Interview with Štefan Szabó

Being a drummer and a former band member, I felt obliged to interview a musician. I chose a talented guitar player from my hometown that I happen to know for a couple of years. His name is Štefan Szabó (25), but I will refer to him as Steve (S). His life is completely devoted to music. He plays the guitar, studies it, composes music, and teaches music, with such enthusiasm I rarely experience. In addition to the previous list, he is also the guitarist in Zuzana Mikulcová Band who is one of the most promising female singers in Slovakia. Call me biased for choosing Steve but I admire musicians who are dedicated, hard working, and enthusiastic about their profession. He invited me to his house where I recorded my interview in the company of some tea, apple pie, and occasional loud bursts of laughter. Here it comes.

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G: My first question is what were your musical beginnings like?

S: Well, as for everybody the beginnings were hard. I was struggling with my first two chords, which were taught to me by a gipsy boy from the blocks. I did not even had my own guitar, so I had to borrow one every second day from the gypsies for about 20Sk(189Ft). At first guitar represented entertainment. My friends and I were playing simple songs from Nirvana or other pop artists until late nights.

G: Was there anyone else in your family with musical talent?

S:  Yes. My mum played the violin, but she did not teach me at all. A bit later in time my parents signed me up for a piano course. However, as a kid I was more into football, so I dropped out early. Until the age of seventeen, I was practicing only with my friends or by myself. Then I met my first guitar teacher József Illés, who is the best jazz guitar player in my town. I learned to read music and play the classical guitar from him.

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G: It means that, by the age of seventeen, you abandoned football and focused only on guitar, right?

S: Well yes because before Illés I did not know the sheet, I was not sure why is a particular chord following the other, and I knew nothing about music theory. He taught me a lot about music and prepared me for the university entrance exam. I am so grateful for that, too.

G: During that period of your life, as I know, you had your first band experience, as well. What was it like?

S: My first band was called IN Vitro, and it was a band consisting of grammar school friends rehearsing after school. It was a famous band (laughing), and as every famous one, we split up quite early. We lasted for 2 years maybe but we managed to put 10 songs together, had like five concerts, and won a music competition, too. It was heavy! (laughing ironically)

G: Surprisingly, after finishing grammar school you studied aesthetics and only then you switched to music. What was that about?

S: True I started with aesthetics, but I quit after a semester. I realized that I made a mistake because I have always wanted to make music and not just write and talk about it. Since then I got a Bachelor’s degree in music. Then I decided to continue studying and moved from Nitra to Banská Bystrica, where I am currently in my final year of studying music teaching.

G: Have you ever taught anyone?

S: Yes. I have been teaching guitar to kids from the age of seven to eighteen since last year in Banská Bystrica. It is happening three times a week in a leisure centre. It is free of charge.

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G: I would be interested in your opinion about music. What does it mean to you?

S: Frankly, music means a great deal to me. I have always felt that music gives me something I could not achieve with anything else, however, I could not explain the reason ever since. I just love to do it, listen to it, to be around it. It charges me up you know. I also love music because it is the language that is understandable for everyone regardless one’s sex, age, ethnicity, physical or mental abilities. Music speaks to everyone.

G: How many hours a day do you practise and what music styles do you prefer?

S:  Most of the time I practice on my own. How many hours do I practice? Well, it is not fixed at all, so I cannot tell you precisely. I just want to make sure I am in touch with music on a daily basis, whether it is singing, piano, or anything else just to keep me focused on music. When I sit down to practice I do not think about styles, I think about music. Music styles for me are only label shelves in music stores. I do not categorize.

G: Throughout the years you practised and learned from several well-known guitarists. Would you name some for me?

S: In Nitra it was Karol Kompas, a classical guitar teacher, who taught me for about three years. In Budapest, I was occasionally tutored by a jazz guitar player and teacher András Parnicky. From the well-known players, I was fortunate to talk and practice with Boris Čellár jazz guitarist or Dávid Kollar experimental guitarist. My biggest inspiration, honestly, from whom I wrote my thesis, is the legendary Andrej Šeban. I visited him a couple of times; we practiced and talked a lot about music. Those occasions were pure musical experiences to me.

G: At the moment you are playing the guitar in Zuzana Mikulcová’s band, who is former Slovak Voice finalist and lead singer in several music projects too. How did this come along?

S: Well Zuzka went to the same grammar school as me. It was there that I first saw her singing during a Christmas show, and I had an instant thought that she would surly make it as a singer. We both studied in different towns and cities until we put some occasional concerts together with some other friends of ours. Sometime last year, after she wrote her own songs, there came the idea to create a band, and she chose me to be the guitarist. Since that day, we had our first successful tour through Slovakia.

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G:This summer you attended the annual music workshop in Italy organized by the Boston College of Music. How was it?

S:  Oh my! Those two weeks were an unforgettable musical experience of my life. I felt lucky to study music and jam with musicians from fifty other countries. I saw legendary concerts of musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Diana Krall or Keith Jarrett. To go there was a rewarding idea in every way.

G: Do you have any special plans for the future?

S: As for school, I am going to write my diploma work this year. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays I will teach guitar. I hope that I will concert as much as possible, and obviously practise and rehearse twenty-four seven. In addition, I have a dance choreograph friend, living in New York, who asked me to write music for a dance show. Fingers crossed.

G Thank you for your time.

S:  My pleasure.

BY: Gergely Szekfű

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