Violinist Grant ’15 takes a rock star turn

Wynton Grant plays in his recording studio.

When Rostam, Grammy-winning former guitarist for alt-rock band Vampire Weekend, takes the stage for a solo tour of Europe this November, his backing band will be a string quartet with Lynn graduate Wynton Grant on first violin. After just a few whirlwind rehearsals and a sold-out gig in Los Angeles opening for Haim, they make their first European stop in Berlin.  

“It’s all happened so fast,” Grant said. “I haven’t had time to process it. It’s almost absurd.”

Grant, 25, has studied classical violin since he was 7, taking his first lesson at his public elementary school in Sheridan, Wyoming. He studied at Lynn’s Conservatory of Music under Elmar Oliveira, followed by graduate school at Yale, a fairly predictable path for a classical violinist. So his whiplash turn into the pop world might seem out of the blue.

But that doesn’t give his new hometown—Los Angeles—its due.

“It’s all because of L.A.,” he said. “None of this would be happening if I was living anywhere but L.A.”

Classical violin brought him to the city, where he has been completing a post-grad program at the University of Southern California. In L.A., Grant said, everyone seems to know someone in need of a musician. It just so happened that Grant’s violist friend chatted with Rostam at his album-release party, told him if he ever needed string players, give him a call. He then wrote his name and number on the back of his VIP ticket. Within days, that friend, who received a text from Rostam’s manager, had recruited Grant, another violinist and a cellist to begin rehearsing as Rostam’s backing string quartet.

Downside? No sheet music, no definitive directions, no Rostam yet.

Upside? All four musicians had completed rigorous music training, with the discipline and technique to tackle new music in a new genre on very short notice.

“We just listened to the album a lot to begin,” Grant said. “We helped each other with our parts and rehearsed, so that when we showed up for the first real rehearsal with Rostam, we were ready to go. For myself, I would never settle for anything less than the best, and I wanted him to know we were professional and serious about his music.”

Grant said prepping for a rock tour is not so different from classical music.

“The strategies are the same. We’re an ensemble, so we have to be tight and in tune. The difference is that there’s a story in this music and the words are important, so there’s a depth there, but you just have to know your music.”

The Rostam tour caps one crazy good year, Grant said. First, he graduated from Yale and moved to California, where he had dreamed of living since he was little. Second, he bought his first home—“I am incredibly lucky that I have never had to pay for school and I have always worked, usually two jobs at once”—and he started meeting people, the kind of people with “Grammy winner” attached to their names. This only-in-L.A. networking led to performing with Shawn Mendes on the relaunch of MTV’s Unplugged series. And then The Late Late Show with James Corden, backing singer Sabrina Claudio.

“It’s all been friends of friends and phone calls from unknown numbers,” he said. “I have been really lucky.”

But that doesn’t give his analytical brain its due.

Wynton Grant with quartet at The Greek Theatre.

Grant graduated from his Wyoming high school with a 4.0 GPA, was a National Merit Scholar and salutatorian of his class. At Lynn, he was the recipient of the Harold and Patricia Toppel Endowed Scholarship, with full tuition and room-and-board all four years. He was a member of the President’s Honor Society and was a featured speaker at commencement.

So his success might have L.A. written all over it, but Grant himself did the writing.

“My goal was always to start life in L.A., but I knew it would make sense to do so with institutional support and structure. The USC program is fantastic, with a huge well of resources for students in art, film and the music business all right here in the middle of L.A. I knew it would help me make connections. Plus, I’m becoming a better violinist every day.”

Grant’s pinpoint focus on a goal is nothing new. When he was a Wyoming teenager giving Lynn serious consideration from afar, he decided visiting the campus would be smart. When that was arranged, he decided he wanted a word with the dean.

“I still can’t believe I would email the dean and expect a response,” Grant said.

Dean Jon Robertson not only responded, but he also met the family at their hotel, then sat for nearly an hour by the pool with Grant, answering his questions and telling him all about Lynn.

“I will never get over it, the setting, the people,” Grant said. “I learned to surf—me, a kid from Wyoming! Every person on the campus was supportive and approachable. And the faculty are fully invested in their students and their futures.”

If you had asked Grant about his own future, up until the day he bought his house in L.A. and the phone rang asking him if he could perform on MTV, he would have unreservedly answered that his future would be teaching classical violin in a conservatory. It would offer financial stability, a chance to give back to the world, a sense of having succeeded on the path he’d set for himself.

“But when the opportunity came, I looked at myself in the mirror, and it took me maybe 10 seconds to know that this is where my heart is. Maybe I won’t go headfirst crossing over into pop music, but I know I’m headed in the right direction.”

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