He is an important member of Whitehorse’s artistic community, but he is especially well known as an experienced guitar player.
Nicholas Mah’s classical sound is different from this mostly rock-folk music scene.
His path began when he studied classical guitar at the University of Ottawa. He stayed a short time in the capital city, but he decided to study in the metropolis of Toronto with many teachers, one of whom was Eli Kassmer, a teacher at the Guitar Academy of The Royal Conservatory of Music.
Kassmer was a very well-known classical guitar teacher during the 70s. At this time, he was one of the masters in Toronto.
Mah spent a big part of his musical career in the city. He then went on to develop his classical style in Alicante, Spain for a short period.
In 1984, Mah won the Guitar Society of Toronto Competition. Following this important time in his life, the musician took a break in his artistic career, carried away by other aspects of his life, family and obligations.
Opportunities and surprises brought Mah up North a few years ago. Here, he began to teach and joined the artistic community and, slowly, gave a new life to his musical career.
“I can explain why I chose the classical style by my cultural background, says Mah. “As a Chinese-English, and finally Canadian, my education is classical and strict.
“As a musician, my mind follows very precise techniques and rules. I have a hard time with improvisation, like, if I was trying to improvise as an actor, I couldn’t invent a story within two seconds, I have to think about it.
“It’s the same with music.
“I have to develop my technique before being satisfied and feeling ready to play a music piece in front of an audience. But, I’m developing slowly my skills of improvisation.”
As a lot of professional musicians get a second job to pay their bills, Mah seems to be pretty good at being a full-time guitar player and teacher. Of course, he has to make some concessions — like biking instead of driving; renting instead of buying a property – but, we can’t actually call it “concessions”.
“Biking is my small contribution to not warming the Earth any faster than necessary,” he says. “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would not get a license and buy a car.
This summer is happily busy for Mah, who is preparing a shared concert — a duet with the Ryan Enns at the Yukon Art Centre on Sept. 25 — and a possible tour with the Brazilian guitarist Celso Machado.
Last Canada Day’s concert was a premiere as a stage manager for Mah: “It was a stressful and interesting experience. Thankfully, they asked me to do it again which is a good sign.”
Nicholas Mah is playing Thursday, July 22, at the Café 5 à 7 at l’Association franco-yukonnaise from 5 to 7 p.m.
He is the second artist of this summer concert series.
Virginie Hamel is a regular contributor to What’s Up Yukon who keeps tab on events in Yukon’s francophone community.