Foxboro guitarist has storied career as music journalist | Local News
When you have two great passions in life – writing and music – it makes perfect sense to combine them.
For Mark Small, 71, of Foxboro, writing about music has been at the center of his professional life for decades, taking him not only across the country but also to places as far afield as Israel, Japan, Ecuador, Europe and Scandinavia.
“Music has been a big influence on me since I was a kid,” said Small, who first picked up a guitar as a teenager. Those early days of plucking guitar strings led to a serious investment in education when Small earned his bachelor’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree from California State University, both in classical guitar.
Highlights of his musical career include classical guitar concerts around the country and appearances on three international television and radio shows with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (formerly known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).
Small has released six CDs with the Small-Torres Guitar Duo, one with the Small-Clemente Duo, and two solo albums. His arrangement of Pat Metheny’s “Letter from Home” was included on the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s 2005 Grammy-winning album Guitar Heroes.
But music became a sideline for Small and music journalism his main career after a 1982 letter he wrote to the editor of Guitar Player magazine opened a number of doors. Small grew from that initial contact and soon developed a working relationship and was a frequent contributor to monthly publications such as Classical Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, DownBeat and other magazines.
However, his biggest breakthrough as an author came when he was hired by Berklee College of Music, where Small served as editor of Berklee Today magazine from 1992 to October 2018, producing 83 issues covering many musicians and music-related topics.
Small said he loves writing about all styles of music, but given his own background it’s not surprising that he has a particular passion for classical guitar players.
When asked about some of the best interviews he’s done, he said it’s very hard to pick just a few after four decades as a writer.
Topping the list is British classical guitarist John Williams, who has been a huge inspiration to Small since he was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music.
“I was thrilled when I was asked to interview John for Acoustic Guitar Magazine in New York City while he was on tour there in 1999,” he recalls.
Close behind is Pat Metheny, a jazz guitarist, composer, and 20-time Grammy winner whom Small first met when they were both in their twenties.
“I heard Pat play at a little jazz club in Boston called Pooh’s Pub and I knew right away that he had a special talent and was going to make a name for himself,” recalls Small. “His playing is unique and the music he has written touches people all over the world very deeply. I’ve interviewed him many times, but for a Berklee Today cover story about him, we spoke in February 2004 at his rehearsal studio in New York City.”
Another highlight of his career was meeting Alex Lacamoire, who was musical director of several Broadway musicals, including “Hamilton”.
Small also recalled a memorable interview with rock band Imagine Dragons when they were relatively unknown.
“My daughter Meegan got to know the band when they were just starting out,” Small said. “She was a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, when the band’s lead singer, Dan Reynolds, was a student there. She organized a benefit concert for the Wheelchair Foundation and Dan Reynolds asked if she would choose his band for the concert because they wanted to play to a large audience.”
Small — along with his wife, MaryAnn — also helped transform the music scene back home in Foxboro. The couple worked hard on a community drive to raise approximately $20,000 to purchase a new piano for Foxboro High School’s music program in 2006.
“The Foxboro Music Association and Steve Massey, former band director of FHS, and other city residents have been so helpful in this effort,” Small said. Many local businesses, residents, and the Kraft organization made donations to help reach the goal.
In the end, enough money was raised to buy a Yamaha grand piano to replace the dented piano that the student musicians were using at the time.
“It’s a collective gift from the city’s residents that has been played for decades,” Small said.
Reflecting on his long writing career, Small feels that magazines and newspapers are still important sources of information about other people, but reporting the facts accurately is a must.
“I always check the facts carefully. In order to get a good story, the author must always do his homework. For me as a music journalist, that means really doing research for your topic. That includes listening very carefully and even learning something about the music of the artist you want to talk to,” Small said.
While Small retired as editor of Berklee Today three years ago, its author can still be found occasionally in music magazines.
In addition, his composition “Unforeseen Destinations” for orchestra and a guitar soloist will be recorded by the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra under the baton of conductor Julius Williams in mid-2023.