Thai guitarist beats a classical path

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The name Woratep Rattana-Umpawan may not be a familiar one, but this 46-year old native of Bangkok has carved out a well deserved reputation as one of the leading classical guitar players produced by Thailand and also a pioneer of the instrument, not just in the kingdom but in and around Asia as a whole.

A three-time winner of the Bangkok Yamaha Guitar Festival competition early in his musical career, Woratep has since travelled around the globe, giving performances in venues as far afield as Kathmandu and Liechtenstein, and currently teaches at the music departments of Silpakorn and Mahidol universities in Bangkok.

Woratep Rattana umpawan.

In 2008, along with Czech born concert guitarist Leon Koudelak, he helped found the Thailand Guitar Society and took up the position as president of the organization, a post he still holds today.

On the eve of this weekend’s Pattaya Classical Guitar Festival & Competition, the Pattaya Mail caught up with Woratep to conduct a Q & A with him about his musical career and what audiences can expect at this year’s festival.

Pattaya Mail: At what age did you begin to play guitar and what made you choose to play classical guitar rather than the acoustic guitar which seems to be more popular here in Thailand?

Woratep: When I was about 12 years old I started to play guitar but at first it was just a normal folk guitar like many people play.  It wasn’t until around 3 years later that I saw somebody play classical guitar and I thought it was so cool.  Imagine that you can combine bass, chords, and melody together in one instrument.  That made me start to think about taking up classical guitar and the fact it wasn’t so popular at the time attracted me even more, as I wanted to be different from the other guitarists.

PM: Do you come from a musical family?  Did your parents encourage you to pursue a career in music?

Woratep: My parents, they like music but they’re not musicians; however I was lucky because they were happy for me to follow what I liked and were always very supportive.

PM: Who would you say were your main musical influences/mentors and inspirations in your early guitar playing career?

Woratep: The man I mentioned earlier, who I first saw play the classical guitar repertoire. He was a neighbour and became my first teacher, although he may not admit it.  I think the one who inspires you to do something is the most important – even if, as in my case, he was only an amateur musician.

PM: Classical guitar has only recently started to become more popular in Asia.  Was it difficult to find a good teacher when you were younger?

Woratep: At that time it was almost impossible to find a very good teacher.  Nowadays you can find many classical guitar teachers, but it’s still not so easy to find a really good one.

PM: How many hours a day on average do you practice?

Woratep: If you have good discipline you don’t need too much time for practice (maybe 2-3 hours a day is enough) but if you can put more time into it, you’ll obviously get better faster.

PM: Would you say there is any age limit for people to start learning to play a guitar/musical instrument or can anybody of any age learn to play?

Woratep: Far more important than age is curiosity and enthusiasm, if you have those then age is really not so important at all.

PM: Would you encourage everybody to try and learn to play a musical instrument?  How do you feel being involved in music has benefited your life?

Woratep: I always tell everybody that will listen that it’s good for you to play some musical instrument.  It doesn’t matter what kind of instrument you play, they’ll all make you happy (if you practice the right way).  Since I myself have been involved in music for a long time already (almost my whole life), I found that music can act like a medicine for whatever problems you may face in other parts of your life.  Learning to play music is something that can bring you happiness throughout your lifetime.

PM: Do you have a favourite style of guitar music that you like to play?

Woratep: I like all styles of music and can enjoy everything.  Only in my career have I made my image as a classical musician.  I’ve heard some students say that if you play classical guitar you have to stop playing pop or rock or jazz, etc.  That made me wonder why; you can enjoy all styles of music so why choose to cut something off.  Compare it with languages, if you can speak more than one language you feel very proud.  So you have to feel the same when you can play or enjoy listening to more than one music style too.  I told my students to take it all, don’t choose one over the other.

PM: Can you tell us a little about the Thailand Guitar Society and how it came to be formed?

Woratep: The idea of the society came about because we thought there should be some organizational body in Thailand to guide beginners in the correct way of classical guitar study.  We have a lot of experience to offer and be shared.  Students don’t need to waste time on their own trying to discover which method is best, because we tried it all already.  We were classical guitar students who used to dream that one day we could see a better standard of guitar education.  We don’t want to see the next generation of players struggling to overcome the same obstacles that we faced when we were learning.

PM: What can people who have never been to a classical guitar event before expect to see at this year’s Pattaya Guitar Festival & Competition?

Woratep: We have all the activities that all guitar festivals should have, i.e. concerts, competitions, exhibitions and teaching.  I hope that audience members will get some inspiration from one or more of the activities they attend.  As I mentioned already about my own inspiration that led me the classical guitar, I just hope the same thing will happen to anybody who attends the Pattaya Guitar Festival.  Maybe somebody from our audience will be inspired and become a great classical guitar player in the future, who knows?

Note: The 7th annual Pattaya Classical Guitar Festival & Competition will take place on Sunday, October 25 at the Siam Bayshore Pattaya.  The festival starts at 9.30 a.m. with the junior and senior competitions, followed by an afternoon guitar exhibition and student concert.  Along with Woratep Rattana umpawan, the late afternoon and evening concerts will feature among others the expert guitar playing of Leon Koudelak, Tomonori Arai and the Maria Duo, the exciting pairing from Japan who will be making just their second appearance in Pattaya.

Admission / festival pass (inclusive coffee breaks) is Bht 400 for adults and Bht 200 for students (with valid I.D.). For more information, call the Siam Bayshore Pattaya on 038-428-678.