In a quiet room, on a busy road in Santa Venera, children, teenagers and adults alike attend guitar lessons taught by the best there is, or so his students say. Mr Tony Pace; guitarist, tutor, and jazz radio producer, has been teaching different styles of guitar for a very long time. The story of how he went from zero to master of the skill shows just how true the saying goes: “Where there’s a will there’s a way.“

I’ve been a music lover from ever since I can remember. In my youth, the accordion was the most popular instrument but I grew up without a father, and my mother couldn’t afford to buy me any instruments, so I used to get by with what I could.”

The end of the 50s saw a worldwide musical revolution and the guitar started gaining ground in Malta. “I bought myself a basic acoustic guitar that was more than enough to get me started. I started out learning the classical style on my own. A friend used to teach me some tricks here and there and after a while, I started learning with conductor Johnny Micallef. In the 70s they opened the first music school in Malta and they brought teachers from Austria to teach us.”

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Tony Pace

“They wanted me to teach there too, but I refused. So the school brought down an American teacher and I spent 2 months with him. I used to learn from him in the morning and watch him teach in the evening. When he left, I started teaching at the School of Music.”

After the British Council sent Tony Pace to the UK in order to further his musical studies, he tells me how he kept studying both the classic and the electric guitar. He explains how at that time, jazz was not a field that was taught; you improvised jazz from what you knew and heard.

Learning all these different genres, Tony must have a favourite, no? “There are two kinds of music, good music and bad music and my favourite kind is anything which classifies as good. Good creates standards, like the Beatles had done in the 60s with melodies that even transferred onto jazz.”

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Tony Pace believes that good music creates standards with melodies, like The Beatles had done in the 60s.

“I’ve been to jazz gigs outside of Malta that have impressed me. The first time I left the country to pursue music was to learn– The British Council sponsored me with courses for two years.”

“We used to listen to local jazz music players such as Oscar Lucas together with others and they were our main source for learning jazz. Guitarists like The Shadows, Duane Eddy and Jim Hall were my early influences.”

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Duane Eddy

“In 1966 I went to play in British nightclubs for about four months. Oscar Lucas and other jazz enthusiasts used to go to jazz clubs together to get the full experience. Tony Camilleri, a trumpet player, introduced me to a guitarist in the UK who used to play with the best jazz bands there and I took some lessons from him too. I even played in hotels in Ireland and in Brussels with the European institute for a great number of MPs. I played in Mexico with the Minister of Tourism at the time, so I had my fair share of opportunities to get the best kind of exposure.”

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The Shadows

“In the last 10 to 20 years, and even with the introduction of The Jazz Music Festival here in Malta, teens are better exposed to the industry. Having said that, the unfortunate thing is that a culture which listens and appreciates music just doesn’t exist here. I get angry when I go to The Jazz Festival and find great musicians playing to an audience that does not show them the respect they deserve. They are too busy eating their burgers with their backs towards the musicians, not even listening to the talent they have in front of them!”

Nowadays, Tony explains, no one really learns the classical style guitar anymore; electric guitar has taken prominence, and he adds that the main problem he finds with his students is that none of them want to study.

“I had a student who competed for a scholarship at Berkley University in America and came first from 3,000 competitors; sending my students abroad after they have learned from me gives me inexplicable joy.”

“You have to be into the subject to be able to learn it well. You need to learn about the composers and the people who play the music that you are passionate about in order to understand what you’re playing.”

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Nicholas Payton at The Malta Jazz Festival 2017 (Photo by Andre Micallef)

Inevitably, I had to ask about his own routine. Has Tony called it quits on learning? “A musician stops studying when he stops playing. To play in restaurants and even to teach, I have to do at least 3-4 hours a day of practice, sometimes even more. You have to study certain skills, keep your hands going. “

And to students who can’t find ten minutes a day to practice? Tony has some sound advice. “Don’t take up an instrument if you can’t find time to practice. 10 minutes… I use ten minutes just to pray to God for help before I start playing any gig.”

Unfortunately, despite the large amount of people learning to play the guitar here in Malta, not many of them are willing to put in the work required. He complains on how many times they simply learn the repertoire needed for the exam and stop there.

“As a minimum, you need at least between 30 minutes to one hour a day of practice. If a student doesn’t study, he could go to the best university in the world, but it will count for nothing.”

And for those just starting out their instrument, Tony advises that “where there is a will, there is a way. Talent doesn’t come about overnight; just remember that the greatest musician in the world started out knowing nothing, just like any novice starting out their musical journey.”

© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Thea Formosa