Local guitar instructor Jim McCutcheon wins Governor’s Award for arts education

By Jim Hannah

Photo: Jim McCutcheon, also known as ‘The Guitar Man,’ teaches lessons at his shop, WSU, and UD; photo: Erin Pence

A sign in the front window of McCutcheon Music says, “Just Play.”

That’s exactly what owner Jim McCutcheon has been doing since he was 8 years old and discovered his big sister’s ukulele in the family room closet.

Today, the classical guitarist, longtime Wright State University adjunct faculty member, and “The Guitar Man,” as he is known by hundreds of schoolchildren, is poised to receive the 2017 Governor’s Award for the Arts in Arts Education.

“It means that somebody noticed I’ve been creating a body of work,” McCutcheon says. “I feel affirmed.”

In addition to being adjunct faculty at Wright State, McCutcheon is artist-in-residence at the University of Dayton and adjunct faculty at Miami University. He has made four recordings for adults and two for children and written several publications of guitar compositions and instruction books. He has also produced a weekly classical guitar program, The Intimate Guitar, on Dayton Public Radio for the past 30 years.

McCutcheon will receive the Governor’s Award May 17 in Columbus. The awards ceremony will be held in conjunction with Arts Day, a day-long arts advocacy event sponsored by the Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation.

In 1988, McCutcheon opened McCutcheon Music in downtown Centerville to provide music lessons and sell and rent musical instruments. The business, which he operates with his wife, Debbie, has since opened a second location that has grown to 7,200 square feet and more than 50 teachers giving lessons, winning Dayton Magazine’s “Best Music Instruction” for the past two years.

“We have classes for everybody from newborns on up,” McCutcheon says. “Believe it or not, you can do an awful lot with little babies.”

On the wall of his office hangs a framed photo of McCutcheon leaning against a sequoia-sized guitar. There is also a “GTR MAN” license plate and a guitar-shaped mirror bejeweled with sparkling blue and red stones.

Just down the hall is the store’s Sistine Chapel, a heavenly display of stringed instruments. One entire wall is devoted to guitars, banjos, and mandolins, which dangle enticingly. There are racks of sheet music, stacks of amplifiers, violin bows, instrument cables,  and guitar straps. There is even a ukulele painted with a smiley face.

It’s been a long, strange, wonderful journey for the 65-year-old McCutcheon, who shows no signs of slowing down.

He grew up in Pittsburgh, where he would listen to his sister’s Kingston Trio and Brothers Four albums and sit on the floor and practice the ukulele for hours at a time. The family moved to Dayton when McCutcheon was 11, and he finally persuaded his mother—an amateur pianist—and father to buy him a guitar.

After graduating from Wayne High School as valedictorian in 1969, he enrolled at the University of Dayton to study physics. But then engineers in the area began suffering layoffs, giving him second thoughts about that career.

“I thought that if I am going to be insecure in my job,” he says, “I might as well be a musician.”

At the end of his senior year, in 1973, McCutcheon and his five-member band Quintessence signed with an agent and started touring.

“When I was on the road, I did music 65 hours a week and loved it,” he says. “I had more energy at the end of every week than the beginning, and I listened to that.”

When the two-year tour ended, in 1975, McCutcheon enrolled at Wright State, where a classical guitar major was created just for him. He became the first person to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in guitar performance and was the only person in Montgomery County with such a degree.

He joined the faculty at Wright State in 1978 as an adjunct faculty member, teaching guitar, and went on to earn a master’s degree in music education at Wright State in 1991.

McCutcheon is widely known as “The Guitar Man,” a nickname he got from young students when he would go into the schools to share his love of the guitar and music.

“I take lots of different guitars into the schools to entertain the kids and teach them about all of these different instruments—the steel string guitar, the classical guitar, the 12-string guitar, the electric guitar, the banjo, the mandolin, the lute, the ukulele, and the charango from South America and the balalaika from Russia,” he says. “I can demonstrate them and I can talk about them in a way that the kids remember.”

He won a Parents’ Choice Foundation Silver Award for his album, A Day with the Guitar Man.

McCutcheon can be heard weekends on Dayton Public Radio’s The Intimate Guitar, which he has produced since 1986. The pre-recorded, 60-minute show, which is also heard on Wright State’s WWSU, showcases artists from around the world, mostly classical guitarists.

In 1991, McCutcheon was the first recipient of the Wright State School of Music’s Distinguished Alumni Award for his achievements as a musician, music teacher and arts advocate. He also received the graduate school’s 1992 Outstanding Alumni Award.

McCutcheon has given back to Wright State by helping create the Jim McCutcheon Guitar Scholarship and by coordinating the Tárrega Fund. Named after a Spanish composer and classical guitarist, the fund sends each Wright State guitar major to a national conference at least once and brings artists for concerts and master classes to campus.

McCutcheon Music is located at 38 Marco Lane in Centerville. For more information, please call 937.435.2900 or visit McCutcheonMusic.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Hannah at ContactUs@DaytonCityPaper.com

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