Acoustic Guitar Festival brings masters to Kwantlen

The Fraser Valley Acoustic Guitar Festival hits Kwantlen this Friday.

Don Hlus, a long-time Kwantlen music instructor, has been bringing internationally renowned artists to the Fraser Valley music community for 15 years, providing inspiration and insight to the student body.

By Kristi Alexandra
[culture editor]

Don Hlus, director of guitar and strings in Kwantlen’s music department, started putting on the Fraser Valley Acoustic Guitar Festival 15 years ago.

(geishaboy500 /Flickr)

This year, the FVAGF’s theme is Internationally Known, Home Grown and is showcasing renowned artists Celso Machado, Daniel Bolshoy, Don Alder and David Sinclair.

The festival has served as a platform for internationally and locally distinguished artists to work with high school, college and university students who are in music programs, and to provide entertainment and inspiration to the Fraser Valley music community.

“I’ve been here since 1993 when the music department opened,” says Hlus. “I went around to most of the high schools to introduce myself and find out what was happening in the high schools. I learned there were about 20 programs … the teachers were saying ‘well, we’ve got jazz band festivals, choir trips etc. but nothing for guitar.’ When I had heard that for about the 15th time, I thought ‘hey, this is something that I could facilitate.’ That’s one of the reasons why it [the Fraser Valley Acoustic Guitar Festival] started. The other thing was that the high school instructors did a fabulous job of getting students excited about music and studying at the university, so many of the applicants were enthusiastic but not necessarily prepared to enter music studies.”

That’s where the festival’s master classes step in. This year, world guitarist Celso Machado and classical guitarist Daniel Bolshoy will be leading master classes on Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, Feb. 25 at Kwantlen’s Langley campus, that are free and open to the public.

“A master class is kind of like a student would be getting a lesson in public,” says Hlus. “The public that comes in, they’re kind of eavesdropping, if you will.”

So those who might have apprehensions about their level of expertise won’t have to worry about straggling behind in a group of guitar prodigies, but Hlus maintains that there’s a lot to take away from sitting in on a master class.

“There’s just a lot of insights,” he says. “[Machado’s] written a number of pieces for solo guitar and guitar quartets … so we’ll play it. There are just so many insights that they get when you’re working directly with the composer that you can’t glean from the score, we just get a lot of insight about how they approach music and the guitar and it’s a real adrenaline boost.”

And Hlus could not be more enthusiastic about the caliber of artists he has put together for this year’s festival.

“If we were talking hockey, it would be like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and the Sedin brothers,” he enthuses. “A lot of people over the years have been shocked at the players that I have here. These are all guys who make their home on the West Coast … there are a lot of world class players that live here in Vancouver — we just don’t know about it. All these guys have come out and worked at the festival in the past and how do I choose one guy? I came up with the idea to invite the four of them and they’ll all do a small set. It’ll be a guitar sampler of an evening.”

The Internationally Known, Home Grown concert takes place Saturday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Langley campus auditorium. Free master classes will be taught on Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, Feb. 25 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.  Evening tickets for students are $15.