Daniel Zhao

Many Yalies, when asked about their greatest, most formative experience, will name giving a high school valedictorian graduation speech, achieving a personal record on the track or in the pool, or seeing their painting in a gallery. A small few might even sport all three. Or some endless combination of music, writing, consulting, photography, debate and community service. An even smaller few, likely as many as can be counted on one hand, are able to answer performing for President Barack Obama. Roberto Granados may actually be the only current Yalie with this experience.

And yet, despite his accomplishments (because, of course, his musical achievements and experiences extend far beyond his appearance for the president), he is modest, humble, kind. He performed at the Emmy Awards when he was 10, and with the California Symphony. “I was more of a little kid then,” said Granados, “but looking back, those were the more significant moments.” The anecdote about Obama was just that, sandwiched between deep admiration and gratefulness for his guitar instructors, his love of Jimi Hendrix, and his motivation for genuine self-improvement.

Granados is reflective and humble about his great accomplishments and never dismissive of the people who made them possible. His four teachers — George, Jason, Mark and now Ben — each have made substantial professional and personal impressions on Granados, who is still “incredibly close” with these four men. They are each an essential part of his life.

At age 6, Granados began classical guitar lessons per the suggestion from his uncle — also a guitarist. “It became a lot more serious than I first thought,” he recollected. At age 8, he started leaning Flamenco music, building from the “sound foundation” of classical guitar.

Granados did not grow up in a Yale onesie, and it was never his dream school. But the relationship Granados built with Ben Verdery, a professor at the Yale School of Music, at his annual International Master Class on the Island of Maui led to Verdery’s encouragement for Granados to apply to the Yale School of Music. Granados attended Verdery’s master class many times, describing it as “an amazing weeklong program with 16 different guitarists.”

At age 20, when Granados took Verdery’s advice and applied to Yale, he had already completed a bachelor’s degree at California State University at East Bay. Before enrolling, Granados had been home-schooled. He started some college music courses there at age 14, after completing his high school curriculum. When he found out that the school offered music classes, Granados decided to pursue a degree there. During his college years, Granados took some other subjects alongside his music, taking a particular interest in philosophy.

At Yale, Granados’ guitar degree program is comprised of seminars, sight-reading workshops, one-on-one lessons, chamber music sessions, music history courses and composition lessons. But neither this coursework nor Verdery’s mentorship at Yale alone was the reason that Granados elected to move across the country to Connecticut. Granados describes the guitar program at the School of Music as “not super cutthroat or competitive in guitar. It’s why I chose not to go to a conservatory.” It was, nonetheless, a “culture shock” when Granados transitioned from a lifetime in California to the East Coast. “I didn’t have expectations, really. It’s weird, in a good way,” Granados said, smiling. He has also taken up audio production and electric guitar as hobbies in his time away from the studio.

While still unsure of what he will do with his degree, Granados is sure that he wants to teach at the high school or college level. He wants to perform, but not as a career. Granados wants to incorporate both the teaching and learning of music into his life.

The biggest challenges of his commitment to the study and making of music, Granados says, is the slip into excessive self-criticism. “Especially after performances,” Granados explained, “it’s hard to remember that each performance is not a reflection of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ I am.” Granados’ music career is motivated by his desire for balance between confidence and criticism, performance and education.

Shayna Elliot | shayna.elliot@yale.edu .