By Veda Aggarwal
It began with a Facebook message. Theophilus Benjamin, an Indian guitarist working with the Calcutta Classical Guitar Society, wrote to Paul Cesarczyk. He asked if Paul would be willing to come to India and conduct a special course for classical guitar teachers here in Goa. Paul accepted right away. Theophilus and Paul had never met before.
Paul Cesarczyk was born in Poland. His family relocated to America when he was eight. “I come from a musical family. My father was a guitar player and my mother was a musicologist”, says Paul. “I started to play the piano first. When my family moved to the United States I started taking guitar lessons and I learned with my father. It was just the basics then – technique and interpretive skills”, he says.
Paul had a very strong connection with music. When he was a child his favourite music was The Magic Flute by Mozart. Every day from the age of ten till he was about sixteen, he would watch the opera on VHS cassette tapes. “Not the whole thing every day of course. I watched it in parts”, he says.
Paul studied at the La Guardia School of Performing Arts. “This was high school”, he says. “I was required to play orchestral instruments so I also played the flute and the bassoon. I was required to play orchestral instruments as part of my course. La Guardia is a school for music (vocal and instrumental), the arts in general, dancing, acting and drama”.
When Paul was seventeen, still in high school, he gave his debut solo classical guitar recital at Carnegie Hall. “After that I did an undergrad degree in classical guitar. It was a traditional undergraduate followed by graduate and then doctoral work. My teachers were David Starobin and Gerry Willard. I played a lot of chamber music at this time. I was part of a short-lived guitar quartet, the Manhattan Guitar Quartet, and a lot of flute and guitar duos. I was a gigging musician then. Whatever was needed to be played, whatever was called for, I played it: banjo, mandolin…”
In 2008 Paul and his wife, Yavet Boyadjiev (a violinist), were both offered teaching positions at the Mahidol University College of Music in Thailand. Paul was the Guitar Department Chair and Yavet was the head of the Strings Department.
“When I came here, there was a financial crisis in the US”, says Paul. “I was then teaching five different jobs and then universities had a freeze on hiring more teachers. Also, I wanted to have contact with students who are at a higher level so that I could develop knowledge of the repertoire. The Mahidol University, which is the leading music school in Thailand, one of the better ones in South East Asia”.
Teaching there, Paul came in contact with a lot of excellent students. “My job was not only to teach them about music and technique and develop them as guitarists, but also to prepare them for competitions, and I’ve gotten a lot of performing opportunities through this as well. I’ve played with the Thailand Philharmonic. In July we will perform the Villa Lobos guitar concerto”, says Paul.
It was because of his reputation in Thailand, the kind of results that Paul’s students were getting, that Theophilus in India contacted him.
“I knew of the Calcutta Classical International Guitar Festival and Competition because when I had first moved to Thailand a lot of my students went for the first festival in December 2010”, says Paul. “But I didn’t know there was a guitar society there, or that there was an Indian Guitar Federation or the Guitar Guild in Goa”.
Over the next few weeks, the discussion moved to e-mails and Paul designed a special course. Classical guitarists in India are in a very unique position. There is no formal education for this kind of guitar playing or music. There are private tuitions and in places like Goa, Kala Academy does provide more opportunity to learn the western classical music, but it’s not part of the Indian education system. Classical guitarists who go on to teach have exceptional passion and dedication towards the instrument.
Rui Lobo and the Guitar Guild Goa volunteered to host the first workshop and the Kala Academy lent the space to conduct it. Teachers from all over India signed up: from Bangalore, Chennai, Kochi, Pune and Mumbai.
“There’s a lot of responsibility for me. It’s unusual compared to the other things I do which are more traditional and predictable. There’s also a lot more flexibility with the course. In the absence of the instrument in any academic sphere, it’s very important that people like Avik Saha (the president and patron of Indian Guitar Federation), Schubert Cotta and Rui Lobo exist. People like them fill in the gaps and work to connect professionals with people who want to be professionals and enable their potential”.
(The writer is the director general of the Indian Guitar Federation)