Lead Guitar Instructor Spotlight: Russ Callison
Updated: Mar 19
Russ Callison is one of our Lead Guitar Instructor in Denver, CO. He joined Lead Guitar in 2020.
Where did you go to college and describe your guitar education experience during that time?
Southern Methodist University- Bachelor’s Degree, studied with Robert Guthrie, University of Denver- Master’s Degree, studied with Ricardo Iznaola & Jonathan Leathwood. My studies, particularly in Denver, were some of my most intense periods of growth as a musician, and I owe so much to the investments my teachers made in me. I feel that the equipped me well to navigate the musical world.
Tell us a little about your family your childhood, and/or where you grew up?
I grew up in North Texas, in a pretty rural area. We had very little art of music exposure, so I discovered guitar from recordings. In high school I sold a pig I had raised to buy an electric guitar from a pawn shop, and about a year later ended up at community college, where I had my first guitar lessons with Sabine Madriguera.
List any awards/recognitions you received.
Southern Guitar Festival
2nd place, Ensemble Division (w/ Derelict Hands) 2015
2nd place, Ensemble Division (w/ Solazur) 2019
Lamont School of Music 2015
Outstanding Guitar Recital
UTB Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition 2011
1st place University Duo division
1st place University Quartet division
Collin College Guitar Competition 2009
1st place, Advanced Division
UTB Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition 2007
1st place Large Ensemble division
How did you get started with Lead Guitar?
My teacher Jonathan Leathwood connected me with the organization. Also, a colleague of mine, Will Brobston, had worked with the program through his Artist Year program, and he spoke highly of the people and the curriculum.
Did you have music in school as a child? what got you started as a musician?
Not much. Played Saxophone in middle school band through high school, then bought my first guitar in high school, see above.
What music did/your family listen to?
Not much more than was on the radio. I had to seek out any music. No one in my family, close or distantly related, has been musically inclined, so I had to pursue any musical opportunities myself.
What inspired you to become a music teacher?
The teachers I had were all fantastic people and often worked very hard to provide opportunities for me. I’m thankful to them constantly, and it seems the only right way to pay them back is to give the best I can to my students. Also, classical music is often an extremely exclusive activity, primarily restricted to those with the finances to invest early in education. I want my teaching to be a way to access opportunities that many people are excluded from.
What is your experience in teaching in a classroom setting/were there guitar classes during your primary or secondary education?
I taught 1 full year at STEM School Highlands Ranch, where I directed beginning and advanced guitar classes in conjunction with a co-teacher.
Describe a memorable event(s) you and with past students/teachers?
Setting up the first-semester concert at the STEM school was a great payoff- seeing the students excel and share their hard work was an extremely satisfying and fulfilling experience.
What are your current goals?
First, in the time of COVID, keeping my business solvent, and maintaining the health and connections of myself and my immediate community. Musically, my guitar/cello duo, Solazur, is releasing our debut album very shortly. I have some personal musical goals, including working on my Jazz chops as well as transcribing Gamelan tunes.
What’s your message to students trying to make their way through the obstacles in this new living and learning environment?
Have fun. We play music cause it’s fun and allows us to express ourselves how we can. On top of it, it’s a way to give to the people around us and bring some joy to their lives.
Who is someone that inspires you and why?
The musicians and community I work with constantly inspire me. A lot of these people are in Denver’s Gamelan group, Gamelan Tunas Mekar. The group is run by a Balinese family with decades of combined experience, and many members of the group are fantastic and established musicians in many different disciplines. I am constantly learning something new about music and art from my interactions with them.
Who are your favorite musicians/guitarists?
Julian Bream is always a go-to, Marcin Dylla & Thomas Viloteau are some younger classical guitarists that I admire greatly. Tigran Hamasyan is someone I listen to much more now. Jakub Zytecki and David Maxim Micic are great electric guitarists making fresh tunes, in a playful way.
How has Music/Lead Guitar helped you thus far?
I am a new teacher with the organization, so far it’s mostly been providing a very well organized and thoughtful training structure, despite the inability to meet in person. I’ve appreciated how clearly intentioned everything has been. As well, working with the organization affords me the chance to work with underserved populations, which lets me feel more socially responsible with my teaching.
What’s the one thing you wish you could give every student after a lesson?
These days, a high five. It’s hard not to be able to see students in person.
Any teaching philosophies you go by?
Always meet people where they are, and that everyone can learn how to make music and express themselves.