Meet the Dartmouth teen who chose guitar over public school

Feb 4, 2017

Thatcher Harrison remembers picking up a guitar and mimicking musicians he saw on TV when he was just three years old. That experience has influenced major life decisions for the now 15 year old, who will star in his own solo concert on February 11.

Harrison will only get two hours of stage time during the Paskamansett Concert Series at the Dartmouth Grange, and his goal is to cram as much variety as possible into his set. He started preparing a set list a several weeks ago, but it won’t be finalized until the day of the concert.

“Because I do so many different styles and I’m always evolving as a musician, I’m going to be playing songs I’ve learned or written a few weeks ago,” Harrison said, naming fingerstyle, classical, and jazz guitar among his repertoire.

Harrison first took to the stage in May 2007, when he was just five years old. His father Stan took him to network with local musicians at an open mic night in Westport hosted by guitarist Gary Fish. Thatcher does not remember a lot about that performance, but has since learned from the pros.

He took classes with classical guitarist Will Riley and jazz guitarist Jim Robitaille, both professors of music at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where his parents work as English professors. There, he picked up new skills, like dissecting and interpreting music.

“You have to keep your ears open,” Harrison said. “I always try to listen to any guitar player no matter where they come from. You can learn something from anyone.”

He settled on a rigorous practice routine, dedicating four hours every day to perfecting his craft. When attending school started to cut into his schedule, he switched to homeschooling so he’d still have time for practice.

When he has downtime after practice, Harrison works on writing new melodies and songs, but not necessarily for the guitar. Harrison also plays the piano.

“I’ve written a lot of songs, but in a lot of different contexts,” Harrison explained. “I’ve written a lot of jazz tunes that aren’t necessarily guitar pieces, and I actually composed a small film score a few years ago, and that’s something I really love to do as well.”

It can take Harrison several months to fine tune his songs, however. He starts by developing a melody, but often hits a wall, he explained. He records what he has and picks it up weeks or months later with a fresh mind and a new approach to overcome the writer's block.

When he’s not practicing or performing, Harrison enjoys following his favorite baseball team, the New York Yankees. An avid fan of the sport, he has impressive knowledge of baseball trivia. Harrison was quick to identify Roger Connor as one of baseball’s earliest great all-time hitters, holding the record for the most home runs well before Babe Ruth.

Harrison is eyeing a career in music. He will apply to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“[Berklee] teaches you everything about music, even the business aspect of it,” Harrison said. If his guitarist career doesn’t pan out, Harrison hopes his skills in songwriting and composing will lead to employment in other areas of the industry.

His concert will feature about seven of his own original songs. One song on his set list is about the Ying Dynasty Chinese restaurant. Harrison wrote it after performing there when he was seven years old. When owner Ying Zhao heard the song, she was so impressed that she offered Harrison free food for life. Another original song, “Transcendent Shore,” uses fingerstyle to imitate the effect of waves swaying in the ocean.

Harrison’s concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Dartmouth Grange Hall, located at 1133 Fisher Road. Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for children, seniors and college students; and $35 for family admission.

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