Our Rehearsal Room: Ziggy and Miles Johnston

Our Rehearsal Room: Ziggy and Miles Johnston

The guitarist brothers on playing together, how they program and remembering to have fun. 

Ziggy and Miles Johnston
Melbourne, Australia

Our Rehearsal Room: Ziggy and Miles Johnston

The guitarist brothers on playing together, how they program and remembering to have fun. 

Can you tell me about the first time you ever performed together, and what that experience was like?  

The first time we performed together (that we can remember!) was at our primary school for a fundraiser night. We were playing background music on a stage toward the side of the school’s hall for about two hours and we felt really excited about it. To this day, we have never felt nervous about performing, but the amount of adrenaline we’ve felt has decreased as we’ve become more comfortable and consistent on stage. We performed a few simple duets, and a lot of solo pieces in unison.

What has your rehearsal process been like for your upcoming recital at the Melbourne Recital Centre? 

We both live at home with our parents, so rehearsing is convenient. We only start rehearsing together once we’ve learned our solo parts. As it gets closer to the concert we progressively do less solo practice, and more as an ensemble. Currently, we are rehearsing together every day that we can. 

What is it about the energy of Latin music that attracts you, and how did you put together your program? 

The Spotlight series (that our concert is part of) is very similar to the Local Heroes concert series, in that you present a one-hour program that ascribes to a unifying theme. We proposed two different concerts to the MRC based on the repertoire from our CD and pieces that we wanted to learn. The first concert we proposed contained classical art music from Australia, France, and America, whose composers are still alive today. The second concert consisted of highly-rhythmic music from Spain and South America, using the cultural and language connections as the theme. Melbourne Recital Centre suggested that we go with the second concert program for our concert in March. After looking back at our proposed program, we realised that we should remove the Spanish component; it was only about 20% of the concert.

Each piece that we will play in the concert has been chosen for a different reason. Energy is something that can be difficult to describe with words since it is something that is usually felt. Music is one of the few languages that can convey energy and emotions. Through our concert, we will take you on a journey through the world of Argentinian tangos, as well as Cuban and Brazilian classical music.

As siblings, how do you manage the balance between a professional and personal relationship? Do you find that you need that distinction to work effectively together?

This isn’t something that we’ve ever thought about. We care about each other and we care about the music. If anything needs to be improved, we say it; we care for and respect one another enough to say our opinions. It is important to both of us that we become our best and someday play better than our heroes. We have high standards for ourselves and will never be satisfied if the music isn’t realised to that standard. We don’t have to think about balancing our relationship based on personal and professional factors because we always enjoy working together and making awesome music.

How important has the mentorship of your teachers been to your musical development? Do you think there is value in having multiple teachers and the different creative ideas that come along with each of them?

We wouldn’t be where we are today without all the great teachers we’ve had. Because of the level that we’re at, any lesson we have with any teacher is kind of like a masterclass. We have chosen our current teachers because over time we have come to understand what we need from a teacher and what we are missing. Geoffrey Morris and Slava Grigoryan provide all this to us and we enjoy learning from them. In the end, you decide what you do with the music no matter who you learn from. For younger musicians, it is definitely better to just have one teacher since it makes the job of the teacher a lot easier. All teachers have different areas of expertise and you must get to a certain level before you can truly exploit that expertise.

Many of our readers are at the beginning of their professional careers. What advice would you give them in forging their own path in the contemporary professional musical landscape?

There are three extremely important factors in forging your own career. The first is to work incredibly hard at your craft and aim to be as good as your heroes. This involves a lot of efficient practice to improve, and listening to a lot of different styles of music. Broaden your musical tastes! The second factor is performing as much as you can. You need to get your name out there and build an audience. However, don’t play free gigs unless it’s really worth it. Don’t undersell yourself. The last factor is to remember to have fun.