Dartmouth guitarist heading off to college after banner year in competitions

Jun 16, 2019

While most high school seniors have already graduated, Thatcher Harrison is still finishing up his online studies. He has a good excuse though: He was traveling the country playing the guitar.

The soon-to-be high school grad spent the past year delving deep into music competitions, developing his style, and finding his passion for the guitar.

Harrison has had a guitar in his hands for as long as he could remember. So long, in fact, he can’t exactly pinpoint a moment where it just “clicked” that the guitar was for him — he’d been playing since the age of two or three.

“Playing the guitar has always seemed like a given to me,” Harrison said. “It’s all I’ve known, and it’s been at the forefront of my life.”

He started performing publicly at age five at open mic nights. He performed 100 times in his first year at it, although he now maintains a less intensive performance schedule. He switched to homeschooling to balance academics and his performance and practice schedules.

He headlined the Paskamansett Concert Series, performed at the Dartmouth Farmers Market, and has done plenty of open mic nights and events in town and around the South Coast.

For Harrison, it always felt like it was a “given” to practice, learn, and perform on the guitar. It took many years for him to realize where all those years of practice was taking him.

“I don’t think I started to see the true light at the end of the tunnel until the last few years since I started to travel, win some awards, and get the attention of some schools,” Harrison said. “Now I understand why a lot of people feel that new buzz they feel for their music, and it’s wonderful.”

This past year, he entered nine competitions all over the country. In the 2019 National YoungArts Foundation Competition, he competed in the classical music category, which was a challenge because he was not facing only guitarists: He went up against musicians performing on instruments more typically associated with classical music.

Despite that challenge, he still finished in the top four percent out of 10,000 competitors. He earned the Honorable Mention Award, and an all-expense paid trip to New York City to study and perform with some of the biggest names in classical music.

“It was such a wonderful event because it’s very interdisciplinary,” Harrison said. “They wanted us to collaborate with each other, and it very much spoke to, at least to me, what art should be.”

Harrison made his Carnegie Hall debut in November thanks to his first prize award in the Golden Classical Music Awards International Competition.

In August, he will be heading to the New England Conservatory in Boston to study with two accomplished classical guitarists: Professors Eliot Fisk and Jérôme Mouffe.

“The professors there, Eliot Fisk and Jérôme Mouffe, are absolutely extraordinary,” Harrison said. “Eliot Fisk is one of the most renowned classical guitarists in the world, and Jérôme Mouffe is a bit younger but he’s an absolute phenom.”

He is excited to join the local Boston music scene, noting the high concentration of well-known music schools and musicians eager to collaborate will help him further develop his skills.

Before he heads off to college, Harrison will host a concert at the Sandywoods Center for the Arts in Tiverton, Rhode Island on July 20. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door. It was originally billed as a “farewell” concert as Harrison thought he’d be moving further away than Boston to study.

As for the future post-college? Harrison is not quite sure. He is considering composing, teaching, or tapping into his training in the jazz genre to perform in broader gigs.