Grammy Award Winner Jason Vieaux Visits Southwestern
The Sarofim School of Fine Arts was thrilled to welcome Grammy Award-winning classical guitarist Jason Vieaux to campus as a featured guest of the 2018-2019 Sarofim Music Series.
ABOUT JASON VIEAUX
Jason Vieaux discovered his virtuosity for guitar at the early age of eight, when he began taking lessons with Jeremy Sparks, a founding member of the Buffalo Guitar Quartet in New York. From there he went on to study under renowned guitarist John Holmquist at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and began participating in prestigious guitar competitions. Before graduating, Mr. Vieaux had earned distinction as the youngest musician ever to win first place at the International Guitar Competition presented by the Guitar Foundation of America, the world’s largest multinational guitar organization. Since that career-launching success, Mr. Vieaux has gone on to perform with over one hundred orchestras and at every major guitar series in the United States. Aside from live performance, he has also held a teaching position at the Cleveland Institute of Music for twenty-two years, helped co-found the Curtis Institute of Music, established his own online school, and has recorded multiple albums - including Play, which won him a Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo in 2015.
The world-class musician led an intimate master class with four Southwestern students prior to his March 12th performance. Working one-on-one in thirty-minute sessions with each performer, Mr. Vieaux offered expert advice to help highlight their strengths and refine their techniques. In the evening Mr. Vieaux performed a solo concert to a full house, which featured the works of José Luis Merlín, Bach, Albéniz, Scarlatti and other classical music maestros. Amidst his busy day, he was kind enough to sit down for a discussion about his career experiences and advice he has for aspiring musicians.
ON MENTORS AND INSPIRATION
Outside of his primary teachers, Jason Vieaux lists highly-acclaimed guitarists David Russell and Julian Bream as his biggest indirect mentors throughout his career. Mr. Vieaux participated in three master classes with David Russell, and he recalls that “watching him play was a revelation.” He describes the fellow Grammy award-winning artist as “another level of performer… Musically, technically, just comfort level on stage, spoken intros and stuff like that… he really made playing seem easy, which wasn’t the norm.” As for the illustrious Julian Bream, Mr. Vieaux has looked up to him for his impressive recording work, which he “enjoyed more than anyone else’s.”
In regards to finding inspiration, Mr. Vieaux says he “tend[s] to look to things like composers, pieces of music, string quartets, pianists, string players, and things like that. And the occasional rock and roll musician. It’s really about the artist.” He is also happy to know that there are many more classical guitarists he can look toward now than there were when he started his career. “There were plenty of good players, but now it’s just incredible, the dozens and dozens of really high-level - not just technicians, but artistic players - good musicians. So it’s nice now, I can actually be inspired by more guitarists than I could twenty-five years ago.”
ADVICE FOR MUSIC STUDENTS
To musicians aspiring to succeed in the professional music sphere, Mr. Vieaux says: “You have to be ready to be able to adapt and do a lot of different things, and there are some gigs that you’re going to take that you never dreamed you’d have to do… You want to be versatile enough as a musician to take those kind of things– things involving improvisation…”
He recalls an example from his past, when he was asked to play flamenco for a production of Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding at a local theatre in Cleveland. “I didn’t tell them that I’m not a trained flamenco guitarist,” he laughs, “but I’m enough of a natural musician that I could kind of put something together and plan for that gig, faking my way through some things… So, I just said yes and worried about it later, because I needed to pay the rent.” According to Mr. Vieaux, you have to be willing to go out of your comfort zone if you’re going to make a living. Along with developing an aptitude for versatility and improvisation, Mr. Vieaux presses the importance of focusing on craftsmanship and learning the ins and outs of music theory. He urges serious musicians to dedicate at least thirty minutes a day to sight reading as a part of their regular practice.
ON MARKETING AND SELF-PROMOTION
“I think the whole myth that if you’re good at promoting yourself or if you are comfortable at promoting yourself, it must mean that you’re not very good, or that there’s something that you’re compensating for… I really think the two things are completely separate things,” Mr. Vieaux says. “You can be really good at something and have no business acumen, or you could be really good at something and also have a good business sense…”
Mr. Vieaux explains that with both parents coming from blue-collar backgrounds in Buffalo, he was not gifted with any direct path to success in the music industry. He understood early in his career that he had to learn how to promote himself, so he began building his own press kits in “glossy, black folders” and using whatever money he could scrape together to print headshots that he recruited friends to take for him. As Mr. Vieaux started to gain recognition from his success in the GFA competition - which rewarded him with a year-long concert tour, consisting of over fifty performances across the country - he says he made sure to ask around and drop information wherever he went that he was looking for management and marketing help. He considers self-promotion to be one of the “dozens and dozens of little things that one has to try to improve all of the time,” and a skill he feels he is continuously developing as the marketing world changes. He still believes word-of-mouth to be the ultimate marketing tool, but emphasizes that online and self promotion by whatever measures it takes count for a lot. “If they can’t find you, if they can’t see you,” Mr. Vieaux says, “how are they going to know?”
ON RECOMMENDED TRAINING PROGRAMS
Mr. Vieaux helps lead a summer guitar program at the Eastern Music Festival at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and encourages musicians of all levels to apply. The program is two weeks long and allows students to attend EMF’s guitar competition, work directly with accomplished instructors, and gain impactful experience in areas of chamber music, pedagogy, technique, and performance. “Even the performer that has the least amount of experience, of practice hours on their instrument… repertoire is very carefully chosen for them, but they’re performing just as much as the most advanced students are,” Mr. Vieaux says. Other musicians that join him on the program’s faculty are Julian Gray from John Hopkins Peabody Institute, Kami Rowan from Guilford College, and French guitarist Thomas Viloteau.
Mr. Vieaux also suggests his online program, the Jason Vieaux School of Classical Guitar, as a highly-accessible opportunity for guitarists to sharpen their skills. The affordable, subscription-based program, provided by ArtistWorks, has drawn subscribers from over thirty countries, ranging from novices to excelled players. As Mr. Vieaux explains it, “students have access to over two hundred five-to-ten-minute video lessons that go from holding the guitar to advanced material, the idea being that…if you’ve never picked up a guitar, you could start with me.”
It was a pleasure hosting the outstanding Jason Vieaux at Southwestern University. He seems to have enjoyed his first visit to Georgetown, as well; “What I like about this gig,” says Mr. Vieaux, “is yesterday I walked about six miles, and I love the little square in the downtown area, so that was really nice. This is really lovely here.”