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Spotlight on Alumni: Rusty Jones

Thanks very much to Rusty for this retrospective. Its a great read!

My path to the University of Akron to enroll as a master’s student in Stephen Aron’s guitar studio from 1996-98 was an unlikely one. After all, I was convinced I was well on the path to becoming a rockstar.
(I had forgotten how cool I looked back in the day!) In pursuit of this dream, I moved to Hollywood, California at the age of 19 to study at the Guitar Institute of Technology at Musicians’ Institute. After completing the one-year program, I knew I had to move in a new direction. The onset of bands like Nirvana was changing the musical tide away from technical proficiency, and I didn’t like the long-term prospects for making a living as a rock-fusion guitar shredder. Additionally, Hollywood was expensive, so I moved back to my home state of Florida, eventually matriculating at Florida State University.

At FSU, I discovered a passion for music analysis and the discipline required for being a classical musician. I completed the BA degree with a heavy emphasis in music theory. I then moved to Texas, where I had been offered a full assistantship to study music theory at the University of Texas at Austin. I was well on the path to a career as a theorist, but something was missing in my life—the guitar.

After finishing my MM degree at Texas in 1996, I was fortunate to be offered assistantships in both guitar and theory at the University of Akron. While I had no intention of being a lifelong college student, the self-indulgent opportunity to focus exclusively on the classical guitar for two years was too great to turn down. It was a life-changing experience that has shaped every aspect of my life today.

My background story is dreadfully boring. What you’re probably really wondering at this point is whether or not I still had the curly locks.

A promotional photo I was using for gigs at Akron
(Oh yeah. I probably single-handedly kept Paul Mitchell in business through the 1990s.)

For those considering studying guitar with Steve, let me provide an enthusiastic shout of support. Here are just a small number of the benefits I gained from the experience:

·     ---I obviously learned a lot about music, but I learned even more about myself. The discipline required to perform at a high level taught me invaluable skills in perseverance and goal setting that I use on a daily basis in my career.

·      ---An abundance of performance opportunities. I booked a concert tour and performed full-length solo and chamber recitals for my degree. 

      From a recital in Florida

      --Unquestionably, though, my most memorable performance experiences were not even on the guitar. Steve introduced me to the music director for the Ohio Ballet, and, through an unbelievable series of events, I ended up touring as a banjo player with the ballet troupe at the Joyce Theater in NYC in 1998 and at Playhouse Square in Cleveland the following year. I even received a review in the New York Times from one of the NYC gigs. (Oh, how I wish I had a picture from one of these shows!) Perhaps most amusing was the fact that I didn’t know how to play the banjo when I was hired, but that’s a story for another day.
·      Classes in guitar history, arranging, and fretboard harmony inspired me to think about the guitar from a theoretical perspective, which has proven to be the main research focus of my career.

·      ----Lifelong friendships, including with Steve, who remains my most treasured mentor to this day.

·      ----I learned that marrying a flutist is what guitarists are supposed to do. Years later, I married a flutist I met in Missouri.

After Akron, I took a number of adjunct teaching jobs at several colleges around northern Ohio for a year, but I resumed my student life immediately thereafter with a full assistantship in the Ph.D. music theory program at Indiana University. My dissertation provides a new means for interpreting nineteenth-century guitar music through a greater understanding of its idioms.

With the Ph.D. in hand, my student career was finally complete, and I accepted a job at the University of Missouri-Columbia as an Assistant Professor of Music Theory. During my time at Mizzou, I performed a number of solo and chamber recitals, including a lecture/recital as part of the Elizabeth: Ruler and Legend traveling exhibit sponsored in part by the Newberry Library. I remain passionate about the classical guitar, and I continue to publish and present theoretical work related to our core repertoire. Undoubtedly, the guitar-specific coursework from Akron, along with Steve’s relentless drive to arrange and perform new repertoire for the guitar, are my inspirations in this regard.

After six great years at Mizzou, I accepted an Assistant Professor position at Butler University in Indianapolis. I received tenure and promotion to Associate Professor a few years later, and I have currently accepted a full-time administrative position working with high achieving students from the entire university. I still maintain a private guitar studio, which includes one of my students from my time in Akron!

Yeah, the hair finally had to go.

Oberlin Guitar Studio Recital

Guitar and the Fulbright