Profile by Sean McQuaid
Paul Bernard's name has a certain resonance in Island music circles-especially among guitarists. He's been strumming his way into local lore for over two decades, and continues to explore new musical horizons today.
Bernard first felt the pull of the strings in his youth, when he began dabbling in guitar. Largely self-taught, Paul played pop songs in his early teens and branched into folk, with lots of Simon and Garfunkle. Then, he discovered guitarist Mason Williams (known for such tunes as "Classical Gas"). Thus began a life-long love affair with classical guitar.
Attending UPEI at age 19, Bernard taught himself to read music using a Spanish composer's book he bought from Toombs Music Store (Paul was not a music student), studying harmony and theory from books while taping his musical efforts.
Eventually, one of his amateur recordings found its way into the hands of a University of Toronto music professor, who invited him to attend the Royal Conservatory. Bernard leaped at the chance and earned his performance diploma, spending his last year and a half in England through an associateship with the Royal College of Music-he was the first Canadian guitarist to do so. "From there," he jokes, "it's been all downhill."
Paul returned to Canada, toured a lot and moved back to the Island twelve years ago to help with his father's business. "I figured on staying a year or so," Bernard recalls, but he never left. Over the years, he has played, taught and operated a music store. "The store was good," he says, "but it gobbled up too much of my time. It's like you're married to the thing." Paul prefers to concentrate on his playing, and has produced two albums: Spanish Guitar and Majorca!.
"If you wanna be a classical guitar soloist," he says, "you have to travel constantly-and you have to travel outside Canada." Bernard did it for fifteen years, and he thinks that's enough-despite the limited local audience for classical fare. "I'm lucky if I've averaged one show a year here," he says. "The kind of work that I do is on the concert circuit. For performers, it's definitely difficult to make ends meet."
Travel isn't the only cause for pause when considering a classical music career, given the necessity of university-level training and intense practice. "Everything is committed to memory," Paul says. "You're looking at eight hours a day for four months to prepare for any one recital. Classical is a long, long haul. Rock `n' Roll is not. Country is not."
Classical guitar may be Paul's first love, but he has dabbled in everything from TV and radio gigs to skippering a schooner. His current pet project is Este Mundo, a Latin combo that he and Craig Dodge formed with some other local musicians. By the time this sees print, the new group will have debuted at the Dundee Arms.
"It's something completely different is what it is," he says excitedly. "I've been wanting to do [this] for years." The band is already "kinda keen" to do some recording, and Bernard hopes to add a singer and some more instruments. For now, he just wants to have some fun-and as long as he has a guitar in his hands, that's a certainty.