Happy Birthday, Musica Ferrum!

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Independent music publisher Editions Musica Ferrum launched ten years ago, and as we celebrate the anniversary this week I am happy to share this interview which I recently conducted with EMF founder and owner Nikolas Sideris.

The interview covers the Musica Ferrum story so far, with many fascinating insights. The interview also appears as a YouTube video at the end of this post, following a transcript of the major points…

Andrew: Thank you for agreeing to talk to Pianodao!
And so, 10 years: what an achievement. So much has been achieved in that time. First of all, congratulations on the anniversary!

Nikolas: Thank you

Andrew: But let’s rewind back to 10 years ago.. why did you decide to start this?

Nikolas: The main push, the main point was for me to find a way to promote and show my music in a good light. So I began by thinking that I should print proper scores for myself. And then I thought, if I’m going to do it for myself, I might as well take my friends as well, you know?

And from friends I came to people they knew, and then I came to people that I didn’t know, but I loved their music. So that was sort of it… it felt like a natural thing.

Andrew: So your very first publication was your own music, Sketch Music. And this book contains a bunch of pieces. But instantly, as I look at this, I see it’s got some rather remarkable illustrations as well. So can you tell us about this book?

Nikolas: This was among the first batch that got printed. We printed 22 different scores from 6 composers, and all of them were of concert hall level difficulty. And I thought that we, you know, I needed to find or compose music that’s a bit more children friendly, more educational in its use.

So I came up with the idea of writing Sketch Music. And I thought I’d like to include artwork, but wanted to find something less colourful, less cuddly, less cute. And a friend of mine introduced me to Piero Pierini, who did this artwork as well as artwork for my “Piano Stories” and other pieces as well, other books, and it just felt so right for the music!

Andrew: And over time of course, Musica Ferrum has produced more and more educational music. So if we look at the next title in my pile, I’ve got Ben Crosland’s Cool Beans. Ben, I think joined you a couple of years in, and his books have been a huge success. And we’re seeing some different artwork this time…

Nikolas: Different artwork, yes. Similar to the style of Ben’s music. And also, this particular volume, Volume Two was the first one to enter the exam syllabuses of the UK. I think it was in either 2014 or 2015, Trinity choose a couple of pieces from here to go in their syllabus.

Andrew: His music has obviously been very successful in its own right… this must have given Musica Ferrum a bigger exposure to the press and helped you build the business more?

Nikolas: It has, it has. And of course, Ben is never a static composer. Apart from doing all the education books he’s also composed a number of other pieces, which are very popular on Spotify. And I really enjoy the privilege of being his publisher.

Andrew: So the educational music that Musica Ferrum has produced has become a prominent thing, but not at the expense of the performance music that you started with. Because of course, you’ve had your project, 250 pieces for Beethoven. Can you tell us about?

Nikolas: Absolutely. We met through a common friend with Susanna Kessel, who is the head of this whole project. And back in 2013, or 2014, and she was sort of toying with the idea of doing something like that. And once we met, I flew all the way to Frankfurt, the Musikmesse. When we met we found that we are a perfect match in terms of works and everything, and ethics.

And, we started working together and soon she found the first 25 composers. So the first volume got out in 2015, I believe November, which was the first year I actually moved back to the UK. And so the company also left Greece and went and became a UK company.

So that volume was followed by another 9 volumes, with a total of almost 1900 pages, English and German commentary, biographies, essays, everything you can imagine!

Andrew: It’s a massive achievement and I guess, created as a legacy to some extent…

Nikolas: It is, it is a gift from, basically, the music community, because when you’re talking about 260 (the total finally) composers sort of submitting and giving both thoughts and ideas and inspiration for Beethoven, then you can sort of say that this is truly a legacy of today’s music, of what’s happening today.

Andrew: And I’ve noticed you’ve got a new collection, which is just some of the easier pieces selected from that project.

Nikolas: Exactly. Because a lot of the pieces might feel too difficult for the average pianist, we decided to publish a separate collection with some of these pieces. Of course, there’s other pieces which might be easy, but this collection might serve well the educational market as well.

Andrew: I think one of the first books I ever came across from Musica Ferrum was Fairyland in Treble, one of your first publications, and your composition of course, a wonderful cycle of pieces there. Tell us about that.

Nikolas: It was an effort to bridge my own past life and current life to be honest, as a composer for computer games, yes, and the life of a publisher and the piano teacher and composer of that type of music.

So I selected 11 works, which I turned into duets, hoping to provide music that’s beautiful to play, easy enough for students to play with, or people who don’t have much experience on the piano, but still without reducing the musical quality or reducing anything from their musical content. So this is why they turned into duets.

And I signed up with a couple of amazing collaborators, the one being Nefeli Tsipouridi, who wrote 11 fairytales based on the music. And each one is quite unique in its own rights.

And then they also found Markus Krupa. I’m a fan of his artworks, and he drew a truly wonderful cover which involves all elements from all eleven stories. So that’s a fun game to play with your students. “Can you find a dragon?”, “Can you find where is that?”, “Where is Nelly, who’s going to the moon” and all that.

Andrew: What’s been the biggest challenges in all this, from just producing a few books that were black and white, through colour, through artworks, to now having a catalogue of 100 publications?

Nikolas: The one thing that I never anticipated was the the size of it, how you can grow. Thankfully, last year, I signed an exclusive deal with Hal Leonard about all the hard copies. So I gave up my warehouse, sent some 14,000 copies of music, to their warehouse. And now it’s their joy to distribute it!

Andrew: A fantastic recognition in there as well, given the short time that you’ve been a publisher. You have had lots of pieces from your publications in syllabuses. And now to have the world’s largest music publisher take on your catalog, happy to represent it…

Nikolas: It really feels that what I’m doing is right, the way I’m doing things, how presenting it and how I’m thinking, my time to process everything, because I’m still trying to work in a very personal way. And this means that I’m also keeping my own standards as high as I’d like them to be.

Andrew: And of course, it leaves you free to do what you want to do, doesn’t it? So tell us about that, what’s next?

Nikolas: Well, I keep publishing music, and there’s a Mosaic vol. 4 coming out very soon. So that’s a good thing and we added quite a few composers in the family of Mosaic. So that’s going to be very, very exciting to see coming out.

There’s also new books, other scores that are coming out by a Greek composer. And from my side as a creator more than just composer now, I’ve started designing some digital content, one being in the shape of a riddle/quiz all about music. It’s a browser game. So it’s based on the old tradition of browser games, and it works in a similar way. So at some point, you will have to also play with the address bar, for example.

And this was a sort of a labor of love, there’s no fee, and you also get a free score if you manage to reach the end, which is tricky, but there is a cherry in the end!

And then I’m also working on a music training app, which can serve as a game. It’s called “Hear & Know” and it has to do with listening and recognising music scores. And I’ve composed more than 50 pieces for that, recording them.

And everything is working out, as well as other games which are good. I’m not going to say any more details. But I can promise you that they are exciting, they have to do with music, so they’re not unrelated.

Andrew: And for you a full circle, to go from composing music for computer games, to creating computer games for music…

10 years in and clearly no regrets and lots of successes to celebrate. So well done! Good luck for the next 10…

Nikolas: Thank you very much. It’s a joy to be working with so many wonderful composers, including yourself because you’re part of the Mosaic family!

And It’s truly a joy to feel the support of many people through what I’m doing. And the confirmation that, again, what I’m doing is correct. In a way, because it’s your stuff, you can’t really say safely if it’s correct or not. But in this case, it feels that it’s at least Ok.

Andrew: Oh, I think so! More than okay! Well done!

Nikolas: Thank you. Thank you very much.

You can watch the whole interview recording here:

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.