Coming to Malaysia from Oregon was almost like entering a fairytale world of endless summer (95 degrees every day of the year!), palm trees, and exotic foods and products reflecting a multicultural and multi-ethnic people.
Hovering just above the equator in the South China Sea it has for centuries been a trading stop for many peoples of the region. In addition to the indigenous and Mayla people, there is a strong presence of Chinese and Indian Culture. Having been taken into the British Empire in the 18th century English is the common language spoken on the islands.
Having achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1957 Malaysia has become one of South East Asia’s biggest success stories. Its capitol Kuala Lumpur is a bustling metropolis of congested streets, open parks and towering skyscrapers.
It was humbling for Deirdra and I to feel so small as we stood beneath the Petronas Towers – the tallest twin towers in the world!
He told me the people there were very friendly and curious and may appear as if they are watching you, but not to worry.
After lunch Joshua took me to Chinatown to do some shopping. I couldn’t believe the deals offered on watches. I bought a $40,000 Cartier watch for under a hundred bucks! Joshua said a prayer that it would work for at least a few days.
We then rushed off to visit the workshop of one of the world’s leading guitar makers, Jeffrey Yong, who lives just outside of the city center.
He was just finishing a 20 string harp guitar for Joshua and so we immediately dove into talking about his new instrument while also checking out my Brunner travel harp guitar.
I proceeded to test drive his version of my Elliott/Sullivan harp guitar and was really impressed with his craftsmanship and artistry. It was literally just strung up and we were all hearing it speak for the first time. It has amazing rich tone.
Jeffrey has connected the super-treble strings at the far end of the face of the instrument allowing for notes to be played both above and below the bridge. What a cool idea!
Check out the exotic woods (he uses mango, papaya and monkey wood, etc.), the comfortable bevelled arm rest and great looking headstocks!
We then went upstairs to his air conditioned show room. It was like stepping into an art museum where the curator had created all the artwork himself (and he did!).
We were so excited to be with this treasure trove of instruments that Deirdra took a Groupie (a group selfie) capturing me running like a mad man from one instrument to another while Joshua was completely losing it!
At the Aswara Concert Hall that night I warmed up on Joshua’s new baby.
That night the concert drifted off somewhere into the Malaysian ethers. Audience members came up afterward and said that they were all simply spellbound.
We were all moved that an American, from the other side of the world, pioneering a new way of playing the guitar with twenty strings, could cross borders and play a harp guitar by their very own Jeffery Yong in Malaysia.
At the end of the evening I was deeply moved to receive the Brand Laureate Award for “World’s Leading Harp Guitarist.”
The organization’s purpose is to recognize “world-class achievement” in creating something new that others in turn take up and continue to develop. They themselves contacted the concert sponsors Jeffrey Yong and Joshua Tan and asked if they could honor me after the concert. Their President Dr. K. K. Johann spoke to the audience recognizing my place in introducing my instrument to modern audiences, commissioning the first modern version of the instrument, the international scope of my recording and performing on the instrument, the various articles, video productions, radio interviews and national television programs that I created to promote awareness of it, my work as an educator hosting annual Harp Guitar Retreats, my co-founding of the Harp Guitar Gathering hosting its third event, and the encouragement I have been to makers to make the instrument, even into South East Asia.
In accepting the award I stressed that, as in most achievements, it is rarely a single person who is responsible for anything happening in this life. God has been kind to me bringing into my life so many amazing people that have believed in this work and have gotten behind this endeavor such as Jeffrey Elliott and John Sullivan who made my first instrument based on the work the North West luthier Chris Knutsen a century ago, all the fans and sponsors who have welcomed my performances and recordings throughout the world, my wife Deirdra Doan for all her continuous contributions and for believing in this career of music making, all the players who have taken up the instrument both in America, Europe, and now in Asia and to the scores of builders like Lukas Brunner (who made my travel harp guitar) and Jeffrey Yong who have applied their skill and imagination to making these instruments a reality.