The Bosnian A'tudes: An Interview with Mattia Bussi

From: Novara, Italy

Age: 30

Instrument: 3rd Horn, Sarajevska Filharmonija

Favorite Brew: wine and eating; espresso

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started playing music?

Mattia Bussi: I was 7 when I started with music and played in the wind band of my village. I wanted to play the trombone because my great-grandfather played it during WWII when he was a soldier, but I was too small to play the trombone so they said I should play horn.

CR: What age do you start going to the Conservatory then?

MB: I was 11, but I was going to a middle school for regular schooling and then going to the Conservatory afterwards. First year you just learn how to play your instrument, and eventually we start playing with the others in orchestra and chamber music. The required amount of time to study for horn is six years, but it’s not really enough time.

CR: Why did you want to pursue music as a career?

MB: There was a period of my life where I was very inspired by music, I got to play with my friends, go to the wind band. I started to listen to CDs, I saw other people going to masterclass and having fun, so I said why not. Also, I was a teenager so anything that sounded a bit different from other stuff I thought sounded fun. We all want to be different, no?

CR: Sure. Did you do it to pick up girls?

MB: No no, it actually didn’t work at all *laughter* They said, “you’re going to be a musician which means no money”, and I am not a rock star, just a french horn player. Not very charming I guess.

CR: *laughter* So, your first job was in Cairo, yes? How long did it take to win a job after you graduated with your degree?

MB: Actually, this was not my first job. I was in the Army for two years and the last year of being in the Army I started in another conservatory in Torino and I graduated there, but I was working even before I graduated because I got a job in the Army band. But when I finished my Conservatory degree I was looking for auditions and it came out that the principal conductor of the Cairo Symphony was Italian. He came to Italy for auditions and I played the audition and won; it was all very sudden and very misunderstood. In Italy we have two different meanings, one is audition and one is concorso. Concorso is for permanent job, audition is for excerpt player, so when I saw audition for Cairo job I said, “OK I can get a job playing as an extra”, but I got the permanent job instead. At the time I had no other job and wondered if I should do it or not, but I decided yes, and I moved there.

CR: What was Cairo like?

MB: I was playing 2nd/4th horn and it was very nice. I learned a lot of things, especially from Russian players. The symphony is full of Russians there, and our first horn was Russian and we played a lot of Russian music, so playing something like Tchaikovsky was really very nice to play beside him. We also played a lot of big stuff like Strauss and Mahler. What can I say, it was nice to play in the orchestra. It was just more of a life experience, more than anything I learned to be stronger and I learned how to practice without having my teacher available every day. I had to be independent, I had to solve my own problems and find my own way.

CR: What kinds of things did you learn when you were in Cairo? How different of a person were you from when you started to when you left?

MB: I learned how to work with the same people all the time and I learned to be stronger as a musician. I had to be more open, had to open my ears, open my eyes, and try to be a sponge and learn as much as I could. At the end of that experience I learned how an orchestra works, all the good and bad stuff, how to relate to colleagues, when is the right time to talk, when is the wrong time.

CR: You are a very confident player, but have you ever experience feelings of fear and doubt, especially doing something like moving to Cairo?

MB: Of course, like everybody I experience that. Especially in Italy we don’t have so many auditions so we sometimes have to be brave and go somewhere else. What I would recommend to everybody, to any musician is to not to be afraid to go anywhere if you want to be a musician. If you want to start your career and you have a chance to play in an orchestra in South Africa as an example, just take it because that would be a small door opening for the rest of your career. If I were not in Cairo I probably wouldn’t have gotten this job in Sarajevo, and I wouldn’t have this life that I have that I like very much. Just if you really want to be a musician, don’t be afraid to go anywhere and try anything.

CR: What kinds of things were you most afraid of before you got the job and the experience? What was a thought that was going through your mind?

MB: That I would never have a permanent job and wouldn’t have a chance to have a family. I was thinking for a while that I should quit, that I should do something else but luckily I only thought that for a little bit.

CR: What kept you going, what was your motivation?

MB: Just love of music and love for playing the horn; also hope. I had a lot of hope because I was still young, and when you are 24 it is still OK to dream. But I just couldn’t imagine life without it, it is what I had always done. Music is my life. But it’s always OK to ask yourself if it’s really what you want, I’ve asked myself this many times. But you have to be persistent because it is our life.

CR: How would you define what ‘fear’ is?

MB: Fear is dark, fear is like you are in a room and you cannot find the light. As a musician, when you are afraid it means that your light is switched off. For me it helps to think this way.

CR: What are some things that you do to counteract feelings of fear?

MB: I just try to be as relaxed as I can, to think about enjoying music, even if it’s hard. There are many pieces that we play that are not always that great, or with groups that are not always that great, but you have to try and find something to enjoy it anyway. I also try to just take it easy, I am just an orchestra player, if I play a wrong note no one is going to kill me. Even if you miss a note, people will still be happy from what they heard if you give all your happiness. I can understand that if you have a lot of pressure all the time that you wouldn’t be so happy and relaxed, but maybe there is another way. There are a lot of great musicians who find their own way.

CR: In your opinion, can fear generate insecurity?

MB: Yes but also being vulnerable. I had this feeling in Cairo because I was in a different culture. There is always music, but I was doing it with people from another culture and I didn’t know how they think and what they thought about me, and I was still young so I didn’t have anything to defend myself in terms of experience so I had to be careful that feeling this way didn’t affect my playing.

CR: Very true. What are some things that you feel most inspired by?

MB: I feel very inspired by my roots, being Italian and having so much culture behind me. In my nation, my country, we gave birth to almost everything. We have 70% of the cultural heritage in the world, and I feel very inspired by that because I want to represent my country in the right way; every time I play I feel that I should leave a mark. I’m inspired by Stella, my girlfriend, but in general my roots, my nationality, my family.

CR: That’s really cool. I would also feel very honored and very inspired if my home country was so influential in the art world. What do you love most about Italy?

MB: I love the beauty.

CR: Where’s your favorite place to go?

MB: Rome, of course. Rome is the best place in the world, and I am not saying because I am Italian, I’m saying because really, it’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been it Istanbul which people tell me is amazing, but Rome really has the atmosphere of “La Dolce Vita.”

CR: I hope to go soon. I have always wanted to go.

MB: I mean you can come to my place whenever, of course. Any time you are there just call me.

CR: Awesome! So, can you describe a stereotypical Italian?

MB: Stereotypical Italian? *laughter* well I would say well dressed, wants to eat and drink, likes to drink and eat good food, and eats well every day. He or she likes to enjoy life a lot, a hedonist who sees beauty in everything. Fortunately this is a very nice stereotype of an Italian that I am giving you but we are not like that, most of us it’s not like that anymore, especially in the North. We just want to work, and even what we are doing now, having coffee and talking about life would be a waste of time in North Italy. People would ask why we are not practicing. But this is what I want Italians to be like again, to care about family and each other, to love family very much.

CR: Speaking more to that, what does ‘community’ mean to you?

MB: A community is a group of people who want to help each other. It can be a community of any kind, from the same city or country or job, somehow people understand each other, have the same problems, and want to help each other.

CR: Do you feel that in the music community we do enough to help each other?

MB: Well, from what I remember in Italy if you are a freelancer, unfortunately you find that many people want to, how you say, steal your gig. Maybe now things have changed, I don’t know. But, there is a saying, mors tua, vita mea, which means “you die, I live”. It’s a Latin motto, and this is how I felt the gig life was in Italy; it did not feel like community. When I was a freelancer I was young and people were always looking at me like “you are a child, you don’t know anything” and that’s not really the way.

CR: Oh that’s not OK.

MB: It’s completely stupid.

CR: I’m sorry that that was your experience. Unfortunately it’s not even specific to freelancing, it can absolutely be in orchestras as well.

MB: Yes of course. Musicians always think they think they can’t look afraid, “I can’t look worried because someone will know and they won’t hire me.” I understand this, but, at the same time, if we don’t talk about how we treat each other this way will always be a problem. In Italian there is a word, rancore, it means a problem that you don’t talk about, but what helps us be better musicians is to share experiences and talk and have coffee together, talk about music, talk about life in general, get to know more people and travel, what you are doing now, for example. To be a better player you have to practice, but to be a better musician you have have your own life experiences and share in someone else’s.

CR: Yes, absolutely.

MB: Yes, like I said before, be a sponge. This other attitude creates a lot of negative things, it really stifles creativity, your ability to really put something out. If you’re not happy, if you are scared and worried that you will be judged, it won’t work. It’s OK to feel scared, it’s OK to feel vulnerable, but you need to learn from this and solve your own problems, be confident in yourself.

CR: Exactly. It’s not OK to use our differences to push each other down.

MB: Many times I have the feeling that many musicians use music for themselves. It has to be the opposite, you have to use yourself for music. It is a universal language for everyone to hear, and it’s a miracle. So for me, every time I play music, I want to play this as well as I can because I want to make this music and this composer live again. Music always evokes something, but it could say something to you one way and can say something different to me, but that’s the greatest thing about it. It is understood by everyone, it is a language, and it speaks to everyone.

CR: That’s a great way of seeing it. But yeah, to make someone feel that the way they are appreciating it is wrong. That’s what I hope will change over time, instead of hurting each other and judging each other for how we are different that we say, “oh that’s interesting, here’s how I do it, and it’s interesting you do it that way, but hey, we love music, we are people, we are human, and let’s appreciate and respect each other because we have those things in common.” If nothing else, we can connect to each other that way.

MB: I like what you are saying, and I agree. It’s just right now we live in a system and we have this system that tells us every day how to live. If you feel a bit different from this system, you start being vulnerable, and doubt yourself and what you are doing. But the best thing is to be who you are.

CR: Yes, definitely. Sometimes we really underestimate ourselves as people, as a culture, as a society. We really are capable of doing more to help ourselves and help each other and I’m trying to find out if other people feel the same way. I want to encourage people to think about it in different ways, to see it from someone else’s perspective. There’s no reason for someone to feel that they aren’t living life or playing music the way that they’re supposed to, thinking that they fail or aren’t important.

MB: Yes, I agree.

CR: On that topic, what does feeling important and successful mean to you?

MB: For me to be successful means to not to feel like working every day, even if I do, and most of all to have the chance to give a good life to my family, in this case to Stella. I want us to have a good life together, and that is a success to me if I can provide that as a musician. Because I am able to, of course I feel successful. Success is to enjoy what you are doing and share it with another person.

CR: What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received from someone?

MB: Have clear ideas of what you want in life. Dreaming is part of life, but don’t be a professional dreamer. Try to reach targets, reach goals. There is no one behind you telling you to wake up, so if you want to be useful to your field right now, make sure that you are doing something even if it is not the last stop that you want to take. Don’t only achieve one great thing, achieve many. Please do it, everybody. Make the stops along the way to make sure you can get there.

CR: Awesome. Do you have a favorite quote or a mantra?

MB: One motto that I use many times is vivi e lascia vivere. That translates to live and let live. Also clear up your mind, which is chiarisciti le idee in Italian.

CR: What are your hobbies?

MB: Soccer, playing soccer, playing video games, reading, sleeping, does that count? Enjoying life, I cannot tell you that I have a specific hobby. I have different kind of habits depending on season. When it’s warmer out I like to watch cycling on TV, and during winter I like more to sleep, drink and watch futbol.

CR: OK. Is there a last thing you want to talk about?

MB: No, just always serve the music.

CR: Hvala Mattia!

MB: No problem.