Julian Gray Master Class

This past November, Julian Gray, guitar department chair at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, gave a master class to PCM guitar students and presented two lectures for PCM guitar faculty. He also gave private lessons to two advanced guitar students, Jadon Elliott and Evelyn Nguyen.

Mr. Gray has taught three of PCM’s guitar faculty – Felix Bullock, David Margolis, and Adam Pettit – and two PCM guitar alums – Alexandra Iranfar (‘07) and Brandon Wong (‘19). Below are some reflections and highlights from this recent experience.

Guitar student with teacher on stage

Evelyn Nguyen, Guitar Student
Being able to work with Julian Gray was an incredible opportunity and an amazing experience. I admire his teaching style in both the masterclass setting and in a private lesson setting. He really went in depth about the composer and intentions which made me more passionate about the pieces. He is an amazing person and teacher and I hope to study with him in the future!

Musicians on stage

Felix Bullock, PCM Guitar Department Chair
Seeing Julian brought back so many memories from when I studied with him – his manner of speaking and turns of phrase, quoting Shakespeare, and his commitment to making sure each student fully understands an idea or concept, no matter what or how long that takes. He gives anecdotes and tells stories to create touch points that meet each student where they are so they might better connect with the music they are playing.

Julian talks about the importance of exposing oneself to a wide range of literature, music, and world views, as it makes us more open as people and as creative minds. He also emphasizes the need to have a broad picture and understanding of a piece – the cultural significance, what was happening in a composer’s life at that time, stylistic influences, etc. Julian calls the notes on each page “dehydrated music.” It is through our interpretation and performance that we are re-hydrating those ideas and melodies for others to enjoy and reflect upon – we are breathing life and energy into the music.

Two guitar players on stage

David Margolis, PCM Guitar Faculty
Julian is truly the “Metaphor Master,” talking for an hour about guitar without ever mentioning the guitar. This can be really great because, for one thing, sometimes concepts are much easier to understand when they are related to other fields. This approach also encourages the students to exercise a more “global” way of thinking. It’s probably true for all occupations, but I believe in the arts it is especially helpful to make comparisons to other fields, disciplines, etc.

The way he mentions great masters in the arts, such as Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, Yeats, etc. shows he believes in the value of the “art world,” not just the guitar. It also sets a tone of appreciation and respect for “the greats.” Not to mention the enjoyment we get from hearing the interesting quotes, anecdotes, etc.

Adam Pettit, PCM Guitar Faculty
I am so grateful that our students had a chance to experience such a unique teacher. Sure, every performance-level teacher has something special to offer, but Julian’s method of relating performance practice to so many areas of study is virtually unheard of in the guitar world. He drew examples from ancient Greek, Western, and Asian philosophies, poetry and literature, sports, architecture, and even politics and law to open everyone’s mind to the relevance they have on interpretation, phrasing, and emotion as we create art.

One of my favorite moments was when he, in response to a student’s question of how to approach mindful practice, quoted a zen proverb: “I can live 10 years, or I can live one year 10 times”. If we are not aware and willing to change, we will continue to repeat the same mistakes again and again.

Guitar student with teacher on stage

PCM presents many master classes and workshops for our students each year, enriching the student experience here on campus. Visit our events page if you would like to attend any upcoming master classes!