On the couch with Dan Nistico, MGF podcast #4

Michael:               G’day Dan, thanks for joining us!

Dan:       Thanks for having me!

Michael:               Some of you may know Dan already because he was born and red here in Melbourne and started his guitar studies in Melbourne at the Victorian College of the Arts. So a familiar face to many. And recently you have been overseas in America completing a Doctorate of Musical Arts. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Dan:       That’s correct, so I studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, upstate New York, near the border of Canada. And I spent about 5 years or so doing that degree. After I did my masters degree here in Melbourne. And I was led there by Dr Donna Coleman, who was a graduate of the school, who was actually a pianist I was studying with and I think you are also taking some lessons with her. She is a phenomenal musician and artist. So she recommended the school to me and that’s what brought me there. And that’s how it all started.

Michael:               Great and now you are back home to Melbourne

Dan:       And now I am back home after I graduated and back home with my family in Melbourne.

Michael:               So tell us a little bit about your experience in Rochester. What was your main area of study?

Dan:       The degree I did through coursework. So I took a bunch of classes in different topics. And eventually I found myself leaning towards 19th century performance practice, so the performance practice of Sor, Giuliani, Aguado, composers like that. But I was taking classes in all sorts of strange things, like 20th century analysis where I was doing all this like number crunching and stuff and never sort of looked at music like that before and I did some ethnomusicology classes where I learnt about music of other cultures as well. So it was a very broad curriculum.

Michael:               And how was the performance aspect of that course?

Dan:       That was pretty thorough as well. We had 2 recitals and 1 lecture recital, and the lecture recital I did was on the music of Phillip Houghton, so I was really lucky to have interviewed him in a bit of depth. I sent him some questions and got some incredible responses from him and insights into his music. And my wife and I performed his piece “From the Dreaming” for flute and guitar in that lecture recital. And then I just did two solo recitals. And there is this thing called a jury which I think is a sort of American thing, where it’s like a test of where you are at as a player. So they give you a mark for that.

Michael:               And now I have heard at the very end of a DMA there is one very big, very scary exam, where they can ask you anything and everything about any aspect of music from any period. And it’s pretty full on?  Do you want to tell us a little bit about that final assessment?

Dan:       Sure, that’s called the comprehensive exam, or the COMPS, as it’s fondly known. And yeah, it goes over 2 days, it’s about 8 hours a day of exams, all written. You are in front of a computer just writing all that time, so there is not much to do with music in terms of playing or listening or anything, it’s all just written stuff. They expect you to have a pretty broad knowledge of the history of music, starting from ancient Greece to 20th century including jazz as well. So you have to answer some terms and write some essays and then they give you some score. And you have to do some score ID, take a guess at who the composer is, and why you think it’s that composer. And then some analysis. So it’s a really, really… I was very thankful that I was able to pass the exam. Because I was in some doubt about, you know, getting through it, but yeah, very thankful that I did.

Michael:               And you have done a lot of analysis and harmonic education and classes as part of your doctorate. How have you found that has helped your performance practice by understanding harmony?

Dan:       That’s a good question! Yeah, I think in university sometimes there is a bit of disconnect between the analysis we do in the classroom and the analysis we could do in our music that we play as guitarists. So I try to really mesh the two together and combine the analysis I learnt in the classroom to the music I was playing and I’ve found that it is really like learning a language, you really start top see music as a language with all its vocabulary and grammar, and punctuation and it helped me to read music a lot more fluently and understand it, but I think it has probably helped me most as a teacher to try and encourage students to understand the music they’re playing and see the value in harmony and knowing harmony. Because Aguado, the great guitar composer from the 19th century said that guitar music is founded on chords and I just love that little sentence “Guitar music is founded on chords.”. It’s a really simple way to remember, but it is quite profound, I think.

Michael:               And while we are talking about your teacher, I want to discuss a little further, because you have authored several books, technique and guitar methods, and you have also been exploring the world of online guitar tuition, I know you offer Skype lessons to people all around the world, and you are also doing some online guitar courses as well. Do you want to talk a little about that?

Dan:       Sure, I started my first, writing my first book I think in 2016 and I had no idea what I was really, I was just doing it as an experiment really. And I really liked the process, it’s really time consuming, but it’s really worthwhile at the same time, because at the end of it you have this, it’s all down and ready to go, this thing that you can share with other people, so I started that and that was fundamental harmony, on the topic of harmony. And from there I kept on slowly churning out books, mostly based on I think the teaching I was doing. So I was trying to sort of lay out some of the ideas that I was doing with other students into a book. And so I guess it’s a way to share that knowledge with other people, without having to coach them personally. And then, yeah, from that I started to build up a bit more of, I guess an online presence as a teacher. And yeah, just slowly built up students online, which has been a real gift for me, it’s real amazing to teach people from all over the world who are into classical guitar and one of my highlights with that is a student I have in Rwanda, whose name is Emmanuel, in Africa, and to see the classical guitar being explored in a country like Africa, playing Tarrega and pieces like that, it’s quite amazing to see the spread of that and how the internet can connect us, connect different cultures and yeah.

Michael:               That’s great. And just while we are talking, for anyone watching we can check comments live. Ben Ellerby is watching, hi Ben! And Chris Ish says hello!

Dan:       Ah yes! Thanks for watching! Hi Chris!

Michael:               So if anyone has any questions you want to contribute while we are talking, please comment below and we will get to them at the end as well. So we will answer any additional questions that you might have. So we will move on, let’s have a chat about the program you are going to play for us on June 13th.

Dan:       Alright, so the program I have, I have chosen a selection, they are like mini programs in a way, so I want to showcase some of the variety that the guitar has to offer to the listeners, and these are pieces that have really inspired me over my time as a guitarist. So I will be starting with a little Latin and American set, a piece by Pujol, called Verda Alma, which is a really sweet, lyrical piece, and then a really cool arrangement of El Condor Pasa by Jorge Morelland then finishing off with Jongo by Paulo Bellinati, which is one of my old favourites. I remember hearing my old teacher, our old teacher, Tonie Field playing that on their recording, and that just totally inspired me and I wanted to learn that straight away. It’s such an inspiring piece to hear. Then the second set I am going into a bit of Chopin, and the composer who is linked to Chopin, Augustin Barrios who was greatly inspired by Chopin. He wrote in the style of Mazurka and Waltzes in the style of Chopin, so I am going to blend the two composers a little bit. Then the third set is music by living composers. So I have a couple of more obscure pieces there that probably many, if you are a general guitar lover, you might not have come across these pieces before, one is by an Australian composer, Graham Koehne, it is called “A Closed world of fine feelings and grand design”, I really love that spacious and grand opening piece. And I’ll be concluding with a set of Spani9sh pieces which will probably be quite familiar to most guitar lovers.

Michael:               It sounds like a really accessible program, with a lot of beautiful music in there, and perhaps a few gems audiences won’t be familiar with. So I’m really looking forward to hearing them. And we have started trialing something new at our concerts, and that is showcasing a young up-and-coming performing, so last concert we have the winner of our last year’s beginner category, perform, and he did a wonderful job, Aston Susanto and he opened for Matthew McAllister. And this concert we have a current student of yours, who will be performing as well, so looking forward to that one as well!

Dan:       Yes, I’m really looking forward to that! Alice will be playing a coupler of pieces and she just did her AMusA exam last weekend, so she is playing at a very high level. And she is quite young, so I think it will be really really cool for people to see that. I think it’s a great idea to help encourage the younger generation a little bit and showcase them, I think it’s a fantastic idea

Michael:               So Alice won our advanced category competition at our Melbourne Guitar Festival, I think it was two years ago, so you might have seen her perform at that festival then. And she has come a long way since that festival. She will be playing for about 10mins before Dan comes on and then Dan will be on from about 7:10pm and after the concert we have our complimentary beer, wine and cheese, and it is always a great chance for everyone to mingle and meet the artist and have a chat and just relax and enjoy everyone’s company.

Dan:       And you have some luthiers too showcasing. Which I think is another fantastic idea as well.

Michael:               We do, so a lot of great local luthiers will be there displaying as well. I think we had about 6 or 7 there at our last concert, and it just adds so much to the vibe of the event. People picking up guitars, having a play, and you get to just meet so many wonderful people and just enjoy guitar and music.

Dan:       It’s great, I love how you are showcasing the younger generation and the local luthiers. It’s really a great gift to the guitar scene in Melbourne, what you are doing

Michael:               Thanks Dan! And talking about luthiers, you have had a change of guitars recently, in the last couple of years. You had played the Australian guitar Greg Smallman and Sons for many years. Greg’s guitars are revolutionary in that they use a lattice braced design, and he was the one to come up with that method of design, which allowed the top to be very think and thus very reverberant and resonant and they are known to have quite a loud, strong, bold sound, and quite different to the traditional sounding guitars. But recently you have moved over to a traditional sounding guitar, do you want to talk a bit about the guitar you play now and perhaps what led to that change and how you find those two instrument?

Dan:       Yeah, well I think there as many guitar players might know, each different guitar has something different o offer, so the Smallmans have some very special and remarkable qualities to them. And the traditional guitars also have their own unique qualities to explore and if you have ever tried different guitars back to back, you know how you can sort of get what’s in that instrument out. So the Smallman guitars are incredible I think one of the best qualities for me is the inflections you can get in those instruments. They read your mind in a way, you think something and it comes out. But something I admire about the traditional guitars is that the more I guess striking contrasts you can get in colour. So you can really get very very vivid contrasts in colour from the traditional guitars. They might not have the same resonance and projection, but they have this kind of palette in there, which is different, it’s a different kind of palette to the Smallman, and I think it suits different types of music, particularly the kinds of music I have been focusing on a little bit more with the 19th century, like early, romantic and late classical type of pieces. So that’s part of the reason, just to change you know, it changes what you focus on a little bit as a guitar player, and also because of the music I have been focusing on

Michael:               Great, and a common question a lot of our subscribers often ask our artists is what string do you use?

Dan:       haha, for a long time I have been using D’Addario Pro Arte EJ 45. So just normal tension nylon strings. I know carbon strings have become sort of popular recently, I’m honestly not a fan of carbon strings, because of the tonal qualities that can come out of them. But I haven’t tried that many, so maybe there are ones out there that maybe I personally prefer, but I just love nylon strings. They have this bell like, blooming quality to them, and I just personally prefer that string.

Michael:               Great, and maybe just before we wrap up, let’s have a chat about your new son Julian. Congratulations to you and Marla for that. How has been a new dad changed the way you approach practice and life as a musician?

Dan:       Yeah, oh wow. Yeah, being a dad is an amazing gift as you are going to find out soon, haha, and it changes your life in so many ways and I think just on a superficial level, I think it has changed my approach to time management. So, when you are a father, you really need to manage your time, because there is no time to just relax and sit around like it used to be for me a little bit, well not that I was doing that, but I have to be really managing my time. Practicing is quite a priority, I need to get my practice in every day, but I need to be there for Julian as well, I just have to balance, it’s really a balancing act. But I guess being a father, has also, I think I have grown quite a lot as a person I feel. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and I think that feeds into your music making as well. You just mature and start thinking different things, and your priorities change

Michael:               Time management is a big one! I think we will wrap up for today’s session, so thanks very much Dan for joining us!

Dan:       Thank you! And I just want to compliment you on this great equipment you have as well for the livestream! I guess listeners can’t see, but Michael’s got such a great setup here, that he also uses for the concerts, and now that I’ve sort of ventured into a bit of online stuff, I know how complicated and sophisticated it can all be, so I’ve got to give you a hand for getting into that and doing such a great job with the livestreaming!

Michael:               And we will be livestreaming Dan’s concert as well, so if you can’t make it in person in Melbourne on June 13th, you can still catch the livestream at home, so hopefully some of your students from overseas can tune in and watch!

Dan:       I think so ! Hopefully some can tune in! Teaching online, sometimes the time differences can be a bit of an issue. Sometimes I am waking up really early, or my students are staying up late to take lessons, but it can work! So hopefully some students of mine can watch the livestream, it’s really fantastic that you enable that

Michael:               We have had two so far, we tested it with Guitar Trek in Canberra and it went really well. And also with Matthew’s recent concert as well. And we haven’t had any major technical issues that interrupted the stream, so they have gone without a hitch with really great quality, and we are expecting the same for yours as well!
We are really looking forward to the concert! Thanks for today and thanks to everyone for joining us!

Dan:       Thanks everyone!

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