David Fryatt Guitarist an Interview
A: At the age of five my mother, who had as a teenager been accepted into the Adelaide Opera Company, and my father, who was a lover of classical music, decided that I should learn to sing, and they arranged for me to attend singing lessons.
My singing teacher thought that it would be good for me to learn to play the piano and at the age of six, I started piano lessons.
When I was eight, I asked Mum if I could learn to play the classical guitar as I had seen John Williams playing the guitar on the television, and I had an instant attraction to the instrument. However, in my home town of Kempsey no one taught the classical guitar. My next-door neighbour James Thomas who was very musical, played the grand piano and I often heard him practising. He also played the violin, and Mum and Dad decided that I should learn the violin from James, and I started lessons when I was nine.
A: I suffered a severe burns accident just before my eleventh birthday. A methylated spirits barbecue blew up and I was in the path of the flames. My hands and my body were very badly burned. I was flown by emergency air ambulance to the Camperdown Children's Hospital, where I had five operations on my hands and on my body over a period of about three months. The heat from the flames was so great two joints seized in my fourth finger and it ended up being about half as long as it had been. The third joint in my third finger had also seized and the finger was dis-formed. Steel rods were inserted in each of my fingers and thumbs in both hands.
While I was in hospital, friends of my mother and father asked if their daughter could come to the hospital to play the guitar for me. Their daughter, Carolyn Kidd, who would later become a renowned classical guitarist, was aged about thirteen at the time came to the hospital. I was absolutely mesmerised by her performance. I told Mum and Dad that I would like to learn the guitar if my fingers improved.
Luckily for me I had two extraordinary surgeons, and a team of dedicated carers including and amazing physiotherapist, and occupational therapist. One day, after about two months in hospital, I had the steel rods removed from my right hand, and I was taken to the occupational therapist's rooms. I was asked what I would like to do. I said that I wanted to learn to play chess. I was asked to set up the chessboard pieces. It took the entire hour to complete the task, and I then had to return to the ward, because my hour was up.
At the end of three months, I was allowed to go home for a week. My parents drove me back to Kempsey. I did not go back to school, as I had to go back to the hospital to have the pins removed in my left hand. At that stage, I still had the steel rods in my left hand.
During this period my parents took me to a guitar concert at our local theatre in Kempsey. Jan Carter and Alfred Alexander were touring around New South Wales with the Arts Council. They played the most amazing music, and I was instantly captivated. At the end of the concert I spoke to Jan Carter, and I recall saying to her that I would really like to learn the guitar. I showed Jan my hands, and asked her if she thought that I might ever have a chance of being able to play. She replied, "Of course, you just need to find yourself a good guitar teacher".
With Jan's record in hand, I went back to my home, and the following week, returned to hospital. I had one final operation about a week later, and then I went back to sixth class at my primary school.
A: During the first week back at school, there was an announcement at the school assembly. A new teacher had arrived, Mr John Beckett. He had trained as a high school geography teacher and had studied at Oxford. By chance, he also played the classical guitar. When heíd arrived in Australia with his family, he was told that there were no jobs for geography teachers but he could work as a remedial teacher. The school had a program that ran on Friday afternoon, where students could choose to learn a range of different skills, including various musical instruments. Mr Beckett asked if anyone was interested in learning the classical guitar. I could not believe my luck. Mr Beckett had twenty students who started to learn guitar. My mother managed to arrange to borrow a classical guitar from our next door neighbour, James. After the first lesson I knew that I was going to play the guitar, and I knew that it was going to be a big part of my life.
A: I learnt guitar for three years with Mr Beckett until he left the school and returned to England. Mum managed to find another teacher, Mr Norm Fox, who agreed to take over Mr Beckettís private students. Mr Fox introduced me to the Guitar Summer Schools in Toowoomba. I attended every year from the age of fourteen through until the age of seventeen. Mr Fox told me by that time he thought that he had taught me everything that he could, so I decided that I should put my name down to do a classical guitar exam. I had learned the curriculum for each of the examinations, as I along the way, so I decided to sit for seventh-grade.
When I walked into the examination room I instantly recognised the examiner. It was Jan Carter! Later she told me that, in the car, on the way up from Sydney, she had told her husband that she remembered meeting a young boy in Kempsey who had been badly burned, and the boy had desperately wanted to learn the guitar. She said that she had often wondered what had become of him.
After completing the exam, Jan gave me her contact details, and asked me to contact her if I wanted to have some lessons. I went on to finish my HSC with 3-unit music and a major in classical guitar.
A: Definitely the latter. Somewhat ironically, my music mark was so good, that I was accepted into a law degree at Macquarie University. I often tell people that I only got into law on the strength of my music marks.
When I arrived in Sydney I looked Jan up, and arranged to start lessons with her and I travelled from the University to her home on the northern beaches. I learned a huge amount of repertoire during our those lessons. We also started to play duets, and we busked together on the Manly Corso on a Friday night where I learned to hone my skills as a performer. I learned all of the pieces for eight grade, which I sat for through the Conservatorium, and I also studied for the Associated Music in classical guitar, which I passed when I was twenty-one. With Jan's guidance and amazing skills we were able to rearrange the music for my hands, which were not ideal for playing some of the more difficult pieces.
I kept learning, and progressing and eventually, through my university years and I finished my university studies with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and a Bachelor of Laws. At the end of each year, instead of working in a solicitor's office, like most law students, I worked in a music shop in Kempsey. Bob Berrigan who owned Berrigan's Music in Taree, suggested to me that I should come and work in Taree. Sure enough, with Bob's reference, and the fact that Ray, Maurie and Tim Stack were all very musical, I was offered a job in Stack's Law firm. During the time I worked at Berrigan's I also met Peter Stevenson, who was an amazing keyboard player, composer, and musician. It was with Peter's encouragement that I eventually recorded my first CD, 'Virtuosity' in 1999. My second CD, 'Just Classical', was recorded in 2003, and my third CD, 'Classical Flair' appeared in 2005.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to perform the guitar in all sorts of venues and for many different occasions, including a long stint in a Spanish restaurant. John Clark who worked for the ABC radio in Newcastle heard my CDs one day when he was travelling. He interviewed me and played tracks from the CD on the radio station. ABC Newcastle is broadcast up and down the East Coast of Australia. I sold almost 500 copies during the next 7 days!
A: I started teaching when I was only 16. The parents of two of Mr Beckett's students asked me to teach their daughters. Teaching has become a passion of mine and a way to relax outside of work and forty years on I still have students.
What I really love about the guitar is that it is so versatile and so emotional, and through the guitar I can express a feeling that can be interpreted by the listener in a way that is completely different for each person who hears the piece. There is something about the guitar that gives me an energy and a feeling that I can't explain. It has taken me many places around the world, and I have met many people who I would not have met, had it not been for this amazing instrument.
Thanks for chatting David. A remarkable story of tenacity and endurance; from almost losing the ability to use your hands at all, from that dreadful accident, to proficiency with a musical instrument that requires enormous dexterity, and all the while becoming a partner in a law firm and finally running your own legal practice. Wow!
You can read more about David or order a CD from his website www.davidfryatt.com.