Dominic Flynn graduated from The Academy Music Department in 2014 and went on to study classical music, jazz, and composition at the University of Southern California.
He spent his senior year at USC writing a few projects, including a set of original compositions on classical nylon string guitar entitled “Unforeseen”, which he recently performed on a fully funded European tour. Additionally, he composed two sets of jazz influenced music for a sextet of guitar, piano, bass, drums, trumpet, and trombone that he debuted at the Blue Whale jazz club in Los Angeles. He is now moving into a new place in L.A. and beginning to promote “Unforeseen”, which he also recorded while in Berlin. He spoke about how it was great to take a break from the standard classical guitar repertoire. Check out the interview below with Academy Marketing Director Tim Butler.
Dominic: I was taking a break while I was in school from learning the standard classical guitar repertoire because I found that it was kind of uninspiring, and certainly not innovative. I found myself either being naturally driven more toward great classical music written for orchestras or jazz improvisation. Not only the standards, but jazz that has a really wonderful compositional element to it.
Tim: When you say that you were growing tired of the standard classical repertoire, are you referring to music meant entirely for guitar? As opposed to compositions for an entire ensemble?
Dominic: Right. I grew tired of the classical music that was written for the guitar so I decided to take influences from orchestral music and current string quartets, in addition to solo works for piano or violin — cello suites, keyboard suites, or violin partitas. I essentially decided to look at all of those works and gather musical influences to write a six-part movement — a forty-five minute guitar suite intended for the classical nylon string guitar. The first and second were just released in the past few days. They are on my Instagram and YouTube where they've been released through the company Open Strings Berlin. We just went into this little art studio and recorded live videos of the pieces. They turned out incredible.
Tim: How did you get this opportunity?
Dominic: I received a stipend to go to Europe from the organization Euro Strings. They give scholarships to young musicians to play at festivals. I've played my music at a few festivals in Spain, one in Paris, one in London, and a few in Berlin. I made a very specific note to only play my music whenever I was performing in a concert.
Tim: Yeah, you have to do that.
Dominic: Yeah, right! I played a lot of Bach at my recital at USC, and I know all of the standard rep, but I just wanted to make more of a statement with my music. Whenever I had the opportunity to play my music, it had to be only my music, all the time. I think so many classical guitarists have never touched the electric guitar, and they haven't gathered influences from music out of their own bubble. And it's horrible because the classical guitar — the nylon string guitar — is an amazing instrument. There aren’t many people that have the technique with it and then say “OK, I'm going to write music that has something new and innovative to say.”
Tim: You remind me of Jesse Langen. Some of the things I see that he's doing on guitar are really interesting. I wouldn't have thought of using a classical guitar for that. Why Europe? Is there a market for this music over there?
Dominic: Honestly, a big part of me just wanted to see Europe, but it's Euro Strings that financially allowed me to go. There is a scene for classical guitar festivals in Europe — they have the money. It's more of a thing there than in the United States. It is by no means the market I want to stay in, but it's the market that I know will immediately listen to my music. I knew that if I went to Europe there would be an audience of people that would listen to me at these festivals and pay their way. And it’s there that I found Open Strings Berlin and we agreed to collaborate and make these videos. I'm really proud of them. And video is really the only way I wanted to release them.
Tim: So these are exclusively videos? No audio recordings?
Dominic: There are a few labels out there that have a pretty big reach through video. One is Guitar Salon International here in Santa Monica, who I record with all the time. Their videos have a lot of reach. I did this Argentinian tango piece for them that now has around 17,000 views. And by having that reach, the more people will know about my music. Then with my next project I don't necessarily need to release it through any of these companies because I've already benefited from their exposure.
Tim: I imagine that once you have that credibility then it allows you to have a little more freedom in what you do next.
Dominic: Absolutely. And I don’t have to live in a bubble since the classical guitar is not in the orchestra — it's not a very traditional classical instrument. It isn’t weird for me to show up to a classical festival and say I'm only playing my own music. People have been accepting.
Tim: I am also curious about what you were saying earlier about the electric guitar. Do you think the same audiences will say "Oh, this is a nice extension of what I'm used to listening to"?
Dominic: That's definitely what I hope my audience gets from it. I just want it to be something new — my own voice just in a different way, with a different outlet.
Tim: I appreciate the perspective. I sometimes haven’t been as into some of the traditional classical music as I hoped. I've always kind of wanted more.
Dominic: I think a lot of the issue with classical music, with classical guitar especially, is that it can be emotionless. Don’t get me wrong — an amazing interpreter and performer of classical music can always do the opposite and put their own sense of self in it. That will always be amazing. But sometimes what I hear in intellectual music is living below its potential. It has to say something, and it has to come from some kind of emotional place. So many classical pieces and jazz standards were the innovative thing at the time, but at a certain point are you actually saying anything by playing “Scrapple from the Apple”? Maybe you are. And I would love to hear it. But it's difficult for me to feel anything from that music anymore. It just puts the onus on the musician if they want to move the piece forward.
Tim: I get the same feeling when I hear new blues-oriented music. If you’re predominantly influenced by the same music that influenced Led Zeppelin, it’s not new. I'm always curious how that would still be interesting for someone.
Dominic: Right. But one of the cool things about Germany is that they really do fund the tradition. It was not hard for me to get gigs that paid. I stayed at a hostel for free because they heard I was a musician. I just had to play for the guests. They really love the culture and tradition. But when I was talking to German friends about it and telling them how it wasn’t speaking to me as much right now, they totally agreed with what I was trying to do. They respect the tradition, but also innovation.
Tim: Well, the guitar in classical music is also a newer instrument in the grand scheme of things.
Dominic: And a lot of amazing musicians just think that the guitar is kind of scary and unknown and never even touch it. There's not a clear understanding of "this is how it’s done, and this is what could be done." I’m not sure it’s reaching its potential compositionally. There is definitely a next step. That's why I'm really pushing my solo classical guitar project — because I think the classical guitar world needs this. There are a ton of great young players coming out right now — tons of people with chops. But chops by themselves don’t really have any emotional content.
Tim: Of course. Metallica has chops. So, what do you remember most about your time at The Academy?
Dominic: It was kind of simple for me. The best parts were always the teachers. Studying guitar with Jesse (Langen) and English and philosophy with Nick Roux was really rewarding. I would say that Nick Roux probably taught me half of everything that I know. I don’t think I have ever met anyone, even after school, that is quite as knowledgeable about what he taught as he is. He not only knew how to think and how to break down really complicated ideas, but how to communicate them and teach them. It really gave me a great foundation for everything that I've done moving forward. And Jesse Langen. Opera Team, classical lessons, New Music Ensemble. He really just made me incredibly enthusiastic about everything that I was doing. His guidance was really special.
Tim: Now that you are finishing school, do you have any advice for this year's seniors at The Academy?
Dominic: Honestly, it's really simple. I think people tend to overthink being successful. It's really just putting a certain amount of focus hours to anything — zoning everything else out and just doing it. Even if it's annoying or difficult. It's not more complicated than that.