One of the most interesting teachers at the Frederic Chopin Music School is Ray Guirguess. He has been with the school since 2011. He teaches guitar classes and music theory classes. What makes him interesting is his unique career trajectory and shift from mechanical engineering to music. Ray gave up a career in the physical sciences to pursue his true passion and love: composing, teaching and performing music.
Interviewer: Ray, how old were you when you first felt “the calling” to music?
Ray: That’s actually just how I would describe it! “A calling”. Much like how some people feel a calling to join medicine or the priesthood. I first began studying music when I was 6 or 7 years old. I joined the choir in school and also decided to learn to play the recorder. Even at that age, I had the tenacity and discipline to commit to music. I practiced a lot. I craved all types of music education. I gregariously accumulated all and any music recordings or books that I could get my hands on. I wanted to get my hands dirty and learn as much as I could about music.
Interviewer: What was the first record you purchased?
Ray: “…And Justice for All” by Metallica – a cassette tape. My parents always had vinyls around of Middle Eastern music– so technically, those were the first recordings that I owned. Not to mention all the homemade mixed tapes that I made while listening to the radio. But Metallica was my first real purchase.
Interviewer: What do you love most about your passion?
Ray: I always found that music was a mysterious friend that I could count on. As an only child, I often had to entertain myself and music was my greatest companion. I find music gives me this childish wonder and curiosity. Even the most overproduced or most obscure material excites me.
Interviewer: Was there anyone that influenced you to take up music?
Ray: There were a few people actually. Growing up, many of my neighbours were old than me and would blare music in their garages. This spiked my intrigue. My one neighbour across the street – I remember him blasting the Fugees. My cousin was also a few years older than me. He exposed me to lots of musical genres and because he played the guitar, he inspired me to take it up as well.
It’s like there was a series of mentors who expanded my musical repertoire – step by step. These mentors gave me more “music food” as I evolved. I was not aware of all the music that was out there but I had this unquenchable thirst to learn about as much music as I could. The more I listened to it, the more my musical vocabulary expanded.
One summer, I was working in Montreal when I was in grade 10. I had a chance meeting with a man who found out that I’m a guitarist and he gave me 3 albums that he thought I should explore. If my memory recalls correctly – it was two records by Yngwie Malmsteen and one by Jimi Hendrix.
Interviewer: What do you love about the guitar?
Ray: I’m a hands-on person. I like to feel the vibrations under my fingers. I love the way you can shape the sound… the way you can attack it. More recently, I have become enthralled with the classical guitar. I still have all my amps and pedals from my speed metal days, but that’s not my current focus. The classical guitar is my love these days. I find that it’s more expressive. It’s simple. Whatever you can get from your mind and your heart, the classical guitar provides the most direct and undiluted channel of expression.
Interviewer: You weren’t always in music though. How did you end up here?
Ray: I initially experienced a lot of stigma from my family about wanting to embark on a career in music. I mean, I always knew that I wanted a career in music but they dissuaded me because they didn’t feel I could make a respectable living.
After high school, I went to Sheridan College for Mechanical Engineering. My parents heavily influenced this decision and felt it was a proper professional career. It was a three year program, and then I went to McMaster for two more years. I didn’t find the engineering field to be difficult and I did well. However, I didn’t enjoy it.
Interview: What guided you in to a music career?
Ray: My passion still was in music. I took a job with an engineering firm and continued trudging through. I was not dedicated to the job though and I frequently read music books when I should have been working. I would hide the books from my boss. In my spare time, I continued working to complete my Grade 8 RCM in guitar.
On a family trip to Montreal, I was given an opportunity to take up a lucrative job with an engineering firm. I turned it down because of how dull I found the field to be. I decided at that moment that since I could turn down such a great career opportunity, I was wasting my time in the field.
At the age of 25, I began my first year at York University’s music program. At this point, my parents felt more comfortable with me pursuing music because I had this engineering degree to fall back on. I started teaching at the Frederic Chopin Music School that same year.
Interviewer: Was there a moment that crystalized your commitment to music?
Ray: I actually knew in high school that I wanted to commit to music – I just couldn’t do it right away due to parental obstacles. I was involved in many band trips and talent shows, and our music teacher was very skilled. I really learned a lot. It gave me a space where I could also flourish socially – everyone was impressed that I was a guitarist.
My band and I performed in the high school talent show. I remember performing lead guitar in “November Rain” by Guns n’ Roses. I remember practicing the guitar solo nonstop leading up to the talent show. I didn’t care about food or sleep – I just wanted to nail that 5 second loop and do Slash justice. On the day of the performance, I remember looking around the cafeteria and many students had their lighters out. And that moment made me feel so powerful and motivated and I realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Interviewer: So what advice would you give to aspiring musicians who may not have the support of their parents to embark on careers in music?
Ray: I would say that if you have the conviction and “calling” to music, then follow it. You will find resistance wherever you might go – whatever industry you choose. Use it as fuel for the fire.
If you would like to learn more about Ray Guirguess and the Frederic Chopin Music School, please contact us.
Call 905 279 7761 or send us a note!