Local Musician Jon Sharp: Building a Guitar Ecosystem

Two posters hang side by side on Jon Sharp’s guitar studio wall: the circle of fifths and Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. One, an orderly tool that’s often used in music—and the other a blue-tinged painting of a hunched-over man hugging his guitar.

Sharp began teaching from this downtown Madison Plaza space in January. He lost his previous studio in local music shop Gracewinds, which closed in November. To Sharp, the posters represent the two skills classical guitarists need: intellectual understanding of technique and theory, and an emotional understanding of the experience of music itself.

“In the classical world, you can’t ignore the one on the left,” he said, pointing to the circle of fifths. For other styles of guitar, players strum chords, but classical guitar asks students to read music noted on a staff like music for the piano, the oboe, or any other classical instrument.

“But you can’t forget about the music,” Sharp said, pointing to The Old Guitarist and noting that Andrés Segovia, one of classical guitar’s most celebrated players, emphasized musicality and style alongside music theory and technique.

So while Sharp teaches his students how to read music, he also has his beginning students play duets, so they can hear complete songs, not just plunk out a lonely melody line.

“It’s my job as a teacher to help people feel like they are making progress, and that they’re beginning to play music that sounds good,” Sharp said.

Sharp got into classical guitar as a child growing up in England, but he set it aside for more than 20 years to attend business school. After school, his work for Intel brought him to the U.S. in the 1980s, where he experienced Silicon Valley during the first Internet boom.

“Those were wild and exciting times, and [Intel] was a great company to work for,” he said. But at 38, he was ready for something different. He began taking music theory classes at a local community college, eventually going on to get a master’s in music from San Jose State University. In 2013, he moved to Corvallis with his wife, Julia Bradshaw, who teaches photography at Oregon State University.

In Corvallis, Sharp found little existing community for classical guitar, so he and flamenco guitar player Berto Boyd, who had also recently moved to town, decided to found the Corvallis Guitar Society.

The society’s motto is “bringing local guitarists out of the woodwork,” and their focus is on group participation. The monthly meetings, which are free and open to the public, always begin with ensemble playing. Music is posted on the group’s website the week before so musicians can practice. When they all get together, they jam. Next they have an open stage time for solo playing, and they end with a featured musician performer.

To Sharp, all of these elements—performing, teaching, bringing in guest artists, the Cordoba guitars he has begun selling out of his studio—are part of the work to build Corvallis’ thriving guitar community.

“You need an ecosystem,” he said. He added that they hope Corvallis will become a guitar “magnet for the greater Willamette Valley.”

By Maggie Anderson