The Underrated Talent of Briar Woods’ Guitar Ensemble


Picture by Abner Joseph

Mickle Joseph, Reporter

In a classroom hidden in the deep hallways of Briar Woods, there are students vigorously playing strings on a guitar, creating beautiful tunes that would even please the most finest musician’s ears. Many of the guitarists compare the classroom to Platform 9 ¾ from Harry Potter due to the location of the classroom and the lack of knowledge that there even is a guitar program at Briar Woods. However, the lack of popularity doesn’t mean they aren’t good at what they do. In fact, eight students were accepted into the All-Virginia Guitar Ensemble just this year.

It comes as no surprise that eight students were accepted into All-State. It’s become a tradition for Briar Woods’ students to fill most of the spots at the All-Virginia Guitar Ensemble. Many students in Briar Woods’ Guitar Ensemble also happen to become section leaders and concertmaster in the All-State Virginia Ensemble. Their biggest contenders happen to be Freedom High School and Potomac Falls High School, with Freedom High School having 11 students accepted into the prestigious ensemble.

Briar Woods’ Guitar Ensemble has gotten a superior rating every year that they’ve gone to All-County, 17 in total. This year is going to be the 18th year that they are going to participate in All-County. One year, Briar Woods student Jack Osbourne was ranked #1 in the country for guitar and another student, Abner Joseph, was ranked #17.

Joseph, an All-State and All-National alum, was accepted into the All-Virginia Guitar Ensemble 3 times and as mentioned before, he was ranked #17 in the country while being a part of the All-National Guitar Ensemble. “After the procedures of being admitted into the Ensembles, you have quite the workload, as you need to learn around seven to eight pieces for each Ensemble. However at both events, you get to meet a like-minded group of individuals that also possess a vast array of passions outside of Guitar. Additionally, you get to stay at highly rated hotels which is always an excellent addition to a program.” Joseph said. His hard work is evident when asked about how much he practices. “Currently, I practice approximately 30 minutes daily. However, during my time at the Briar Woods Guitar Ensemble, I was practicing close to 7-8 hours/weekly.” He said. Joseph also took guitar study hall, which would give him an extra 90-minutes to practice. He now attends William and Mary and continues to play guitar there.

A current participant in the 2022 All-Virginia Guitar Ensemble was also interviewed. Raghav Goel is currently a sophomore and this is his first year participating in All-State. He describes the music at All-State as “pretty difficult. A lot of the songs have rhythms that take time to get down, along with many weird chords.” When asked what piece from All-State is currently his favorite to play, “Probably ‘One Night in Rome’ [by Andrew York]. I like how all the parts come together in an interesting and unique way.” 

Both Joseph and Goel talk about how their mentors helped them improve and become a better player in guitar. “My mentors have been integral in assisting me to succeed in Guitar. I found the input that all of my mentors gave me to be exceptionally important in improving the quality of my playing and practicing.” Joseph said. Goel talks about how “[his] mentors encourage [him] to succeed by helping [him] with [his] technique and giving constructive feedback whenever [he plays].” One of their mentors includes Dr. Michael Murphy.

Dr. Michael Murphy is the guitar teacher at Briar Woods High School. When asked about the type of music he chooses for his students to play to prepare them for auditions like All-State, All-Country, Pavan, and All-National, “In many cases, I use All State music from years past. I always try to choose music that is not too difficult for my group. It helps that I have about 20 years of experience teaching at the college level and 18 years of high school guitar teaching experience.” Dr. Murphy said. He also talks about how the Briar Woods’ Guitar Ensemble is different from most ensembles in the area, considering their biggest competitors are Freedom High School and Potomac Falls High School. “I concentrate on basics such as scales, arpeggios, and slurs with technique as described in question two. I try to choose high quality literature that is of an appropriate difficulty level. I avoid trying to teach too many styles and concentrate on Classical repertoire and technique.” He said. It’s quite clear that Dr. Murphy cares and wants his students to succeed when it comes to guitar.

The All-Virginia Guitar Ensemble is set to perform on November 18. This year will be a special performance, because 12 alumni will be performing with this year’s ensemble and Andrew York will be conducting. Andrew York is a highly rated and prestigious composer for classical guitar and is known throughout the guitar community. York received a GRAMMY as a member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet during his sixteen years with the cutting-edge ensemble. The All-Virginia Guitar Ensemble performance will take place in Richmond, Virginia, which will without a doubt be a spectacular performance.