Sigmund Mifsud, associated with events such as the Rockestra and the International Festival of Maltese Song in recent years is a full time trumpeter, music arrange and occasional conductor for events organised by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. escflashmalta.com is proud to have got an opportunity to chat with this talented individual and pick on some of the most intriguing issues that seem to be affecting the industry as of late, apart from wracking our brains around his critique of Malta’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest.
In 2013, one of the main cultural events was definitely the International Festival of Maltese Song which you had the opportunity to form a part of, as a member of the committee, and eventually, the conductor of the band during the course of the evening. Could you recall the challenges that you had to face with regards to the original music made by local songwriters?
The main challenge for the band and myself was to learn a substantial number of new songs in three days. One would say why not do more rehearsals and the answer is very simple ; low budget. Unfortunately we expect professional standards without treating the artists as professionals. So hats off to the hard work and commitment of all the musicians that were involved; they had to really work hard to perform to the standard that they delivered.
As an observer and a music critic, I have to denote that some of the songs sounded wonderful, others less so, but this was mostly due to the fact that the arrangement on the disc was significantly different to the one played during the competition. Was there any particular reason why the tempo had been slowed down that much for a significant portion of the entries presented?
If we are mentioning the arrangements, allow me to make things clear that from the very first day I was approached by the committee to be the musical director of this festival, I made it a point that I would not do the arrangements. Because it was a competition I believe that the composer should be responsible for how his song should sound with live instruments. The reality is however, that most composers do not have experience to write sheet music for live instruments but write music by means of sophisticated music programmes that facilitate the art of creating music!
So one has to understand that to get the best result out of the band’s formation, one has to write the music with the sounds of the live instruments in mind not the other way round; ie: first write the music with virtual sounds, do as many sound effects as the computer permits and then transcribe these sounds for live instruments. If one had to comment on the winning song, I believe that one of the winning factors is that the composer has the right experience to know the sounds of the instruments and he wrote his song for that particular formation.
Regarding the tempo I honestly am used to following the lead of the singer, ie: if the singer feels like a slower feel I will follow his feel, and vice versa. If he feels he should interpret the song in a faster tempo, then obviously we are humans and not every day we have the same mood and this I believe is reflected in a live performance; which for me, is part of the beauty of live music. However, and with that being said,if one thinks that having the exact tempo of the virtual production is so imperative, then I suggest that next time the band should be conducted with a click track! But I personally do not agree.
In Malta, being part of the music industry is not an easy feat and it could take years of dedication and sacrifice before reaching that top of the chain. You are an individual who is a full time member of the Philharmonic Orchestra, a job which many wish to occupy but then again, your role is also very flexible having been given the opportunity to lead concerts on more than one occasion. How did you become part of this industry and could you describe your role in Malta’s cultural scene?
I don’t agree that there are many musicians who dream to have music as their profession and for example, wish to be part of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, as when we have auditions for various instruments within the orchestra , the amount of Maltese participation is very low. One of the reasons in my opinion, is that we still see music as just a hobby not as a profession. We need to change this mentality and I have no problem in saying that if we do not start to elevate the music education and see that those who teach music are qualified to do so, we will not maximise the talent of our artists and the perception will remain that music is just a hobby and anything goes! This way we will never develop this industry!
I did become part of this world because my dream was to become a professional musician, I studied hard to bring out the best I could be and simply followed my dream without thinking I could have earned more money if I followed another profession. I have friends who do nothing but play in weddings, clubs, write songs and teach music without having a full time job and they manage well. But they are all top notch musicians because they studied to bring out their best qualities, and this for me is the secret to be part of this industry; learn the professional way not amateur way. I think that in my position I am one of many musicians trying to elevate the identity of the profession and further develop this industry.
On more than one occasion, you have been well and truly critical of Malta’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, but then again, many wonder why you have not been involved in writing a composition for the international event in hope of changing the stigma and the quality output. How do you respond to such critique?
Composition is not my line, at least for now I am more into arranging music, leading a band or an orchestra or producing a show. Maybe in the future I will have time to study composition and music production but for now I have other plans.
This years’ edition of the Eurovision Song Contest is a mere couple of months away with Firelight set to represent the country with the song Coming Home written by Richard Edwards Micallef, a singer/songwriter whom you have had the opportunity to work with, in the past. What is your opinion of the track, and do you see it achieving a successful result come May?
Yes I have worked with Richard Edwards and I can say, not only is he a fantastic singer, but he has a particular voice timbre that I really like, coupled with a positive approach to life that I believe is reflected in his performances.
Although Coming Home is a good song I don’t think it brings out the best qualities of Edward and as a song it might not have the right ingredients to stand out. That said, I am sure that as a performance, Firelight will do very well because as a group, they have something particular and as I said before, Richard Edwards is a fantastic singer. Hopefully we will do well but in my opinion it will be more thanks to the performers than the song itself.
Would you like to say anything to the readers of escflashmalta.com?
“The true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers” Roy Ayers.