For years, John Bullard (B.F.A. ’05) struggled to find his place in the music world as an artist with southern bluegrass roots and a love of classical music. In 1985, he first auditioned at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music with a guitar, gaining acceptance to the program. His talent caught the eye of music Professor John Patykula, who became Bullard’s mentor, teacher and ultimately, life coach. It was Patykula’s encouragement that led Bullard to bring his banjo to class and try his hand at classical music.
Material was hard to find and Bullard didn’t want to play Bach his whole life so he earnestly searched for new options; he diligently began transcribing other Baroque and Renaissance composers as well. At that time, however, there was no clear path to a graduate degree in the banjo and, frustrated, Bullard soon left to pursue other ventures.
Professor Patykula nurtured Bullard’s talent even though he was not formally enrolled in the school. He consistently called to invite him to attend a master class and bring his banjo to play a Bach piece for the other students. Bullard says, “John valued what I was doing and encouraged me.” This profound mentor relationship led the two men to play together at weddings, cafés and concerts for over 15 years. Bullard also recorded two successful albums “Classical Banjo” and “Bach on the Banjo” that were both critically acclaimed. In 2002, Patykula told his former student and colleague to “go back to school and get that music degree.” Bullard listened to his mentor and returned to VCU. The results are epic. Bullard is the first classical banjoist to ever graduate from the Department of Music and he achieved this goal with honors. “VCU has been very supportive of everything I’ve done. It’s my home away from home. I am very comfortable here,” says Bullard.
On September 11, Bullard will appear in concert at VCUarts in the Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall of the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts. The show previews songs from his new CD “Classical Banjo: The Perfect Southern Art.”