Had Jesse Grandmont not been watching TVO as a toddler, who knows what he would have grown up to be.
“You know how TVO between their shows have their logo and have a graphic go across the screen,” he explained. “Well, there was one that had a violin floating across and I said ‘I want to play that.’ That’s how it all came about.”
Flash forward 18 years and it’s safe to say even the 21-year-old, who’ll graduate next month from the Don Wright Faculty of Music, never would have expected that initial proclivity for the violin would lead him to play in front of a television audience of 1.5 billion people.
But such was the case for Grandmont, who as a member of the Ontario Festival Symphony Orchestra, led by former Western professor Jerome Summers, was in China as part of a two-week tour. The tour organizer was Western Music graduate John Crozman, manager and co-founder of Barrage, a ‘high-octane fiddle-fest with an eclectic mix of music, song and dance.’
In China for performances to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the international showcase lost a cast member who had to return home to the United States. So Grozman, knowing Grandmont and his playing style, and that he would already be in the country, asked if he would stay an extra week and fill in for a couple shows.
While learning the music and choreography in a month’s time would be a challenge, the answer was pretty much a no-brainer for Grandmont.
“That gig was like nothing I’ve ever done before,” he said.
He had the opportunity for a couple cameo appearances early in the week, before hitting the stage as a temporary member of Barrage.
“It was on New Year’s Day, and this was their global gala,” he continued. “I remember before I went on stage, another performer, one of the regulars, said to me, ‘Man, I’m really nervous about this one.’ And I looked and him and was like ‘You’re nervous?’
“But those nerves went away as soon as you got on stage and it’s go time.”
Grandmont played his first paying gig at 10, and began playing professionally while still in elementary school. He has played countless times in restaurants, weddings and corporate events, and even found himself in the finals of the CNE Rising Star Competition a couple years back, playing in front of thousands.
But hitting the stage with Barrage was wildly different.
“It’s definitely been the top performing experience that I’ve ever had,” he said. “This was like an eye-opener to the real world. The things I do now – weddings, bars – they’re fun, you get a little money and it builds experience. But this China experience was the real deal. I’ve never done such a large production and I got to experience what it takes to put it all together.”
For Grandmont, music is a family affair. His parents and sister are all musical. His father, John, graduated from Western in 1978 with a Music degree.
“My parents feel music is something important toward education, and I agree,” he said. “They wanted us to play until we were 16 and then would ask us if we wanted to continue or stop. I, of course, wanted to continue. Music builds so many things; it builds confidence, memory skills, coordination.”
It has also built a passion for performing, something he hopes will continue after he leaves Western this year. “For me, right now, I just want to be on stage,” he said. “As long as I’m enjoying it, it doesn’t matter where or who I’m with.”