By Nic Deuson
On a day cut like a diamond, the sky a robin's egg blue, hemmed in by clouds hammered soft white in a light clear as fast water, we took the news of Maestro John Sutherland. Charismatic, iconic, and ferociously passionate about the development of the guitar, he left a legacy of thousands of students when he passed away early October 4th, 2014. He was a man of wit, intelligence, great musicality, emotional sensitivity and tremendous kindness, who cared enough for his students to demand of them their full potential, and was fearless in doing so. Beyond their musical development, his investment in their personal development rings just as true and poignant.
Maestro Sutherland taught throughout the state of Georgia, was declared the “Dean of Guitarists” by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and was central to the canonization of the guitar in the Southeastern United States, as well as beyond. His formation came much in the way the guitar did in the US, with a series of prestigious masterclasses and private studies; studying with Andrés Segovia, Christopher Parkening, John Marlow, José Tomás, and Evangelos Assimakopoulous. He later internalized and professed these learnings into a distinct and refined pedagogy. After retiring from the stage, Maestro Sutherland taught at Georgia’s flagship school, The University of Georgia, for forty years, where, at the time of his passing, he was an emeritus professor. He was a lion in the teaching studio, passionate and animated, ranging a full compass of emotions and advice through stories, proverbs, and truisms that have, and will continue to, nurture his students. In his teaching there was a clear distillation of the ideal: that just beyond our human vessel, our human failings, there was a music that could shape our best intentions - the sincere, the profound, the divine. That through the guitar, music could be the color of the day of his passing; clear, inspiring, transcendent. But most importantly, through the guitar, his students might grasp the ideal of the their own personal cultivation: a capacity for kindness, patience, equanimity, and a willingness to pay the price we must all pay to bestow compassion, to name but a few.
Thank you, John, and “may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”