Chad Gray: Composer/Performer/Teacher

Chad Gray, A Street Music’s primary bass guitar teacher, told me about his career as a composer and arranger when I approached him regarding the Artist-Teacher series on this blog. While Chad has extensive experience performing, his degree from Berklee School of Music is in jazz composition. Chad composes and arranges music for a number of groups around Boston in which he also performs, as well as for groups in which he doesn’t perform.

In private lesson settings – like our program at A Street – the main emphasis is almost always on performance. We like to provide students with entry points into composition, listening, and critiquing music as well as performance, but in my experience it’s not common to find a teaching-artist who is as much a performer as a composer. It’s important for students to dedicated a lot of time to thoughtful practice in order to develop as performers, so one could argue that it’s not important to have a teacher who is interested in composition. But Chad’s musical experience show really important entry points into music that some students might not find in their musical educations.

Chad was originally self-taught on guitar, and “played in a local jazz band” once he switched to bass. He told me that he “learned by figuring it [guitar] out from recordings and from having [his] friends show [him] things here and there.” After studying music in California, he moved to Boston to study at Berklee, where “being immersed in an environment with so many different musicians around really allowed [him] to grow and start to figure out [his] own voice.”

Today he performs in and composes for a number of ensembles, including the Beantown Swing Orchestra and the Boston String Players. He also keeps up to date on modern music, adding, “I research about 20 different blogs almost every day and discover amazing music I would have never found on my own.” Chad also keeps himself alert and learning when he’s performing and composing:

Performing tests a lot of ideas I have to see if they work and what kind of reaction I get from an audience and other musicians… Composing also helps as a performer by allowing me to think about the person who wrote the music and what they’d want. It’s important to try and understand both perspectives simultaneously.

What I gather from all of this is that Chad was drawn to composition and performance as one complete musical experience. The two different musical ‘hats’ are intrinsically linked. While this isn’t wholly uncommon, I think it’s important because it exhibits a well-rounded application of music in one’s life. As a classical player, I’ve seen a lot of people who view music education and competitions as necessary pit-stops on the way to a performing job, rather than viewing them as opportunities to explore different aspects of music. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Chad’s explanation of his musical development suggests a more experiential and intrinsic approach to music.

What excites me about Chad is his instinctive motivation to explore new aspects of music, whether through his blogs (chadgraymusic.blogspot.com and talesofwestland.blogspot.com), compositions, arrangements, performances, or teaching. His constant exploration has provided him with direct correlations between music and life: “[J]ust being alive and breathing influences my teaching because with every experience you have a new metaphor that you can relate to music somehow.” The following is a video of Chad’s jazz composition recital that I found to exemplify connections between music and other disciplines:

Chad’s students benefit from his exploration of musical fundamentals, including “rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, and form,” and from the connections he’s made between music and life. Music might not have a point in our lives if it didn’t connect with something inside of us, and Chad’s study of music stems directly from music’s effects. Chad told me that “[M]usic connects people, so I try to connect music.”

Chad emphasizes that “teaching is only showing you [the student] what has already happened,” but his personality and love of music will inspire students to discover novel aspects of music throughout their lives.

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About Justin Stanley, Teaching-Artist
I'm a musician and educator based in Boston, MA.

3 Responses to Chad Gray: Composer/Performer/Teacher

  1. Matt Gray says:

    This is awesome. We are so proud of you Chad and it looks like all the hard work is starting to pay off.:)

  2. Marsha Romero says:

    Awesome Chad – good job. Sounds like you’re doing well and you get to love what you do. Nothing better in life than that!

  3. Debi Gray says:

    Now if I can get him to use his beautiful voice to go with his music ! Chad you really do sing well ~ always have.

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