Soloduo, a guitar duo by Matteo Mela and Lorenzo Micheli, is one of the artists invited to the Sibelius Academy international visitor programme. We asked about their approach to teaching and to the musicianship of our times.
While you were studying, did you have any presumptions or expectations about working as a musician? Did these turn out to be true?
Matteo: Since the age of ten I just wanted to become a musician and a guitarist. At first it was blues, then rock and jazz, and finally I focused on the idea of becoming a classical guitarist. I just had a strong motivation or a “calling” if you can say so…. My expectations were related to traveling, teaching, performing, meeting a lot of people around the world and feeling the excitement of the stage. I feel very lucky because these out being true and I have the privilege to share all this with wonderful musical partners and friends like Lorenzo.
What skills are most important when thinking about guitarists’ profession today? How can you practice these skills already while studying?
Matteo: Besides having a great technique and high-level musical skills, I think a musician should be curious about himself as a human being and about his feelings in order to sublimate them in music and also curious about the others in order to connect with them while playing. A musician should be interested in arts and any other form of beauty. It is important to listen to a lot of music, reading, going to as many concerts as possible, performing and playing chamber music as much as possible and getting familiar with all the different classes and instruments in our university. It’s also important to start traveling while studying, getting to know different countries, teachers and students around the planet in order to understand better the world surrounding us and also making connections that are very helpful to build up a career.
How do you see the role of the university in preparing students to their future working life music?
Lorenzo: Universities have always been, and will always be, the crucial place where interactions happen: students, faculty, guests, libraries, venues – all these need a “common home”. Even in a time of history where “non-places”, virtual communities, long-distance networks seem to have become the center of the world, Universities will continue playing a major role in spreading the knowledge, ideas, and practices.
How would you describe yourselves as teachers?
Lorenzo: Forms of individual teaching, such as instrumental teaching in music, naturally lend themselves to tailor-made learning paths designed to “fit” the needs of each student, rather than aiming at a standard level for everyone like in collective classes. We have the privilege to work intensively for an extended period of time (2, 3, even 5 years sometimes) with a student, face to face. This is great, but it creates a sort of “familiarity” that can result in a lack of objectivity.
I try never to be dogmatic. I listen to these young musicians and make an active effort to understand the reasons behind what they do when they perform. Sometimes there simply aren’t any reasons, really. My main goal is showing to my students a wide array of possible choices (technical, stylistic, interpretative), and then providing them with the tools they need to understand which one of those is the best choice. I think our main goal is helping students to build their own identity and develop their artistic (and therefore professional) personality. I want my students to become aware of what they like and dislike, but most of all I want them to understand at an early stage of their career what they can do well, and what they cannot do well. In their academic education they are supposed to learn how to do everything: but the international music community will only notice them for what they can do genuinely well. I try to convince them to use their first-hand knowledge of the repertoire(s), and their technical achievements, to create and undertake projects that will give them a recognizable profile.
What is the most important thing you would like your students to remember from your classes?
Matteo: Making music is a unique moment of creation and as musicians we are very privileged. They should remember to always listen themselves while playing and always ask themselves: “why someone should listen to me? Let’s try to give something genuine about myself and the music I perform for my audience and not just a nice bunch of notes”.
What does internationality mean to you as a musician? Has it given something unexpected to your music and your career?
Matteo: Music is a universal language and sharing your music with people coming from very different cultures and speaking a different language is probably the most beautiful experience a musician can enjoy. Internationality for me means that I can share my culture with the rest of the world and discover and integrate elements from other cultures into my music. For example, the first time Soloduo played in China we were shocked realizing that almost all the students were very familiar with our recordings and videos even if we never went playing there before. The world has become a very small place and being international artists is the only way to survive.
What advice would you give aspiring musician on building their international network?
Lorenzo: Open the door and go out there! Internet is a wonderful window on the world, but it cannot replace real life. The building of an international network begins at school: their schoolmates and colleagues today will be part of their professional network tomorrow. Musicians have always been citizens of the World, and the world is their labour market: they all speak the same language. Yet, at the same time, there is something that aspiring musicians should keep in mind: they can be global musician who bring their own significant contribution to the human community only if they know where they come from – their cultural heritage, their individual voice, their unique background.
How do you see that one can deal with social issues through art and music?
Music is the soundtrack of our history from the prehistoric era till nowadays. Music, and art in general, are part of the soul of our society. Tradition, history, culture, emotions and much more that cannot be explained with words, can be perfectly communicated in music. Music can change our society and make the world a better place.
How do you see the digitalization has affected the music industry?
Digitalization has totally changed the way people listen to music. The streaming services give access to an incredible amount of music of any style and gives every curious listener the possibility to discover plenty of pieces, compositions and operas. It is an amazing discotheque accessible to everyone and almost for free. This side of the coin is quite fantastic. On the other hand this new situation has clearly killed the market of physical discs and seriously affected cd shops, labels and music companies but also musicians that gets often very little money from the streaming sites.