VC Talks: an interview with Ben Diamond, GLORY Int'l Music Competition prize winner


  • 1st Prize, GLORY Int'l Baroque Music Competition 2018
  • 2nd Prize, GLORY Int'l Modern & Contemporary Classical Music Competition 2018
  • 2nd Prize, GLORY Int'l Classical Music Competition 2018
  • 3rd Prize, GLORY Int'l Romantic Music Competition 2018

Ben Diamond is a second year classical guitar student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, studying with Canadian virtuoso Sylvie Proulx. He previously studied with guitarists Fernando Hernandez, Reece Smith, and Charlie Barfoot. He has also performed in masterclasses with Louis Trepaniér, and Michael Kolk at the "Victoria Summer Guitar Academy 2018".

In the community, Ben has completed examinations in programs such as the "Royal Conservatory of Music" (guitar, piano, theory), and ""Conservatory Canada"". Ben has also won a variety of awards in local music events such as the "Rotary Music Festival" and the ""Kiwanis Music Festival"". In the 2017 Kiwanis festival, he was the first ever guitarist to win the ""Junior Instrumental Rose Bowl"". Ben also plays for receptions, private events, accompanies singers/choirs, and plays in orchestras for musicals such as "42nd street" (2016) and ""The Wizard of Oz"" (2017). He also teaches private guitar lessons at home, and with "MAX. Arts. Athletics. Wellness".

Outside of his guitar studies, he is a member of the "Quintessential Vocal Ensemble" Ventus and Aquae choirs directed by Susan Quinn, MUN Chamber Choir, and MUN Jazz Ensemble. Ben believes that his biggest influence on his musicality derives from the many people in his life, and the experiences he has had with them. He feels very lucky to live in a city with such a rich culture of music and arts.

What year were you born?
I was born in 1999, and I am 19 years old. The last of the 20th century!

Do you come from a musical family?
Yes. Not exactly from academic music but I have relatives who have pursued professional careers in performance, and music education. My immediate family enjoy my playing and are my biggest supporters on my journey!

What was your earliest musical experience?
My mother argues I was experiencing music while still in the womb! My older sister who has severe cerebral palsy would use music as a therapeutic device which I apparently "sang along" to. My earliest specific music experience was beginning piano at the age of 3 which I later gravitated towards the guitar, which brings me here!

Why did you choose to play the classical guitar?
One of the things I missed about piano playing was the independent factor of playing the melody and harmony all at once. I realized this was possible on a guitar once I began playing fingerstyle jazz. This interest in jazz fuelled my passion for the classical repertoire, which unites my interest in independent music making with the colourful sound of the guitar.

Who are your favorite composers and why?
I tend to have a niche for contemporary classical music, especially written for the guitar. I have developed through playing the works of Leo Brouwer who is a Cuban composer for the guitar. He combines the elements of afro-cuban rhythms with Stravinsky-isms to present a unique flavour to the instrument. I am also stunned by the virtuosity of Joaquín Rodrigo. I enjoy listening to Villa-Lobos (guitar works and other pieces), Debussy, Beethoven, and J.S Bach.

Who are your musical idols?
I am so lucky to have a handful of idols which I personally know. My "guitar hero" is Steve Cowan who is also from my home town of St. John's Newfoundland. He has been a great mentor and friend to me. His success in commissioning new works for the guitar is very important in the preservation of music, and he does so with clever musicality. I am also a huge fan of guitarists Marcin Dylla, Julian Bream, John Williams, Thomas Viloteau, and David Russell. I also greatly admire my professor Sylvie Proulx, my choir conductor Susan Quinn, and Andrew Staniland. Those are just a small handful of the many names who inspire me!

What is a perfect performer?
The most important aspect of a "perfect" performance is the ability to touch one's own heart. Repertoire choice comes down to what one's strengths are, and using these strengths to design a distinct character. Many musicians like myself enjoy a lot of different kinds of music, but it is about finding the genre/ style that suits you the best. When a performer has selected the music which represents them, plays with effortless technique, and has a convincing expression, they are performing in their truest state.

What music are you mostly enjoying at the moment?
I tend to enjoy lots of music! Right now I am deeply immersed in what I am practicing for my jury/ other performances. I also enjoy the music which I am rehearsing in the choir I sing in called "Quintessential Vocal Ensemble", as well as Jazz in the "MUN Jazz Ensemble" and alternative rock. I am not too picky!

What are the main influences in your music-making?
I tend to conclude that the biggest influence in my music making comes from the many people I have met in my life. Besides the people I listed above, I have learned lots from the many teachers, family, and friends who have guided me to being my best. These people also define my character, helping fuel my performances. I am also very fortunate to have traveled to many places and festivals around the world where I have learned great advice and musical lessons.

When you are performing, what are your thoughts?
While performing, I react to pieces harmonically and decide which personality comes from what chord. The guitar being a homogenous coloured instrument allows me to associate timbre with chord quality and voicing. This is an aspect of guitar which makes interpretation truly infinite. I also think ahead in music to help me keep focused, because it is very important to be aware of what is coming next. I also take time to enjoy the sounds I am making, and the energy I receive from the audience.

Where do you study music and what are your future educational plans?
I am currently a B.Mus student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, where I study guitar with Sylvie Proulx. I will be auditioning for the performance program this year which I will also study a minor in composition. I hope to pursue performance at the highest level and eventually obtain a Doctorate in Guitar Performance to hopefully continue performing, writing, and teaching in many different places! Because of the support and passion I have for music, I simply cannot see any other possibility!

What are your reasons to participate in music competitions?
There are many good reasons to participate in competitions. While there are unfortunate politics that come into play, I believe that there are many connections made in competitions which can help shape one's career. In my opinion, the best competitions take place when there is a festival aspect involving concerts, masterclasses, lectures, and social gatherings. It is so important to put the toxic competitive atmosphere aside from what is truly important. The idea of competing for a grand prize is thrilling and fuels excitement to learn challenging repertoire. I have experienced this before and it is so satisfying to have a fantastic performance on behalf of many peers. I hope to compete more and more in the future!

What is your opinion about GLORY International Music Competition?
I thought this competition was very friendly and overall fair. There was a noticeable drive to maintain fair judging amongst competitors, and I was fascinated to see where all of us competitors came from around the world. In my opinion, I would rather have one panel of judges who's names are revealed to the competitors. I feel that there may have been a negative input from other competitors which involves voting poorly for other musicians in their category, to increase their own chances of winning. For example: if I chose to give a very low score to a competitor in my category, this would help the average score of my performance, benefitting me. I do not believe this occured, but it may have for others. I also noticed a substantial difference in my marks by the Professional/ Student juries. Other then that, I would recommend this competition to peers looking to portray their talents to the world!

When it is not music, what interests you? What is your favorite pastime?
As musicians, it is important to take breaks. I love music and never get tired of it, but it is very important for me to experience other aspects of life. I really enjoy travelling, watching movies, running, occasional video games, and being outdoors with friends.

What is your life motto?
"Comparison is the thief of joy" - Theodore Roosevelt.

Thank you very much for talking to us.

In this series of interviews, we explore how some of the most talented and prize winning young classical musicians became interested in music, who are their musical idols, what they are working on at present, and what they strive to achieve in the future.