Twenty-two years ago, a Langley guitarist saw a need in the community to offer more opportunities for aspiring musicians.
And upon acting on his passion for more guitar, Don Hlus, Langley Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s director of guitar, created the Fraser Valley Acoustic Guitar Festival which will be hosted for its 22nd year at KPU on Saturday, Feb. 23.
“It was a response to a few needs in the community. The first one was giving my students at KPU an opportunity to work with world-class players. The second thing and the driving force was there were a number of music programs in the high schools, and although they have jazz band festivals, and choir tours, there was nothing for guitars. [The festival] grew out of a need for high school students to play for each other and learn from local and international players,” explained Hlus.
This year’s guitar festival features Russian-American classical guitarist Piotr Pakhomkin, Brazillian classical guitarist Vinicius Linhares da Silva, and Don Hlus with the Borealis String Quartet.
Hlus said he hasn’t played in his festival since its second year, as he’s usually busy organizing and planning everything.
“This year for some strange reason I decided it was time to play,” he explained, adding that students always want to hear their instructors perform.
“I’ve been enjoying the challenge, it’s lit a fire under me. Like any performer you’re always a little nervous, but that’s not a bad thing.”
Prior to the evening headliner show, the one-day festival holds a masters class for students during the day.
“I think for many students, you don’t really realize what someone on the guitar can really do. I think having these artists come in both local and international, it opens student eyes to the possibilities and the diversities of the instruments. I try and draw players from different styles to come to the festival, and this way they [students] can hear and see different things,” added Hlus.
As a guitar instructor, Hlus said the most important thing is to follow his students’ own imaginations and creativity.
“My job isn’t to turn them into players like me, my role is to help them develop their art and to follow their creativity. It’s important for me as an instructor to expose them to as many different things as possible.”
Prior to living in the Fraser Valley, Hlus grew up in Alberta where he began taking guitar lessons when he was ten. He said music is a way to “relax” and escape day-to-day life.
“I think we’re all drawn to a certain instrument because we identify with it in some way. I think it’s a language we understand. I know for me, music has always been a place of solace and refuge. Some days after a long day, I’ll come home and play simple pieces as a way to relax.”
Despite playing guitar for more than 40 years, Hlus said he’s now focused on “behind-the-scenes” things like teaching students.
“Everybody is drawn to music for different things, but I think now my passion is really about helping younger generations discover their interest in music and teaching them how to pursue it.”
While an audience was difficult to grow in the festival’s early years, Hlus said the past eight or so shows have sold-out.
“One of the biggest struggles I had early on was I would have some of the best guitarists in the world coming here, and the response was ‘well if they’re really that good, why are they coming to Langley?’”
Once people started seeing the festival for themselves, Hlus said attendance improved, and many audience members have told him how impressed they were with the show.
The Fraser Valley Guitar Festival is on Saturday, Feb. 23 at the KPU Langley campus auditorium at 20901 Langley Bypass.
Tickets can be purchased online at: http://www.kpu.ca/arts/music/events/fvagf