Interview with John Williams

Enjoy The Practice!

Part 1.

Mr. John Williams, one of the world most known classical guitarist, comes from Australia and lives with his wife and 2 dogs in England. He gave the Vienna Classical Guitar Society an honour to interview him on October 30th, 2020. The grand Interview with him, “Enjoy The Practice”, will appear in 3 Parts.

Part 1.


Tanja Snyers (TS), Rosaline Snyers (RS), John Williams (JW), Eugen Schmidt (ES), Edda Mogel (EM)

TS: How are you today?

JW: Very well, thank you very much. The weather here is really bad. Very windy and rain. We've been walking the dogs today, so we feel very, very healthy.

TS: What age did you start playing guitar?

JW: I started playing when I was about four or five.

TS: Why did you actually start playing guitar?

JW: Because my father played and he thought it would be a good idea to teach me.

TS: Your father was a professional guitarist, so he must have been a big idol for you as a young player.

JW: He was. But he was, what we call the sort of jazz guitarist, downs band guitarist of that 1930s, 1940s. He didn't perform a lot on classical guitar, but he took up the classical guitar and then taught me. So, I didn't have he as an example as a player, but as a teacher.

ES: Can you tell me, as far as media has changed, especially social media and YouTube, how important is the media consumption? How important is social media and YouTube and new media for guitarists, for musicians like you are?

JW: It's a very good question.

I would say in England I'm a Luddite. A Luddite is a very old fashion people who believe in old fashioned technology and all that. I don't even know how to operate this computer. My wife switches it on and set it up. I don't do all those because I can't even switch it on.

I don't even do YouTube and Facebook and all those things, which a lot of my friends do. I'm my age in that way because I'm 80 next year, so, I'm off that generation. However, I'm very interested in sociology and politics and everything of, let's call it, the modern world.

I can really see, that the computers and technology is amazingly important, it's the future, it's the future of communication.

After this, the Corona-virus and all that, it maybe takes a year to get back to normal, maybe even a bit more. But even when it does, as people say, it will be a different normal. And I think the one of the good things, funnily enough, that has come out of this, of the virus and of the pandemic, is, that it has given an extra push and urgency to the new technologies and the media.

I can see, that there's also a lot of superficial nonsense in the contemporary media. That can be very dispiriting and one could be pessimistic about it. But there's always a bad side to the good things that happen. And it's clearly an amazing facility. You know, just what we're doing now, an Interview through the Internet. But actually, people were using this technology before it was necessary, for example for teaching. Friends of mine in Australia and in China have been doing their master classes already years ago through variations of Zoom and other things, video links and things like that.

So, I think it's something that I wish I was cleverer at it myself, but I certainly aim to try in the next few years to perhaps do a little bit of teaching and discussion through the internet. I've already done few interviews, as you've probably seen on for example in YouTube. So, I see the media consumption important and fantastic.

ES: Thinking about the year 2050, how is the classical guitar going to change?

JW: Well, like everything else, it will change a lot. But I think the changes actually in the wider, in the wide world of music, not just simply the classical guitar world.

I think, that the changes happens with the interest and the players, even now the young players, teenage students, students, graduate students in their 20s, are already showing many skills in different areas of guitar music, whether it's jazz, blues, folk music, especially in European terms older medieval baroque music, there are many special areas of music which are coming to be part of the whole. I see this very much internationally with the young students and it's great. So, by 2050, it may be even unrecognizable. Many of the experiments that are going on today, both in music and composition and guitar playing that we see now, maybe some of them will be forgotten, but others will develop and take over very important streams of the development, so I think it will be very different in 2050. I wish I'd be around by then, but there's no magic pill that will make that possible.

TS: How do you see the developments since the time of Andreas Segovia and now?

JW: Already a lot, that's what I was referring to, see, I think it would be more of a move that would mean that by 2050, the whole scene will be different. And, of course, my colleague Julian Bream, who passed away in a couple of months ago, he did a huge amount of work for the classical guitar, so I don't think we should be fixated only on Andreas Segovia. Robert Vidal, who worked for French radio and television and organized a lot of guitar festivals and various guitar activities, and was a great polymath of the history of the guitar, described Andreas Segovia in the 20th century as a highway. He created the highway. But since then, that highway has led to many different things. And I think as classical guitarist, we need to look at the future and the way that the different avenues are becoming new highways and new roads.

TS: How is the pedagogical part developing, when we talk about Andreas Segovia and the pedagogy now what we have, what is the difference? What is good? What has happened and what is there still something that we would need?

JW: What has changed, is for example the teaching that is happening now on video and zoom and things like that. And I think that will continue even when everything gets back to normal. That will definitely continue because one of the things that's really important now, especially as through teaching in particular, many young people from different countries, different social backgrounds, have the opportunity through the new technologies, media technologies, to learn. It's not so dependent. They're not totally dependent on, for instance, getting a scholarship or saving the money to go to a college and live in another town, which may be necessary to find a particular teacher. It'll be possible for them simply to get the advice from the teachers that they want, who they want to be students of, or to learn on the video and so on, so I think, again, that would take a slightly different form.

For instance, the degrees in England. Here we have the Open University, which can be done online, radio or television things, at a lot of programs. Even the broadcast on the BBC are open university programs. You don't have to go to an established college town or university to take these courses. I don't think that the guitar is well integrated into that yet. I'm not sure, but I certainly haven't heard about it, but it certainly will be, and many things like that will be. So, I think the pedagogy will be through that way. And there'll be a lot of students who won't be so dependent on a particular teacher and a particular school or establishment for their system, because they can chop and change who they think suits their needs the best. It's like coming back to the question about 2050’s in this way, from now, the next generation will have all these advantages and won't have these limitations. It has already affected people studying from abroad. A lot of smaller institutions, for instance the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music in England, have serious funding difficulties now, because of foreign students are not coming, especially the ones on wealthy scholarships from the east, for example from Singapore, China and Malaysia.

TS: How was Andreas Segovia as a teacher?

JW: A very old fashioned and authoritarian. Not the modern style. It's certainly not my style. He was of a generation. And they would like that, their idea was that the students would play like them. Students had to basically imitate, copy, which of course, when you begin any area of study, music or otherwise, is skills, first of all learned by copying, either because they been advised or told by the teacher what to do, or your own attention to detail, your own way of watching and learning.

A lot of people teach themselves because they're very sharp, very clever at that picking up. It happens in sports as well. People get coached at football and that. But a lot of the natural footballers, they watch the great players and they've taken it to themselves. They may not have never met a particular player or footballer or whatever. So, there's a combination of how clever and astute you are at picking up by listening and watching other people you admire.

And of course, that is a kind of you're copying. But then through the copying, you get inspired. I think with Segovia, it tended to stop at the copying. It was not so concerned with whether you were inspired by it. And he could also be really quite difficult. Very, very critical of people then if they changed one little bit of fingering or something, he would like throw absolutely angry.

But he was of that generation, a lot of teachers do that. The problem is not Segovia. The problem is with us today. You know, with us today, it's a different world, we have different opportunities, different role models, people to look at and learn from, and that's what we should do. The past is the past.

© Vienna Classical Guitar Society

Part 2 "Enjoy The Practice" will be published in Mai 2021.