Emma Rush Seeks To Build Bridges With Music

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For all of her world travels, the universal “cool” factor of her instrument never fails to astound acclaimed Canadian classical guitarist Emma Rush. Whether she is performing at a music festival in China, taking part in the Festival de Guitarras Lagos de Moreno in Mexico, or playing a venue like Moncton’s First Church of the Nazarene, as she will be doing on Friday evening, Rush sees the instrument as a bridge builder.

“As an instrument, the guitar is universally loved,” she says. “I feel a significant reason for that is the fact it is such a familiar instrument, no matter what your musical background or interest. You don’t have to be a fan of any specific genre of music to appreciate it. It’s an instrument with a wide-reaching appeal that allows you to connect with people a little more easily than if you played an instrument like the oboe or bassoon.”

Clarifying she intends no disrespect to the oboe and bassoon players of the world, Rush does make a valid point. Whether your tastes lean more towards a traditional classical guitarist like Paganini, a modern virtuoso like Canadian Liona Boyd, or acclaimed heavy-metal guitarist Kirk Hammett, the instrument’s ability to connect with a diverse audience is well founded.

“At some of my performances, I’ve noticed a wider demographic than what might be considered ‘typical’ for a classical music show. To think I could be playing a part in breaking down those barriers is exciting.”

Rush’s constant pursuit of instrumental excellence with the guitar is bolstered by her mastery of the concert stage. Not only has she proven to be a compelling and engaging performer, Rush also dedicates a significant amount of time to teaching the instrument to students at universities and schools all across Canada.

Yet for all the accolades she has earned along the way, Rush shares that an ironic tidbit of information: the guitar wasn’t her first choice of musical instrument.

“I grew up playing a number of different instruments, including the piano, cello and oboe, but when I reached high school, I fell into a ‘band is for nerds’ mentality and stopped playing music altogether,” she says with a laugh.

Upon finishing high school, Rush admits that she was largely directionless with respect to her post-secondary education. After being introduced to the classical guitar by friends that were studying the instrument at Hamilton’s Mohawk College, Rush instinctively knew she had found her calling.

“Funny enough, I had played guitar somewhat casually in the past, but had never progressed beyond what I’d call the ‘campfire chords’ on the instrument. As soon as I picked up the classical guitar, everything just clicked for me.”

Rush shares that she displayed such determination to learn the instrument, she worked virtually non-stop to master the instrument within a year. That hard work was not without its rewards: She ended up graduating with honours from Dalhousie University’s music program.

Late next week, Rush will become Dalhousie’s artist-in-residence for the week, during which time she will work with the school’s music students, offering everything from critical analysis of students abilities to workshops in which she will share with students how to become a more nimble and fluid player.

Having the opportunity to return to her alma mater, even just for what she expects will be a quick week, is something that Rush holds dear.

“It’s going to be wonderful to be back in those familiar hallways,” she says.

While Rush’s latest musical project is a collaborative effort with flautist Sara Traficante that focuses on chamber music released under the name Azuline Duo, she says the program for her Moncton performance on Friday evening is more closely related to the material featured on her 2014 album Folklorica.

“When I was getting ready to go into the studio a couple of years ago, I didn’t want to pursue a cookie-cutter kind of album. I was looking to have a theme connecting each of the songs on the record,” she says.

“As I began looking back over old concert programs, I noted that I had been consistently drawn to music that had elements of folk music within it. I began pulling those pieces out to see if they could fit together, and found that whether the music originated from Spain, Latin America, Turkey or Canada, they had a common thread running through them in that there was a story behind the music. Having the ability to capture and convey a story with those songs was something that appealed to me.”

What: Emma Rush
When: Friday Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m.
Where: First Church of the Nazarene, 21 Fieldcrest Dr., Moncton
Tickets are $18 for adults, $5 for students and are available at the door.