Günther Fiala, composer

Face #001: Günther Fiala | Musical Composer

Günther Fiala, musical multi-talent

Günther Fiala is a man of many talents: piano player, singer, composer of musicals for children and adults, specialist in German studies, speech therapist – and overall a creative spirit. At the tender age of 12, the award-winning composer and musician wrote his first musical for children – and he turned it into a musical production together with other children from the area. The theatre group, which he founded at the age of 12, has fostered a number of young, aspiring artists who are now working all over the globe – and Günther is on the brink of fame with his musical “V for Victory”, which is set in 1940’s occupied Jersey, being shown as a concert at London’s Stockwell Playhouse this March. I took the chance to talk to this likeable, down-to-earth multitalented musician – here’s the result.

About Günther

Name: Günther Fiala
Born in: 1982
Job: Speech therapist and composer
Country: Austria

In the most positive sense very, very curious

First of all: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. You are a musician, a composer, a speech therapist, a specialist in German studies – how do you manage to juggle all these roles? And which of these jobs is your favourite one?
First of all: Thank you for interviewing me. How do I manage to juggle all these roles? Well, how does this work… Thinking back, I must say I wonder how I’m doing this. I have a part-time job as a speech therapist. The rest of the time I can focus on my artistic self, which is what defines me as a person and what I really care about.

Where do all your ideas come from? Who or what inspires you?
I draw ideas from everywhere. I believe it is important to keep your eyes and ears open to the world. Or, in fact, explore the world with all your senses. For example, I enjoy listening to different musical genres, going to the theatre, and of course being in touch with different kinds of people. Biographies of people are exciting, too. Not only those of celebrities, but also those of my friends. I find it highly interesting to see how people deal with different life situations and cut their own paths. I am – in the most positive sense – a very, very curious person. I want to know a lot – and I also question many things. Without my curiosity, a lot of inspirational moments would be completely lost on me. I don’t know if this is the universal answer as to where inspiration comes from, but it certainly works for me.

How did you first get into music? What is your oldest memory in connection with music?
My oldest memory is playing the recorder in nursery school. I still have a vague image of it in my head: There were maybe three or four of us learning to play the same instrument. Later I switched to the piano – I must have been about eight years old. To be honest, I had a difficult time reading musical notation at first. I was always a keen observer and able to learn things by heart quite easily. This was also true for the songs that I played in class. At the age of twelve, I wanted to learn how to sing. However, I had to wait until my voice would break. At the age of 16, I was finally ready to take singing classes. Around that time, I also started learning more about music theory. I soaked up all the knowledge like a sponge.

I believe that it was also at the age of twelve, that I got a keyboard from my parents. That was amazing. In my frenzy, I got up very early and found myself playing the keyboard at five in the morning with my headphones on. Thinking back, I must say I find this a little bit crazy.

As a child, you were already writing your own musicals, you were the head of a theatre group – and, together with other children, you performed your own musicals on the stage of your hometown. Those performances were pretty successful. Such projects take a lot of courage – even more so at such a young age. How did you manage to do this and what inspired you to write your first musical?
My musicals… Well, they developed – more or less – slowly. I started to compose at the age of twelve. I saw a musical performed entirely by children at the municipal theatre of Berndorf in Lower Austria. The performance impressed me greatly and so I thought, “I want to be able to do that, too!” – meaning I wanted to write a musical. It was clear to me, even back then, that this was not going to happen overnight.

But let’s start a bit earlier: In 1996, at the age of 13, I first stood in the limelight when the local scouts performed a theatre play. Many of us had so much fun that we wanted to do this kind of thing more often. However, back then it wasn’t possible for the scouts to do this on a regular basis. So the children founded a theatre group, the Jugendtheatergruppe Pottenstein, so we could keep acting. I remember that everyone, who wanted to participate, had to bring 20 Schillings and a coat hanger.

Initially, I was meant to be on stage, but since I had already started composing, I’d much rather accompany the theatre play with my keyboard. The year after, we added a few of my songs to the play – and there were two flute players and a drummer (well, just a cymbal and a small drum really) accompanying me and my keyboard. In the third year, we finally put the first musical on stage.

My first musical Merlin was a great success compared to the standards we had back then: Putting a musical onto a stage with about 30 children and young adults participating in the project was quite a challenge. Due to the positive feedback we got, we kept creating new musicals every year – and I kept creating new libretti, texts, and music for this purpose. For me, this was a phase of trial-and-error.

An excerpt of Günther’s musical „Ulysses“ (2005).

You don’t only compose musicals, but also songs. With your 1 week 1 song challenge you’ve set yourself quite an ambitious goal for 2018. What kind of music do you enjoy creating the most?
I love to compose all sorts of musical pieces. I am curious and open. Last year, for example, I started writing music for brass bands, although I’d never done this before. I went for it because the idea excited me.

V for Victory is a musical about the island of Jersey during World War II. How does a young Austrian composer relate to this topic?
In 2015, a young Belgian author named Dries Janssens, was looking for a composer because he had written a musical about the World War. I messaged him on Facebook and sent him some samples of my work. Apparently, he liked what he heard and so I became the composer of V for Victory.

The musical was your first project on Kickstarter – and you managed to exceed your financial goals. What will be the next steps in this project?
We are endlessly grateful for all the support and positive feedback we have been given for this project. I’d like to thank all our supporters. This means a lot to us!

On 26 and 27 March 2018, we will bring a concert version of the musical to London’s Stockwell Playhouse. This means we will present the songs and a short version of the plot to the audience as a first test. We would like to find out how they react to our work. This is a crucial part of developing a musical. If, say, a song is not particularly liked by the audience or the audience is left behind puzzled by the story, we can still improve the bits and pieces that don’t work well enough yet.

Our big goal for V for Victory is of course that we can put it on the stage as a musical with all the bells and whistles – or rather with costumes, stage designs, and an orchestra.

Young, aspiring artists have emerged from the theatre group you formed in your hometown. You have won a myriad of prizes – what goals do you have for your future?
Maybe this is not so much of a goal but more of a dream: I’d like to make a living off my music. That would be wonderful.

What advice would you give a person looking for inspiration – or a person trying to find the courage to put his or her inspiration into practice?
For those who are still trying to find inspiration, there’s just one advice: Stay positive, enjoy the small things in life, soak up everything with all your senses. And, above everything else: Be patient. Patience is such an important virtue, which appears to be fading away in our fast-moving time.

For those who need courage: Every journey starts with a small step. If you want to grow, you have to start out small. Show people you really trust – such as your family or friends – the products of your talents. This is important because otherwise your talents and ideas might just fade away. Your self-confidence will grow while you take these small steps.

Generally speaking, a certain amount of modesty is also necessary. The world is already full of super-egos who are full of hot air. When the bubble pops, however, not much of their ego is left. To me, talent is best paired with modesty and gratitude.

I love what I do because it allows me to be the way I am

In the final part of this interview, I’d like you to finish the following seven sentences spontaneously:

To me, music means… life.
My friends are… important to me.
With my family… I feel a very close connection.
Love is… everything.
My biggest challenge so far has been… every situation that required change.
I love what I do, because… it allows me to be the way I am.
My golden rule is… This might sound a bit soppy or even cheesy but my parents had a small board made of wax that read, „Whenever you can’t find your way, there will be a little light to guide you.” This saying has been guiding me – more or less consciously – through my whole life.

Thank you, Günther, for the interview!

Picture by Florian Schulte

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