Dr. Jon Grier
Instructor and Composer-in-Residence
Greenville Fine Arts Center
1613 W. Washington Road
Greenville, SC 29601
Jon Grier began piano and trumpet lessons in the 4th grade, and composed his first 30-second piano work, “Egyptian Folk Song,” that same year. In high school in Whitehall, Michigan, he started playing piano in a Tijuana Brass group. It was the 60’s, and when the band began to venture into rock music, Jon started to write and arrange. From childhood he had been interested in sciences, and in the Fall of 1971 he enrolled at Kalamazoo College, planning to major in biology.
He also took music courses and organized more bands. “I gradually came to understand that a composer was something you could be. This was a good thing– not only because I really enjoyed composition, but also because I was not especially diligent in practicing my instruments. It was doubtless my interest in composition that kept me in music, and I owe a great debt to Dr. Lawrence Rackley Smith at Kalamazoo College for guiding and encouraging that interest.”
After earning a B.A. at Kalamazoo, Jon earned an M.M. in Composition at Western Michigan University. There he studied with Ramon Zupko, who pushed him to explore more modern idioms and improve the structural integrity of his work. He also began teaching piano and wrote his first compositions for younger pianists.
In 1978 Jon moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and began studies that eventually led to an M.M. in Theory and a D.M.A. in Composition from the University of South Carolina, where he studied with Dick Goodwin and Sam Douglas. He got his first taste of classroom teaching at USC, handling music theory and ear-training courses for the Music Department as part of his assistantship. While living in Columbia, he continued giving piano lessons and composing music for his students, much of it in jazz styles.
Since 1988, Jon has taught music theory and history at the Greenville Fine Arts Center, a magnet school of the arts in Greenville, SC. “This is a remarkable program in which I get to teach college-level theory to high school students. The ones who go on in music have a head start, and the ones who don’t, I like to think, can look forward to a lifetime of better listening.” Jon has composed extensively for students and faculty of the FAC, including much chamber music for strings, music for youth orchestra, and miscellaneous chamber ensembles of winds and percussion. He has recently begun mentoring the Fine Arts Center Composers Society, a student composer group which gave its first concert of new works in April of 2001.
Jon’s many influences include such diverse musicians as Bela Bartok, Chick Corea, Igor Stravinsky and Frank Zappa, and his lingering interest in natural sciences and conservation sometimes flavors his work. Though the bulk of his training as a composer was during the time in which 12-tone serialsim was still the dominant method of composition, he abandoned serialism in the mid-1980’s for a more intuitive approach. “I try to limit the number of ideas in a piece, to follow those ideas to to a logical conclusion, and to write music that is generally as well integrated as I can. In this way my background in serialism still influences my choices, no matter what kind of music I am writing.” He also often likes to include a joke or two.
Today Jon continues to pursue a wide variety of projects, with somewhat of an emphasis on chamber music and jazz; he also works regularly as writer/keyboardist with the jazz trio Edgewise. In the spring of 2001 he released a CD of his three string quartets, performed by the Ceruti Quartet of the University of Memphis. “This is one the most rewarding things I have ever done in music, not just because I was working with great musicians, but also because it was a collaboration with friends. Nothing is more fun than making music with friends.”
Jon lives in Greenville with wife Marion, sons Benjamin and Daniel, and lab-mix mutt Sallie Mae.