Violist Griffin Gaffney Launches Free Lesson Program

Griffin performs with his quintet on From the Top.

Griffin performs with his quintet on From the Top.

Last year after appearing on From the Top, 17-year-old violist Griffin Gaffney was motivated by the cultural leadership workshop to take action in his community. He was passionate about creating a sustainable free-lesson program for school children in Portland and turned to From the Top as a collaborator and resource. Griffin found a local community center to host his program and organized a benefit concert to raise funds and recruited members of the Portland Youth Philharmonic to teach. Griffin says his program, “Classical Chaps” is “just all about giving that same opportunity that I had to other kids.”

We asked him a few questions about getting his program started:

FTT Green Room: What was the most surprising or unexpected part of this experience?

Griffin: The most surprising and unexpected part of this experience has been seeing how the community reacts to the program. I knew that people would receive it well, but I didn’t ever think anyone would be so enthralled with it.

I get phone calls and e-mails from people I don’t even know who tell me how much they believe in what this program stands for. Whereas I thought people would think ‘oh, this is a cute program’ they seem to actually be thinking ‘wow, music is a powerful thing’ and ‘look what one person can do to make a

FTT Green Room: Since beginning your program this fall, what has been the most powerful moment for you?

Griffin: The most meaningful moment happened when I was first sizing the kids for their violins. I was sitting down with two small violins that were resting in their cases with the case lids open. Two at a time I brought the students aside from their classes to test them, and when one of the students approached she yelped “I’m going to faint! I’m so excited! I’ve never seen a REAL violin before”. She kept telling me that it was the best day of her life and that it was a miracle that this was happening to her. The emotion that came with hearing those words come from the mouth of a ten-year-old was something I’ve never experienced before.”

FTT Green Room: What advice would you give a high school musician wishing to start a similar program?

Griffin: Be flexible. It’s really easy to have an idea and imagine it in your head and not want to back down from what you think you can do. I’m not saying to sell yourself short, just realize that the road can be really rough, and it makes it a whole lot easier to drive if you can be flexible and open to change.

Work with what you have. While re-inventing the wheel can be cool, for a high school musician it’s not all that feasible. Look at what other people have done and see what has worked and hasn’t. Try and build and improve upon that and add in some of your own head. Then you’re bound to come up with something great.

Be confident. Everywhere you go you’re representing your program. If you aren’t a fearless leader, then people might not buy into what you’re doing. You have to really believe in what you’re doing so that people can see that and think ‘Hey! This kid has something here, I should help too!’.

Read more about Griffin’s program in Portland’s Oregonian.

Watch a news segment on Griffin’s program online through Portland’s KGW.

Check out Griffin’s blog!