By John Paul

I recently had the chance to attend a lecture-performance by Israeli guitarist Tali Roth (, head of the guitar program at Juilliard Pre-College. The topic of the lecture was how to build a music career. This can be a truly daunting topic; however, her enthusiasm was so contagious that everything seemed almost easy despite her repeatedly cautioning the audience of young students to expect the process to be difficult. Hopefully, the following interview, which includes a summary of her lecture, may serve to pass on her knowledge, experience and positive energy to readers everywhere. A special thank you to Prof. Lucio Matarazzo and maestro Luciano Tortorelli for organizing the event and facilitating the interview.

Would you mind reiterating for our readers, some of the points from your lecture regarding how to build a music career?

First, decide what you want. To do this, you sometimes need to pursue a number of different passions and try to be as good as possible in at least one of them. That will lead you to the path you ultimately choose. Once you choose, expect there to be obstacles, expect it to be difficult and go for it anyway doing whatever it takes. Start with applying for scholarships to music schools, making sure to allow yourself the freedom of choice by applying to more than one place. After graduation, you may want to participate in competitions, although it’s very important to have a good attitude towards these. Think of competitions as a sport: you win, you lose. By preparing for, trying, and doing them you will improve not only your skills but also your professional attitude. Life is not going to be rosy and competitions are a great way to prepare for stress and disappointment. Of course, sometimes you win and get the perks. Next you would need to start working on getting a job, any kind of job in teaching or performing. Be open to any work whether they pay well or even pay at all. Treat it as an investment. People invest in their business and this is your business. Finally, you need to remain inspired. This may or may not come from music itself. For me it is opera and dance, from flamenco, tango to ballet. This will lead you to have a unique voice through collaboration with other artists and other styles of music.

How important is the pre-college department as a feeder to the college level at the Juilliard School of Music?

The pre-college at Juilliard is tremendous. There are great talents, they work very hard and the level is fantastic. Not everyone pursues a music career, but many do. It’s a very unique, enriching environment. What is beautiful is that a lot them go to other schools as well as other disciplines. They don’t have to pursue a music career right away. Sometimes, because they are so young, they do law or medicine or other sciences, and then once they complete a degree, they go back to music. It’s a very common trend because they are so multi-talented.

The reason I ask is because many times when we see great guitarists, we tend to look at which music college they studied at, forgetting the long process of early music education that it took to reach the level required to study at the college level of such a prestigious school such as Juilliard.

Of course, early music education is tremendous. But also, for me, I think the most important thing is the character and what the person does with all that he gets with the education. I would say 50% is the character. If you want to be a professional musician, you will be once you have the talent.

Since you mentioned talent, do you think talent is replaceable with hard work?

Absolutely not. In fact, I would say that talent is 50%. Talent gives you a chance to pursue your passion, to be really good at it, and it will give you a chance to have a career. The rest is up to you.

If you wouldn’t mind sharing some tips for potential students, what do you look for in an audition?

Musicality, good training, good technique, and if possible, a good personality.

Most guitar students will probably end up facing the hard truth that a career as a performer requires a price that is beyond their ability to pay. This often results in quitting the guitar or even music. What productive career alternatives are there besides teaching, also considering that inability to be a professional performer is probably not the best reason to teach?

Some people write music for film, others are professional recording artists. The difference here is between performing for a live audience and in a studio.

Would you agree that it is probably more important to prioritize music appreciation over skill in teaching the average student particularly beginners? If only the most serious students acquire a taste for fine concerts and recordings, wouldn’t this perpetually limit the confines of the market?

I treat everyone the same, even beginners. Life is too short, so you have to do the best. I think it’s a lot more satisfying even for a beginner student to play something correctly, musically and with the right technique instead of just brushing through the piece. I think it’s all one big package. Performer or not, for anyone that wants to play an instrument, it’s the pursuit of the craft that makes you happy and that overrules everything.

In the past decades, we have discovered more manuscripts of music for the guitar than for the lute. Much of this music remains virtually unknown to most guitarists, let alone the public as so many talented young guitarists tend to focus on the same standard often over-performed “competition repertoire”. The same can be probably be said about the most recently written guitar music. Doesn’t this tend to make these talents more easily replaceable or even disposable? Do you think the average non-guitarist audience prefers standard competition repertoire?

Yes. My answer to the last question is yes. The most played concerto of all time is the Concierto de Aranjuez. Of all time, not just among guitar concertos. People like to listen to what they love. This can actually be a career maker. If you can play some of the standard repertoire well, you will find a crowd. You may not find ‘all’ the crowds, but you will find ‘a’ crowd for sure.



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John Paul
John Paul studied with Aniello Desiderio at the Koblenz International Guitar Academy in Germany and then at Conservatorio Domenico Cimarosa under the guidance of Prof. Lucio Matarazzo. As a guitarist, John Paul has performed in Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Indonesia.

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