Music and a helping hand

Icelandic guitarist Thor, feels at home in Bangalore as he shoulders the responsibility to help classical guitarists in India gain a sound footing

Published - September 16, 2014 07:00 pm IST - Bangalore

HE HOLDS THE STRINGS Ögmundur Thor Jóhannesson

HE HOLDS THE STRINGS Ögmundur Thor Jóhannesson

There are two things that fascinate Icelandic classical guitarist Ögmundur Thor Jóhannesson about India – its rich cultural background and its ability to adapt to changing times. Here in the city for a recital on A Journey of Classical Guitar organised by the Bangalore School of Music, the musician, who is currently based in India, shares insights into his journey and his love affair with the land he now calls home.

Thor has taken it upon himself to help the classical guitarists in India and travels across the country training them.

“I’m thankful for the lovely responses I’ve got. Presently, I’m trying to make sure the seeds I’ve planted here continue to grow irrespective of whether I live the rest of my life in India or not.”

Born in Reykjavík, Iceland, Thor started his adventure with music from the age of 10 with the classical guitar and went on to complete his music studies in multiple degrees with top honours. “My father is a songwriter and guitar player. I would never forget the fascination I had for the sound and the instrument. It was exciting from the beginning. The catalyst to play the classical guitar though came when I heard my uncle, who was also a guitarist, play a record of Australian classical guitarist John William’s greatest hits. I was wowed by the songs which gave me goose bumps. That’s what kicked off my journey.”

The 33-year-old goes on to explain that he faced a lot of ups and downs after that. “There was a lot of activity. I’ve had periods of frustration as well as loads of inspirations. As a youngster, I was always flustered that there was no coherent system in place for the guitar unlike the piano or the violin. It came very strongly to me to find the system and I found it with some fantastic teachers in my life.”

It was after that phase that he was led to India. “I had come here a couple of times. I found it to be a fascinating place. While I initially came to check out its exotic culture, I soon discovered India had more to offer. There was a huge potential in India for upcoming Western Classical music and I figured I could stay, participate and contribute. The vibrant scene fascinated me in a period when I was only competing instead of contributing in my life. I was inspired to travel and help where I could. It has been a fun discovery.”

On what he discovered about himself musically in these years here, Thor says he’s found music to be like meditation. “Music is a mirror of you. It’s your point of view, how you approach things and make your presence felt. I’ve had a wonderful journey so far - musically and spiritually.”

He shares a bit of advice to all classical guitarists to get inspired by listening to top performers in other instruments. “I’m also learning to see if you are really following your dream or chasing other people’s dreams. That happens a lot in music and most of us are unaware of it. Remember to be creative in your promotion.”

On the future of classical music, Thor says he’s been talking to musicians and composers in India about fusion and all sorts of progressive thinking. “We need to integrate and market ourselves for a bigger audience since the possibilities are endless now. It’s important to have an open-minded thinking.”

Is that the need of the hour? Yes and no, he says. “A contemporary outlook to classical guitar is all based on possibilities again. Recitals are tending to be shorter. Trends in Europe are that classical players are performing with a lot of improvisations. A lot of young people like classical music but there are no audiences for classical music. The need is actually to have creative shows. That could be the possible future with more elements integrated into the show that gives a different experience.”

He adds that live music may never die. “It will evolve. It needs to be made more creative and made easy and accessible for people. A mix of contemporary and classical music - that could be the future.”

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