“...a fine control of texture and pace...a composer with a Chameleon like talent”
Fanfare Magazine (USA) - 2014
“...dynamic and exhilarating... a magical soundscape...”
Nicole Rodgers - Classical Guitar n Stuff (AUS) - 2014
“America by Matthew Sear, created the bustling New York Metropolis...hints of Bluegrass...exhilarating.
Melinda Hughes - www.Broadwaybaby.com (UK) - 2014
“...Fantastic original music..”
Jonathon Witchell - BBC Radio Kent - 2006
“Sear has the measure of the music. A fine guitarist and composer”
Fanfare Magazine (USA) - 2014
“...a multi talented guitarist you simply must here...”
Carlos Bonell - The Royal College Of Music (UK) - 2013
“A young virtuoso whose playing was like a colourful waterfall.”
Domenec Fuster Such - The Costa Blanca News (Spain) - 2012
“A great guitarist, a classical musician with a contemporary outlook” Lulo Reinhardt 2008
"...A phenomenal guitarist...exquisite."
Phil Hogg - SW1 Radio (UK) - 2009
"...A great guitar player..."
Antonio Forcione - 2008
‘Fanfare’ Magazine Interview July/August 2014
Guitarist/composer Matthew Sear may live in England but his musical horizons are boundless. An inveterate traveler, he keeps his ears open as he journeys, freely adding to his store of inspiration as the mood takes him. His eclectic taste and adventurous palette combine on his newest CD, Made in England, an appropriate jumping off point for our recent conversation.
Q: Greetings Matthew.
A: Good afternoon Robert, it's a pleasure to be speaking with you.
Q: Let’s start with Made in England, you’re newest CD. One thing that impresses me is the flexibility with which you move from genre to genre: you always sound completely at home whether playing the blues or Dowland. Speaking of Dowland, I enjoyed your lute-like tone in his music: after all, the lute and Dowland are virtually synonymous.
A: Thank you, especially for noticing the type of sound I gave the Dowland! To be honest, I think I just thoroughly enjoy variety and immersing myself in different styles. That “flexibility,” as you put it, also underlies the contrary part of my nature that’s good at arguing points from perspectives that may even seem wrong to me! I can get deeply into tasks and put myself into a very intense focus.
Q: Well you certainly display an empathy for Spanish music, some of which you play on the CD, and you include a Spanish variation in your America Suite. In my opinion you have a flair for the style. Why do you suppose that might be (apart from your innate musicality)?
A: I've spent a lot of time in Spain—I've travelled there about forty times in all. So I think it’s a combination of being familiar with the culture and also becoming accustomed as a musician to certain characteristics of your instrument’s repertoire; the classical guitar has a huge chunk of its canon owed to Spanish and Latin American composers. It’s definitely a style I feel at home with and love.When performing in Spain, I often get spoken to in Spanish after concerts, I guess because I’m dark-featured and playing a Spanish guitar. I’ve even heard more than a few times, "I don't understand how an English person can understand our music like that," but I’m not offended in the least, I just chuckle to myself.
Q: Moving back across the pond, in the America Suite you play a blues of your own invention as well as some mean bluegrass. Besides emulating distinctive American idioms, can you explain what aspects of America you were trying to project?
A: When I began the piece, I was deep in thought regarding how the country had become more polarised than ever. I know that this was causing a lot of unrest, and initially, it was this unrest that I wanted to put into the music.
Q: Saying “initially” leads me to think that you modified your approach as the piece grew.
A: Yes, definitely. I think the change of heart was the result of meeting two very dear American friends when in Florida in 2010. We had such a great trip and I was in such a positive mood I thought, no, I'm going to approach this piece from a more optimistic angle, there is already a lot of debating and negative stuff being bandied about, so I’m going to celebrate the positives of the country.
Q: The bluegrass variation I alluded to a moment ago sounds authentic but not slavishly so. Have you listened to much bluegrass?
A: Thank you. There are a lot of what I call “pickers” that I admire; people like the late Chet Atkins, guys like Seasick Steve and the late Robert Johnson even, who are of course more blues, but Chet could play anything. It’s the attack of these fellas that really hits home. I love it! In a sense, you have to turn off the correct classical part of your mind and adopt that very gutsy “go for it” approach. That's what I tried to capture, but in a contemporary classical idiom.
Q: Have you ever lived in the United States?
A: I haven't lived there, but I've visited nine times – I wish that I had visited America more. I also have a lot of friends from the States, not to mention some guys I know on guitar forums who are American. My parents (whose passion is travelling) have travelled across the country – and my dad is very pro-American. I completely agree with the great Mark Twain: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness."
Q: Perhaps your travelling has enhanced your enviable ability to soak up different styles and reproduce them in your own way. On the flip side, could this chameleon-like talent have inhibited the development of a personal compositional or interpretive approach?
A: I think it certainly took a while to find my voice as a composer and performer. My first compositions date from when I began guitar lessons aged thirteen. They were neoclassical essentially; they had bits of me in straightaway, except like a lot of young musicians, I saw these quirks as things to snub out. So I followed a different type of ideology for a time. It was only really in my early twenties that I had a giant eureka moment. A lot of things began to make sense and it was that peace that allowed me to really take off as a musician and as a person. I realised those quirks were fingerprints of who I was, so far from being snubbed out, they needed to be celebrated and built upon!
Q: Did you study composition at school?
A: No, not initially: I taught myself composition whilst taking piano and guitar lessons, but when I started GCSE music, I had my first official type of instruction. I studied at the Guildhall School Of Music and Drama as an undergraduate, but felt unsettled and that music college wasn’t right for me. So I left to work with a band I was in at the time - and when that came to an end, I worked for several years as a street musician and café guitarist. It was quite an eventful but also difficult period.
Q: Was it around this time that you met your wife?
A: Yes, I met my wife Suzie at a local folk club near my parents' house in the late 1990s. Initially, we performed folk songs together - and later, because I hated the operatic renditions I had heard of John Dowland, as an experiment, we began learning Dowland’s songs and ayres, (originally for voice and lute). The response at both classical recitals and also folk clubs, was extremely positive, so we recorded an EP in 2006 through an Independent label.
Q: From a musical standpoint, what was your childhood like?
A: I am an only child; I do have half brothers and sisters from my parents' previous marriages, but the age difference is vast. I collected vinyl from the age of three. I catalogued them, often filing them in various categories, alphabetically, by genre, by year etc, it was always changing...it kept me busy! No member of my family whilst I was growing up showed any musical aptitude, and my dad is tone deaf (which is also a family joke, as he often pretends he is very talented and sings to things and hurts all our ears), so it just didn't occur to me that I could play my own music until I was thirteen years old. I was just happy and content for the first thirteen years of my life to listen to and love music.
Q: What inspired you to learn to play an instrument?
A: The guitar was the catalyst. I bought a guitar after hearing two albums around the same time. The first featured the rock guitarist Randy Rhoads on Ozzy Osbourne’s Tribute album – a friend of the family had just bought the LP and loaned it to me. I already had discovered heavy metal, but this was just totally different, the cover had a lovely, almost gothic, picture of Ozzy Osbourne holding his guitarist Randy Rhoads in mid-air. I was so inspired, both his playing and tone were immense. The second was my uncle's tape of Narciso Yepes playing J. S. Bach, which I borrowed. I loved all the different voices, the subtlety, and how it was so passionate, yet also so cerebral. It just screamed out at me, “GUITAR.” Both were different albums, but having now heard the classical and electric guitar, I remember thinking I needed one of each, so I went out and bought both a classical and electric guitar.
Q: Do you play any other instruments?
A: I compose at the piano often and also, just for myself, I play Bach and Chopin, mainly. It’s lovely having an instrument that I’m not judged on. I have a very different relationship with the piano than with the guitar in this respect.
Q: Who are some of the guitarists who have most influenced you?
A: I’ve already mentioned Randy Rhoads, but his playing inspires me every time I hear it…still, I also love Django Reinhardt, of course, but also the modern exponents of the gypsy jazz tradition such as Jimmy Rosenberg and Howard Alden. It’s funny, because classical is and will always be my main passion, but I find a lot of performances/recordings don’t really inspire me. Bream to me was the greatest. So much character and musicality—and I admire the playing of Carlos Bonell and Marcelo Kayeth greatly, their energy and passion!
Q: Do you enjoy popular music and non-guitar-oriented jazz?
A: Yes, I always cite the period of 1967 to about 1972 as the golden age of popular music. I’m a big fan of The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and early Black Sabbath. When it comes to jazz, I love John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dave Grusin, and Diana Krall.
Q: Was it difficult to find you own way as a guitarist?
A: I think because I was initially self-taught and continued to teach myself in addition to lessons, I felt I had broken away from the word go. I loved lessons and have had quite a large number of different teachers/coaches, but I was never with any one of them long enough to become their protégé in the sense that I was like a mini-me version of them.
Q: Was it the same when you studied composition?
A: My first academic and formal tuition as a composer was at secondary school in England (secondary is ages eleven to eighteen). GCSE [General Certificate of Secondary Education] and “A” Level music have composition modules, so producing pieces and then having someone offer advice and show me things that I could do to make them more interesting was at first quite strange. When I was in my early twenties I became quite aware I was in danger of writing in a kind of insular bubble, so I got word that this lovely old boy who drank at our local was actually an arranger and had worked for Andrew Lloyd Weber. We struck up a kind of friendship based around beer and every week I would cook him pasta, we would chat, I would pay him, and then he’d give me my latest task. It might have been to arrange a piano piece for a brass group, or transposing exercises, but it helped so much and prepared me for my lessons under the composer Dr. Stephen Goss at Surrey University.
Q: You’re prolific: you’ve written hundreds of pieces. Where does that come from?
A: I think it’s the same approximate part of our natures that likes to create, whether by building things, having children or painting a landscape. I see a lot and my instinct is to put that feeling into what is natural for me, music.
Q: Listening to your music, I had the impression that you fit the style to the piece you’re working on as opposed to having a fixed language you favor. A: Yes, wow you do know me!! I find painting a character, as it were (in music), with direction is a way that I respond well to. I’m not the type of composer who has a blank mind and then music fills it: It’s always based on a feeling, a place, or a concept.
Q: Do you think all professional musicians should compose, even if they feel they have no talent for it?
A: Oh, definitely not. I think we all have our strengths and life is about finding what they are and then really honing them.
Q: Tell me about your jazz trio.
A: The gypsy jazz trio I’m a part of is called String Theory. The nerdish love of sci-fi and the fact we’re three string players seemed to fit this well! We do a lot of jazz standards, some of them are Django-inspired versions, but we also do some world and folk music. We don’t like the idea of staying only in the 30s with gypsy jazz because we think the essence of the style remains even when we bring it forward to blend with our own experience of the 21st century and the music of our homeland; in other words, with British folk music added in, much as Django infused the Romani into his music.
Q: Has the Trio released any CDs?
A: We have our first EP coming out under the Clockwork Studios label during late 2014. Clockwork Studios is a cooperative label we’re a part of, along with twelve other classical and jazz musicians who come from the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. I’m also signed to a dance music label called Anphonic Beats, which produces dance/clubbing ambient music. It’s very different from the other projects and I enjoy the electronic medium very much.
Q: As Made in England doesn’t bear a label’s imprint I’m guessing you did it all yourself.
A: Yes, this is the third album that I have recorded, mixed, and produced. When I used to read the inlays of old Led Zeppelin albums, where it said that it was “produced by Jimmy Page,” I remember thinking, "how hard can it be?" Well if time travel is ever invented, I will warn the younger me that it can actually take you to the brink of sanity and you have to be slow and patient. It may take months and months, but it’s better to get it right.
Aside from my first album, which was through Pixie Tricks, I’ve gone it alone for the most part; my work for Anphonic Beats is the exception. I just record my parts and that's that, other people take care of everything. But with my own work, it is my own in every sense of the word. I love working this way, too. I love the opportunity to really make a recording truly personal and put your own stamp on it. I have a home studio, it's kitted out with lots of guitars, amps, microphones, an Apple Mac. We live in an old Victorian house, so the walls are nice and thick and the room has a nice solid acoustic. This works perfectly for the editing and mixing, as the reverb and eq-ing can be added to an unadulterated and pure sound.
Q: I know you’re very involved with social media: has it had a big impact on your career?
A: I think everything from being on the BBC, to Clockwork Studios, to all the friends I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had is thanks to the online world. Facebook is a tool that’s great for sharing pictures and sound clips from gigs, writing blogs, and really interacting with people. I also sometimes meet people at a recital who have heard of it through its being advertised on Facebook.
Q: While I agree that the internet has its uses, I’m not very enthusiastic about MP3s. Of course there are sites that offer much higher resolution downloads, but also for significantly more money. Any thoughts?
A: The CD to me, and certainly the young people I teach, is a dying product. It’s sad in away because I think of an album as a book—you’re not meant to choose the best bits and leave out the bits that from a ten second listen don’t make sense. You’re meant to hear it in its entirety. But I think some of the criticism is the emperor’s clothes bandwagon going on. Yes there is a difference, but can everyone hear the difference? I seriously doubt it and also it depends on the quality of your stereo, etc.
Q: Speaking as a teacher, would you say that music education is flourishing in England?
A: To be honest, music in school has always been very good in the U.K. I think this is evident in the amount of people learning an instrument: in most schools I have worked at about twenty to forty percent of the student body play an instrument. Also, when you consider the sheer volume of talent that has come from what is really a very small island, it’s obvious something is working! We also have the graded music exams and I think these are great, because they measure a pupil’s progress and get them to motivate themselves for something other than a performance.
Q: What do you think about the idea that musical training spills over into other aspects of life?
A: Absolutely, I think music and problem solving go hand in hand and, of course, confidence! Things like critical thinking and just thinking independently are easier to grasp with a music mind. You have to stay so alert and question things and justify your interpretations; it keeps your brain sharp for sure.
Classical Guitar Magazine March 2014
”Music Matters’ Interview by Guy Travis
GT - How old we're you when you began learning?
MS - It was hearing the rock guitarist Randy Rhoads that inspired me to go and buy a guitar, he still inspires me to this day, I was 13 and taught myself for a while before taking guitar and piano lessons. I had very good private tutors, Adrian Harrison (guitar) and Gary Ryan (piano): (a lot of people don't realise that Gary is also a fine pianist). After a few years of lessons, I auditioned for music college - and was offered several places, but chose to accept the offer to study at The Guildhall. Gary had recommended his teacher in the junior dept, Dave Miller - and even more so then, than now, I took things very literally, so thought, this is clearly the place to go!
GT - So how was your experience at college, you'd only been playing a few years, yet had made rapid progress, was it as positive experience?
MS - Unfortunately for me it wasn't. That isn't in any way a slight on the institute, several very good friends have studied there and loved it - and there were some fantastic teachers too. The busy atmosphere just ate me up, I realised quickly that the way for me, was the solitude of learning alone.
GT - So what happened after music college?
MS - Well I was a street musician and cafe guitarist for several years. It was a complicated time, as there were great fun moments too - I have no regrets though, in this period I did a lot of improvising with people... it was a time of growth.
GT - So you did guitar diplomas with Martin Vishnick?
MS - I was put in touch with Martin Vishnick via a friend. He was great, he really believed in me and bought my playing out of myself. He instilled a feeling that anything was possible and quickly became a confident, friend and also a musical inspiration. I can never thank him enough. Superb composer and guitarist. Yep! Two licentiate diplomas, a batch of newly composed pieces later (and now 26), I joined the Masters programme at Surrey University.
GT - How did you find Surrey
MS - Surrey was great, I loved coming and going on my own and preferred the teaching being so solitary, often one on one. Steve Goss was my guitar and composition teacher and as well as being such a decent human being, he showed me so much, he was/is such an academic and detailed musician, he instilled a strictness in me and a thoroughness. Again I am indebted to him for showing me another angle. Also he made me realise that to be a composer I had to think away from the guitar.
GT - So you graduated then did your London debut the same year?
MS - Yes, I graduated Surrey and gave my London debut the same year, 2006 at St Paul's the actors church, Covent Garden.
GT - You've performed at some very big venues since, was this as a result of this concert, what happened.
MS - Yes very much, to my amazement, I was invited onto BBC Radio Kent to perform live shortly after St Paul's, BBC's Jonathan Witchall had heard the performance and things started from there really.
GT - You say networking, in what capacity, do you mean social media type networking or meeting people?
MS - Actually both. I used firstly MySpace and then facebook, Twiter and YouTube. Because of my slightly unconventionally way into classical music, I've had to go via a more modern route. I like this route too, it cuts out the middle man so to speak, you can connect directly with people and share mp3 clips, share photos from concerts etc.
GT - You've also studied with Carlos Bonell, how did lessons with Carlos differ from Steve and Martin?
MS - I have an almost supernatural belief in the saying about when the student is ready, how the teacher appears. This couldn't be truer of Carlos. I'd been a fan of his playing for many years. People talk of a lot of these hot shot younger player, but to my mind, this man is the best. After Surrey, wanting a new challenge and also keen to again up the ante I emailed Carlos. We became student and teacher for two years. Again he was very different to previous teachers, very dynamic, lots of charisma and I filled him in about difficult old me (smiles) and he was just great about it. My confidence and technique flourished under his guidance and culminated in a Fellowship from the RGT. We are in touch still and as I'm here in print, thank you Carlos, still a hero.
GT - In this quite dark time for classical guitar and maybe music sales in general, do you see this as the way forward.
MS - Absolutely, I have noticed too, that even some of the more traditional exam boards/music colleges have embraced the phenomenon. Record companies are nothing like they once were, many have even finished altogether, record shops are on the rapid decline, I think the independent musician these days must do things his/her way. Even more so than before, be yourself in classical music, there are millions of recordings of Cavatina, Variations on a Theme By Mozart, Asturias etc, its time to embrace the fun of being you!
GT - Thank you for chatting with us here today, what projects are you involved with at the present firstly as a composer?
MS - I've been working with a very talented guitarist called Jonathan Prag who played my piece 'America' at the Edinburgh festival. We've getting some great reviews/feedback, so this is pleasing. In addition to this I'm writing a song cycle based on characters from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, for the soprano Susanna Risch. He voice is so rich, I can't wait till she performs them! And as a performer? My performances for my classical and jazz work are on my website, but recording wise I'm with a trance label 'Anphonic Beats' where I contribute improvisations to various trance tracks and I'm also with an indie label called Clockwork studios - and I've just finished 'Made In England' it features arrangements of Dowland songs, (for voice and guitar), as well as a recording of Britten's Nocturnal and also my America Suite. I know at this time I'm writing it hasn't been reviewed, but I hope you enjoy it. This cones out next month and will be in selected shops and iTunes etc. Thank you for allowing me to tell my story. Matt
‘Guitar Tutor’ Interview July 2013
RGT: How did you become aware of the RGT, and why do you chose to encourage your students to take RGT exams?
Matthew Sear: Thank you for having me here, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I first became aware of the RGT through The London College Of Music. It impressed me that this was an exam board solely devoted to the guitar, and with such an open mind towards music. I treat each pupil individually, some are very motivated with their own projects, such as performing etc and don’t wish to do exams. On the other hand, there are pupils for whom doing an exam greatly motivates them – and without the exam, they would be far less motivated in the practice room.
RGT: What do you find is the biggest challenge when preparing a student for an upcoming RGT exam?
Matthew: The biggest challenge is the dichotomy of the preparation being water tight, but at the same time encouraging the pupil, in a performance situation, to play without fear and with a real sense of freedom. I often use Miles Davis’ quote to motivate my students, “Master your instrument. Master the music. Then forget all that and just play.”
RGT: Most students, if not all, deal with nervousness on some level either before or during their exams. How do you address this issue with your students in their lessons? Matthew: Again, everyone is so different. There definitely isn’t a ‘blanket’ approach for this with my students. With some pupils, it’s the formality that they find nerve racking. So with these types of pupils, I will do mock exams deliberately in a different room that they aren’t used to, this is a few weeks prior to the exam, which helps with coping with the unfamiliar territory they might face in an exam.
For others, it’s a case of slowing them down mentally, as their mind’s are racing. So breathing properly, and sometimes just being as practical as taking a bottle of water into the exam is a great help.
It really varies, but the one thing I encourage all students to do, is to walk into the exam room and feel proud of getting to the level that they have achieved – and to enjoy showing the examiner what you can do. Music should always be fun, even when performing in exams.
RGT: As someone that holds a number of degrees and diplomas, do you see yourself continuing your own study and exam taking, or are you focusing more on the teaching side of things these days?
Matthew: After my Masters degree, I felt even more hungry than ever to keep learning. I looked up one of my classical guitar heroes, Carlos Bonell, and had two years of sheer bliss studying under him. The lessons culminated in a fellowship in classical guitar. Since then, I’ve felt even hungrier to learn more about music. So I’m currently preparing a portfolio of compositions for a Fellowship in composition program. As well as the aforementioned, I also subscribe to Guitar Techniques, Gypsy Jazz Secrets and The Musical Times. I love playing through all the ideas and licks in these magazines – and the interviews always intrigue me, as people’s approaches to the instrument are so varied. In short, I suppose I intend to never stop learning on the guitar.
RGT: You are a fan and performer of Gypsy Jazz Guitar. Tell us how you were first introduced to that genre and how you approach teaching students that are interested in learning to play Gypsy Jazz. Matthew: In the late ‘80s, there was a documentary on TV about a festival, where people from all around the world come to pay homage to the music of Gypsy Jazz founder Django Reinhardt.
I was maybe 13 or 14 years old at the time, and these three kids, about eight years old, were jamming in what looked like a field. Their playing was so astounding, that I became an instant fan of that style and of Django Reinhardt. Years later, on the Gibson forum, thanks to a friend, I realized that kid from the show was Jimmy Rosenberg. My search for his name had ended, and he is now one of my favorite players – a true guitar genius. A lot of pupils, when you play them Gypsy Jazz, love the energy, the improvisational aspect, not to mention the speedy licks. Many only associate ‘fast’ with the electric guitar, people like Malmsteen or Steve Vai for example. So gypsy jazz is very exciting to them. It’s not only extremely joyful music, but also opens a pupil’s mind to the fretboard, as you can’t simply stay in one or two position like in a rock solo, you have to know all the shapes around the entire fret board to play a convincing Gypsy Jazz tune.
RGT: If you had one piece of advice for other guitar teachers that are preparing students for RGT exams, what would it be?
Matthew: I would echo Merv Young’s advice, that it’s better to enter a lower grade and be completely on top of it, than to struggle with something too ambitious. Also to cover things as thoroughly as possible in lessons, with younger pupils especially. Keeping their parents in the picture weekly via email, so they know exactly what they have to do, is also invaluable.