French Toast: Guitar Man

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.

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