Seven years ago, at age 16, Tye Austin had just graduated from Crater High School and was determined to go pro with BMX biking. He knew he had a good mind and could "deep focus" on anything and master it, which is what he'd done in 30-foot bike jumps and many other tricks of that extreme sport, despite the occasional concussions.
Then he saw classical guitar performed at a music concert.
"I knew at that moment what I was going to do with my life," says Austin, now 23. "I'd found my passion."
What: Preview of Tye Austin's Carnegie Hall performance
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: SOU's Plunkett Center, corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Mountain Avenue
Tickets: $20, or $5 for students
He bought a classical guitar in a local pawn shop and began the search for a master to teach him. He was "a rebel against college," wanting to do things on his own, but soon realized Southern Oregon University had what he wanted.
Under the tutelage of David Rogers and James Edwards of SOU's guitar performance department, he mastered the instrument over the past four years, wrote and conducted a symphony for orchestra and guitars, and on Sunday, March 3, will perform solo in Carnegie Hall in New York.
His spot at Carnegie accompanied the first prize in the American Protégé International Piano & Strings Competition. And it has opened more doors: Following the performance, he will audition in New York at The Julliard School for one of 11 positions for a master's degree in guitar.
He also will audition for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Royal Academy of Music (in Steinway Hall) and the Manhattan School of Music.
How did Austin make it to Carnegie in such a short time?
Practice, practice practice, he says. "Prioritizing my time, disciplining myself to set goals I might not have thought possible."
When other students would party after an event, he would go home and comb over all the parts that were difficult. Even visualizing, as he fell asleep, how to alter his fingering to make it better, he says.
Dan Murphy, who mentored Austin, agrees that he was driven to succeed as a guitarist, noting the teen was accepted into SOU as a music major only six months after he began playing the guitar.
"Tye has immense passion, commitment and discipline," says Murphy, the former chief executive officer of Community Works. "His accomplishments in a short period are remarkable for a professional musician. They highlight how much a person with clarity, passion, purpose and discipline can achieve."
Austin has landed scholarships, including SOU's coverage of his travel to New York, but still has a big financial hurdle: paying off his $37,000 in student loans. His $800 in application fees on his New York trip were paid for by a grant from Friends of Music.
Austin opened in 2011 at the Britt Festival for a guitarist from Juilliard and performed at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Green Show. He graduates from SOU this June. After his two-year master's program is finished, Austin hopes to work out of San Francisco.
"I aspire to be an ambassador of classical guitar ... . I want to tour the world as a concert guitarist playing solo recitals and with symphonic orchestras," he says. "I want to compose and commission my own guitar concerti, plus other works for solo guitar and chamber groups including guitar."
Eventually, he said, he would like to teach at a university or a music conservatory.
Playing Carnegie, he says, "is a debut that many musicians wait for their entire lives. My dreams and visions are becoming my reality."
In a preview of the Carnegie performance, Austin will perform a concert at 7:30 tonight at SOU's Plunkett Center, at the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Mountain Avenue. Tickets — which will help defray his travel expenses — are $20, or $5 for students.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.