Paul Bielatowicz on Progstravaganza progressive rock & metal compilation

Progstravaganza Questionnaire: Paul Bielatowicz

Paul Bielatowicz is best known for his virtuoso guitar work with some of the biggest names in progressive rock. He’s played, recorded and toured with the likes of Carl Palmer (ELP), Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Les Paul… to name just a few.

Paul took part on Progstravaganza XIX: Convergence, check the questionnaire below.

How did you come to do what you do?

At an early age I fell in love with classical music. I think I was attracted by its complexity – the feeling that someone had honed their craft and dedicated their entire life to making a musical statement has always inspirational to me. I remember feeling the same way when I had my first introduction to prog music – I got the same impression that this was music that had an artist’s heart and soul poured into every note, pure musical expression.

What is your first musical memory?

My first musical memory probably comes from before I was born. When my mother was pregnant, she used to play Debussy’s Clair De Lune to her bump! As a result, I’ve always had an affinity with the piece – the first time I heard it, it felt familiar to me, like I’d always known it. I’ve always felt a strong connection with the piece, and so when I started to arrange classical music for an album, this was the first piece I knew I wanted to tackle.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I think musical inspiration comes from every aspect of my life, but for Preludes & Etudes I felt inspired to present the electric guitar as a classical instrument: playing the music I love on the instrument I love. I wanted to strip the instrument back to its basic elements and record it in the same way a classical instrument would be captured on tape. So what you hear is just a single guitar, going straight into a vintage valve amp – no effects, no overdubs, no digital plug-ins – just lots of practice!

What message does the song on our Progstravaganza compilation carry?

Chopin’s Etude Op.10 #4 is the opening track from the album and features Simon Fitzpatrick (fellow Carl Palmer Band member) on bass. I arranged Chopin’s solo piano piece for guitar and bass by splitting the left and right hand parts between the two instruments. The result is an exciting duel between the two instruments.

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when arranging a piece?

When arranging a piece of music I try to use a variety of techniques and sonic approaches. For me, music has to be constantly changing to maintain my interest, so I’ll always look for a variety of ways to approach the same piece, in an attempt to keep an audience’s attention.

What is your method of arranging?

For the pieces on Preludes & Etudes I started with the original score and tried to stay as close to what the composers intended. There are a few pieces where I had to change certain lines that were impossible to play on the guitar – either they contained intervals too wide to be fingered or they went outside the instrument’s range. In a few cases I had to change the keys in order to make them fit the guitar’s range or, in the case of Clair De Lune, transpose to facilitate the use of sustained open string notes. I wrote an accompanying transcription book for the album, include tabs of every tune as well as performance notes, gear settings, details of how I approached each arrangement and biogs of each composer. The book also comes with two CD’s (backing tracks & soloed guitar parts) and is available from my website.

Paul BielatowiczHow do you see your music evolving?

I’ve been playing the material from Preludes & Etudes live – it’s been really encouraging to see and hear people’s reactions. The next project I have in the pipeline will consist of my own compositions, drawing from my love of classical music and continuing on from Preludes & Etudes.

What advice would you give to other musicians, trying to make inspired music and get it out in the world?

For me, I think it can be summed up in three sentences:

Play the music you love. Don’t fall into the trap of playing something just because you think you should or that’s what people expect of you – you’ll never be happy doing that.

Find your own voice. What’s the point of trying to recreate something that’s already out there? If you have a favourite band, then their influence will naturally come through in your music, but there’s no need for you to try to sound like them – what’s that offering the world when the original is already out there?

If it sounds good to you, then it IS good. Music is art, some people will like your music, others won’t. There are some people who hate Beethoven or Mozart, but that doesn’t take away from the perfection of their art.

What are you looking forward to?

The release of Preludes & Etudes marks the beginning of my solo career, and I’m really excited to see where it’s going to take me. I’ve spent the past decade playing with some big names in the prog world (Carl Palmer, Neal Morse), and that’s been an amazing experience, but the feeling of expressing myself through my own music is like nothing else.


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