas on what I wanted them to teach and away we went.”
Since that New York camp he has run a number of similar clinics internationally and right here in Australia, with two in Sydney in recent years. Although the style of teaching has evolved, the basic principles remain. “There’s nothing else for you to do than play the guitar and learn and interact and talk to each other and to talk music, to live and breath it – it’s great,” he continues. “The instructors give them all so much information, they come away with new songs to play, with new techniques, with new ideas and with new tools to be able to work out more songs... We’re gonna teach people how to use their ears, for a start, because so many people don’t know how to listen or what to listen for. A musician’s first job is to listen, second is to play.”
For students, to have the opportunity to pick the brains of such a celebrated guitarist will no doubt be invaluable to their playing, but the camp is not just about playing guitar, its about musicianship in general. “Some of the important things are time, feel, tone, touch and all the things we like about a player. These are the things we will point out. The guitar is the instrument, but the music comes from you, and you have to make that connection and use the instrument to get your expression out.” Further to the point of the camp being about more than just playing guitar, Emmanuel insists that this experience can actually have a positive impact on a student’s life. “The camp is not just about music technique, it’s about how you live and how you think as well.”
As a professional musician, you might forgive him for being out of touch, but Emmanuel’s philosophy of teaching at the camp is far from any position of arrogance or elitism. “[Our teaching is] all about being honest and being real. I live in the real world; I make a living by playing guitar to put my kids through school and college... That’s the bottom line; it’s all about making everything solid and real. There’s no smoke and mirrors.”
With 50 years of experience under his belt, Emmanuel has been pretty much everywhere and seen it all, and through touring he gets to experience music in a whole lot of different cultures. The challenge for him in these camps is to pass on as much of that worldly knowledge as possible, while keeping it relevant and interesting. However, having held these kinds of camps for 15 years, he has a pretty fair handle on how to do this.
“You cut to the chase, you get the important information and knowledge from your own experiences across. I can tell you why something works and why it doesn’t as far as on stage goes,” Emmanuel explains. So, as well as getting lessons on guitar playing, musicianship, and life, you’ll also be imparted with decades of knowledge from a person who has spent their life in the music industry. I don’t think you’ll get that from a YouTube lesson.
Guitar Camp Australia will take place September 1 – 5 at the Checkers Resort and Conference Centre, Terry Hill NSW. For tickets and more details visit tommyemmanuelguitarcamp.com.au.