Alumnus Ryan Gregory Joins Atlanta Opera Orchestra

Ryan Gregory
Violinist Ryan Gregory (Music, '16) has landed a viola position with the Atlanta Opera Orchestra. 

Violinist finds “a kind of musical innocence” in the viola

KENNESAW, Ga. (Mar 24, 2020) — All too often, our paths to our calling take a long route, with many forks in the road where one must decide the next step. Yet nearly every time, we eventually get to where we were meant to be. Kennesaw State University (KSU) alumnus Ryan Gregory is one such example. Gregory (Music Performance, Violin, ’16) flipped the script and landed a nationally competitive viola position with the Atlanta Opera Orchestra this past November.

Ryan Gregory

Image, above: Ryan Gregory plays the violin at the School of Music's 2015 Collage Concert. 

The Dekalb County native began his musical journey in middle school, where he was introduced to the violin along with the guitar and bass guitar. “I was very passionate about playing the violin from the beginning,” reflects Gregory. By the time he reached high school, Gregory was studying privately under ASO violinist Juan Ramirez and joined the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, a competitive program giving young musicians opportunities to perform in professional settings. “That experience gave me a deeper understanding of orchestral music and helped me see the big picture as far as what it takes to become a competitive violinist,” he says.

Inevitably, Gregory started thinking about his future after high school. “Initially,” he says, “I had decided to pursue a degree in engineering at Georgia Tech.” This would have certainly led to a great career for him, but a chance encounter changed everything: “I met Professor [Helen] Kim at a fundraiser where I played traditional Balkan music on the violin. She gave me some words of encouragement, and, coupled with the fact that I had discovered a real love for teaching music along the way, this led me to change career paths and turn again towards music.”

During his studies at KSU, yet another professor inspired the young musician: Professor Alyson Fleck. She encouraged Gregory to take up the viola in addition to the violin. He quickly carved out time for private lessons with Prof. Fleck and ASO violist Cathy Lynn. “I was always drawn to the sound of the viola,” he explains, “especially the sound of the instrument under my ear.” While many assume that violins and violas are markedly similar, this is not the case: “Playing viola in an ensemble requires a somewhat different mindset from the violin,” he says. “Violin requires a heavy emphasis on virtuosity, and, physically speaking, the viola is just more difficult than the violin. Everything has to be done with a bit more care and even the simplest musical line requires deep awareness.” While his studies focused on the violin, Gregory used his love for the viola as a way to escape the pressures of the violin and bring himself back to what he calls “a kind of musical innocence.”

Ryan Gregory

Image, above: Ryan Gregory plays the violin at the School of Music's 2015 Collage Concert.

His hard work and experience from the KSU School of Music program led to a graduate fellowship at the University of Maryland School of Music after graduation. He continued to prioritize the violin in his studies here and gained professional experience through a violin chair at the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra.

Upon finishing his master’s degree, Gregory returned to the Atlanta area to live and work with his fiancée, Tyler Hartley, a fellow KSU alumna and harpist. The duo frequently performs together, and they run a small business for music lessons in violin, viola, and harp. Gregory also works at the Roswell, GA-based violin shop, Atlanta Violins, where he tests violins, violas, and bows and helps customers shop by demonstrating the instruments. It is here that Gregory realized his next move: “What I noticed in the past year was that people began to have a very powerful response to my viola playing. It wasn’t necessarily more positive than the response I get from my violin playing, but it felt different to me, perhaps more personal.” His friends and fiancée continuously encouraged him to pursue viola professionally and Gregory realized that, “if the people who hear me play most often all felt that way, perhaps it was time to give it my best effort.”

A harsh reality in the professional music world is that applicants can typically expect 30-50 other highly qualified musicians competing for the same open spot, but Gregory took a chance on a nationally competitive open viola position at the Atlanta Opera Orchestra and was offered the spot by the prestigious institution. Gregory will now perform for the remainder of the current season while receiving feedback from the Artistic Director and the audition committee. If his performance satisfies the goals of the group from an artistic and technical perspective, he will earn a permanent position with the Orchestra.

Although now devoted to the viola, Gregory says he is not giving up the violin: “Not many people are truly comfortable pursuing both as performers, but, for me personally, I find the viola and violin to be mutually beneficial and rewarding.”

To those aspiring to enter the professional music world Gregory says, “be patient with yourself and be persistent. Beware of perfectionism, but always listen to yourself honestly.”

--Lauren Richmond; photos by DV Photo and Video