Although I live a pretty awesome life – I really can’t complain about much – this summer has been a tough one for me in one particular way: I’ve had to say goodbye to some long-time students as they’ve graduated from high school and are preparing to go off to college and embark on the next chapter of their lives. It’s an exciting time for them, but I’m still sad to see them leave.
Although one of these students just started lessons in 2012, most of them have been with me for years – some for 5 years or more. You get to know someone pretty well when you meet with them every week for a few years. You learn about them as people and you grow to be friends. I’ve been blessed to make some terrific friends in recent years, who started as 7th- and 8th-grade goofballs and are now on the cusp of adulthood. They’re also pretty darn good guitarists.
In this installment of Student Success Stories, I want to feature two former students, Alex Fang and Harry Foard – who happen to be long-time friends, as well – that have taken the leap from guitar student to guitar major at the college level.
I reserve a little extra pride for the guitarists who have the requisite passion for music to pursue it in college. It’s certainly not for everyone, and quite a few of my guitarists are capable of playing music at the next level. But these two guys have actually taken the leap and I couldn’t be more excited for them!
When I started teaching full-time back in 2005, Alex Fang was my second student ever. We started lessons at the Maryland Conservatory of Music in the fall of 2005, when Alex was in 6th grade at Harford Day School. I couldn’t get rid of him until January of 2011, halfway through his junior year at the Gilman School in Baltimore. He took a break for a while, then returned to work on audition pieces for college throughout the fall and winter of 2011.
Alex’s first performance experience was as a founding member of my Classic Rock Band at the Conservatory, where he played guitar for a couple of years. While a student at Gilman, Alex took classes such as General Music, Intro to Piano and AP Music Theory. He also participated in the jazz band and was an accompanist for the string ensemble. To prepare for college, Alex interned at Baltimore-based agency, Starleigh Entertainment, for a few months in the spring of 2012 as an office assistant.
I credit much of Alex’s love and appreciation for music to his dad, David, who has taken Alex to hundreds of concerts up and down the east coast over the years. As a result of their numerous road trips to New York, New Jersey and beyond to catch shows, Alex made a number of contacts with a diverse group of musical acts. These contacts have developed into quite a few sweet sideman gigs, where Alex has played guitar or keyboards with NY/NJ artists such as Marah, Boccigalupe and the Badboys, and Steven Wright-Mark. With Marah, Alex got to open up for Ryan Adams, and even gets a mention on Marah’s Wiki page under “Past Members”!
[Side Note: David is one of the biggest Bruce Springsteen fans you’ll ever meet, and by extension, so is Alex. In addition to being a classic rock aficionado and Boss fanatic, Alex practically lives on Spotify, listening to artists like The Hold Steady, Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys and The Clash.]
The culmination of all of these experiences is that Alex will be attending Rollins College in Orlando, Florida this fall, with a major in Music, Critical Media and Culture Studies. His musical concentration will be Technology/Management, with guitar as his primary instrument. When he graduates, Alex hopes to use his strengths and skills in organization and promotions to pursue a career in musical venue management.
When I asked Alex what sorts of things he takes away from his musical experiences and lessons, he said, “The band experiences were great; you learn a lot of life lessons working with a band, from time management to organizational skills to the ability to think on your feet.” He also credits lessons with teaching him how to pace himself and handle complex problems by breaking them down into manageable pieces.
Well played, sir.
I met Harry Foard through Alex Fang. Alex encouraged Harry to join the MCM Classic Rock Band and we immediately hit it off. Harry has an incredible thirst for musical knowledge and so we soon started private lessons, first focusing on classic rock and blues and then migrating to jazz. He’s been bitten by the jazz bug ever since!
Harry has been fortunate to have plenty of good musical instruction along his journey. Before private lessons with yours truly, he studied with Graham Gold for more than a year. He got additional jazz instruction here in Maryland from my friend and mentor, Carl Filipiak, as well as from another old friend at Friends School Jazz Lab, Bobby B (Betlejewski). When Harry transferred to Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, he had the opportunity to play in the Jazz/Rock Ensemble under the direction of Bill Wightman. Harry credits Bill with keeping him focused on a simple and organic approach to improvisation: “Think ‘melody’, be musical.”
Harry’s main guitar influences are Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, George Benson and Kenny Burrell. Currently he’s spending a lot of time listening to horn players, as well as Esperanza Spalding and Art Blakey in the jazz field and Joe Bonamassa and Joe Satriani in the world of rock.
This September, Harry will be attending the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. His guitar instructor will be Richie Hart and he hopes to be accepted into the Jazz Performance Program. Harry’s dream is to make a living playing music, with the ultimate goal being to play all around the world, or as he likes to say, “one gig per continent.”
Harry says that one important lesson he’s learned from his guitar studies is that “being driven and following your passion with conviction will separate the ‘wanna be’ from the person who actually goes out and accomplishes their goals. I want to be the guy who goes out and accomplishes something.”
Congratulations, Alex and Harry, on your musical accomplishments and best of luck in college! Please come back for some reunion jams!
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