Richard A. Vaughan will be a familiar name to those of you who follow the trends set by the various competitions for guitar composers. He has won several second and third prizes in international competitions lately and in 2017 he even won the first prize in the "Composers Competition 2017" of the International Guitar Festival Rust. The advertised was a modern étude for classical guitar. "Study in continuous movement" was unanimously ranked first by the jury. In the comments to the prize, the Chairman of the jury, Jovan Pesec, wrote:
Following the tradition of Romanticism, Vaughan's etude shows an independent language of forms, on the one hand, the study of a special skill on the classical guitar, but also as appealing concertante work the guitarist or the guitarist joy in the study, and the audience enjoys listening.
Those qualities are found in all of Richard Vaughan's compositions.
I have asked Richard A. Vaughan some questions, and you can read the full interview below...
When and how did you get interested in music/guitar?
As a very young child, my elder brother was given the most beautiful shiny guitar I had ever seen. I think I must have been about four years old. He was 12 I believe, and he played songs by Bob Dylan to me. Then before he went out, he said that I was not to touch his guitar or else there would be trouble. I could not resist. I a few days when I could play a few chords, instead of hitting me, he taught me a few more.
When, where and how did you start your education?
My mother was a very keen amateur musician, singing and playing the piano for concerts, theatre performances and family get-togethers. She was one of those amazing musicians who could play along with a silent movie to set the scene. I mostly heard her play Mozart, Brahms, Chopin and loads of the old Music Hall songs that have been forgotten today. She taught me to read music at a very early age. I still have her music. When I was able to play Adelita and Lagrima, she would take me with her to her concerts and I would be put on stage to perform. I think I must have been about 6 or 7. Too young to have any fears.
She also took me to concerts and encouraged my love of music by making sure I had lessons with excellent teachers. I was lucky enough to be taught to sing by a retired professor from the Royal Academy who lived near to us, and from him, I learned to phrase and breathe and experience music through the voice. This was very important to me.
Who has influenced you most as a teacher - why?
I have been so lucky with teachers. First, Graham Wade taught me from a very young age, and his skill and depth of knowledge of the guitar became an inspiration to me. He ensured that I had a sound technique and took me through the wonderful guitar repertoire of Sor, Tarrega, Giuliani and their peers. I will always owe him a debt and have dedicated the second movement of my guitar concerto to him. Later I studied with the late Chris Kilvington, whose enthusiasm and personality instilled in me a sort of ‘yes you can’ attitude. Chris sent me to the gifted John Mills, and with John, I had many happy hours studying the work of Segovia. With John, I learned how to really listen and accept nothing but perfection.
When, where and how did you finish your education?
At 17 I went to the Royal College of Music in London to study with Carlos Bonell. Here I met guitarists of my own age who I thought were much better than me. I was young, and because I did not understand myself well enough, this had the effect of diminishing my ambition to perform. Carlos spotted this and worked hard to try and bring me around, but I lost the will to perform.
How do you get inspiration to compose?
I used to play little tunes as a child and really did not think of it as composing. As a boy, I was fortunate to be taught by a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, David Wright. His knowledge of harmony and counterpoint was second to none. I remember him improvising fugues on a keyboard to themes we students would give him. He was a kind man but very strict in his teaching of harmony. He taught me how to hear a score and his training is something I draw on every day in my music. I trained as a teacher and worked as a music teacher for many years encouraging young people to become producers and not solely consumers of music. From this experience, I rediscovered my love for creating music and started to write in my spare time.
Now, I begin with silence almost as a form of meditation, and it is not long before my mind starts to chatter sounds. I write everything down with pencil and paper and throw away most of it, almost like creating a sculpture. Form is something else, sometimes the material suggests a form, sometimes the other way round. Honesty about the quality is the key discipline. Writing for the guitar is an extra layer of control in that learned finger patterns from previous composers can take the lead rather than the imagination. In seeking to be creative, I am always aware of looking for that which is new and has value. I don’t always succeed.
Tell us about your favourite music.
Mozart’s Requiem and Bach Goldberg Variations. They are immortal and take me to a place no other aesthetic experience can. Ravel’s piano music, for the sublime beauty of his melody and harmony. Recorded music is ubiquitous now, and we forget that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Live music has an extra dimension, so I would have to say my favourite music is live music of whatever character.
How do you make a living as a musician?
I don’t. I am lucky to have a small pension which allows me to write what I want, when I want, and for whoever I want. I suppose the question I would prefer is ’how do you live as a musician?’ The answer to which is that life would be pointless without the people and things we love. I have just finished a set of pieces for Fernando Espi, a wonderful artist simply because I love the way he plays. Also, I am working on a suite for Xuan Xuan on Chinese scenes, an ensemble piece for guitar octet and some songs for someone I like and respect, who likes what I do.
Do you have any advice for young players/composers who would like to become pro?
Resilience is the key. You must will it if you want it. Rilke said it better than me. In paraphrase, "must I play/write... if this answer rings out in assent... then build your life in accordance with this necessity."
What are your plans for the future?
To live as long as possible, to write the best music I can and to hear it played and shared.