Charles Gray keeping up with the tempo: musician and professor thrives in musical community
By Rebecca Lofft Staff Writer
Friday, March 8, 2002
Charles Gray didn't plan to be a music teacher when he attended college, yet after 14 years of teaching at St. Olaf College, his studio of violin and viola students has grown to an overflowing amount. Nearly every aspect of his life is related to music in some way, often leaving him yearning for more time with his family. "If I have a spare moment, I want to spend it with my wife and kids, and that doesn't happen enough," says Gray. However, Gray's sustained time at St. Olaf College is proof that he enjoys his career as a violin and viola teacher. "I am very excited to be at a school where music is understood as a part of learning. It's a way to express your soul." He recalls that he was quite impressed with the level of music making when he first came to St. Olaf. After attending Wheaton College in Illinois, the University of Michigan, and Eastman School of Music, Gray took a one-year teaching job at St. Olaf and realized that he preferred to continue in his work and decided to become a teacher. Prior to his decision to return to St. Olaf, Gray had planned to be in an orchestra or stay with the Casella Quartet. After finishing his term, Gray applied for more teaching jobs. He was accepted at several colleges and chose to teach at Hope College for two years. During this time, he stayed in touch with people from St. Olaf through the Lutheran Summer Music Program, which started at St. Olaf in 1981 and currently rotates college sites. Gray first taught at the summer program in 1983, after which he was invited back to St. Olaf to play as a guest performer in a few recitals. Soon the dean opened a tenured position for Gray and he began teaching in 1986 and has been at St. Olaf ever since. Gray performs on a regular basis outside of St. Olaf, often as a guest performer across the country and frequently with Minnesota Orchestra, though he has reduced his commitment due to his eventful schedule and growing children. He is very thankful that he can now base his outside opportunities upon the musical interest rather than the financial gain. Gray is also a regular soloist and conductor at St. Andrews' Church in Mahtomedi, Minn. He feels that his activities external to St. Olaf are key to improving his musicianship. "I think that I would not be as successful as a teacher if I weren't so involved in music -- it's important to get away from St. Olaf in order to have [more] influences." However, chances are that Gray is on campus at least six days of the week due to his large studio and other obligations, including student and faculty recitals, along with chamber music performances and coaching. Gray can also be found upon occasion around Stav Hall with his wife, Deonne, chasing after their two children, Brynne, 20 months, and Cameron, who will be four in April. Gray toured internationally with the St. Olaf Choir and Orchestra, respectively, to Korea in 1988 and to Europe in 1989. In addition, he made a recording in 1990 in the Netherlands of viola, clarinet, and piano works by Bruch, Mozart and Schumann. However, Gray prefers to perform domestically. "I'd much rather be playing concerts in the U.S. There are so many opportunities that I haven't exhausted." He will be performing as soloist with the El Paso Symphony in April and makes frequent trips to the Chicago and Columbus, Ohio areas to perform in churches and concert halls. He recently toured as violin soloist with the St. Olaf Choir on their national tour, saying that he returned "inspired" and with "higher standards for students and himself" from having worked with such intensity. Indeed, Gray's nature is to work intensely, as his students will confess. Gray feels fortunate to have witnessed growth of the string section at St. Olaf; more than likely, Gray's esteemed reputation will continue to augment the quality of music at St. Olaf.