Theo Griffin – Music Unlimited

By Jane Whitehead



Meet Theo Griffin, baritone, composer, multi-instrumentalist, international band tour manager and music teacher, the latest addition to the ten-strong faculty of the Lexington Music School.
Since November 2021, Griffin, who lives in Somerville, has found a new musical home in a ground-floor studio at the Munroe Center for the Arts, where he creates his own music and teaches piano and composition. Named for the great Thelonious Monk, Griffin has a warm laugh and a mellow baritone that he deploys in multiple musical genres.

At Oberlin Conservatory he studied opera, while teaching bass guitar on the side, a dual track that has been a hallmark of his professional career. So, while he can delight a visitor with a snatch of Leporello’s Catalogue Aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, his most recent gig was playing cello and singing background vocals on jazz singer/songwriter and Blue Note recording artist Kandace Springs’ latest album. Since 2016 Griffin has toured internationally with Springs, acting as tour manager and assistant musical director.

Griffin shared some of his recent work, 31 songs composed in the month of January 2023, spurred by the “Jamuary” song-writing challenge. The invention of prolific songwriter Jonathan Mann, “Jamuary” is an invitation to write a song every day of the month, in the spirit of other creativity-sparking marathons like National Novel Writing Month and February Album Writing Month.

Generating a song every day is a tall order. But Griffin finds the calendar framework liberating. “These songs were waiting to be written,” he said. “Good, bad or ugly, brilliant or kitsch and poppy, they wanted to come out!” He opened a color-coded list of his January output on his computer monitor. The songs are labeled Hip hop, R&B, Blues, Funk, Rock, Theatrical, Ballad, Dance, or hybrids of one or more genres.

Warning that this was a sketch, rather than a finished song, he played “one of the more artsy songs,” a ballad about lost love, called It Hurts. “It doesn’t matter if the world never hears that,” he said, “it’s for me.” Then he flipped the mood by switching to an upbeat pop number with a catchy refrain, Yum in the Sun, inspired by a chance conversation on a sunny January day when a woman asked him: “You getting any of this yummy sun?”

The joy of “Jamuary,” said Griffin, is that it pushed him to generate ideas for songs that he can develop and polish later. He reckons that more than half the songs will repay revisiting. “Right now, what I have here is a bunch of potential, so there’s plenty of work to be done,” he said.
Griffin traces his musical foundation to his boyhood in a mainly Puerto Rican and African American neighborhood of downtown Hartford, Connecticut. His first professional gig was as a ten-year-old boy soprano in the choir of Hartford’s

Episcopal Cathedral, thanks to a recommendation from his elementary school music teacher.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he said, but the rigorous training he received, both in the choir and at summer schools run by the Royal School of Church Music on the Princeton campus, grounded him in fundamental musical skills and the discipline of performing to high standards. A string program for inner city schools introduced him to the cello, to the ridicule of neighborhood kids, who taunted him about his “big-ass violin.”

Epp Sonin, soprano and founder of the Lexington Music School, heard Griffin perform at Flora Restaurant in Arlington in 2012, when he gave a song recital spanning centuries, by composers from Monteverdi to Charles Ives. In a recent phone conversation Sonin said that she was struck by the joy and energy he brought to music making. When Griffin was looking for studio space, she saw him as an excellent fit for the school’s ethos of combining musical excellence with fun and enjoyment. “He’s a fine musician,” she said, “able to give his students an eclectic kind of course,” and, equally important, “a great guy, who just oozes enthusiasm.”

As a teacher – he offers lessons in voice, piano, bass guitar and composition – Griffin aims to take his students “beyond the notes.” For example, for a piano student working on a Spanish piece originally written for guitar, to give context and a sense of emotional color, Griffin will play flamenco music and ask, “do you hear the pulse of this, do you hear the depth of it?”

In teaching composition, Griffin reaches back to the classical tradition, showing how composers like J.S. Bach could “do a thousand things with a simple theme.” Then he guides students to apply that learning to a contemporary context, like a film scenario, prompting them with questions: “What’s the mood here? What key are you going to write in? Is the music full or sparse?”

Whatever the lesson, said Griffin, his job is to reach students wherever they are in their musical journey and help them find the balance of discipline and sheer delight in music that fuels his own practice. As he said, “I’m deeply serious about my work, but not so serious that I can’t write Yum in the Sun!”



You can find Theo at The Lexington Music School, a musician’s collaborative, founded in 1985 by Director Epp Sonin. Lessons and workshops are given by highly qualified and dedicated teachers. To learn more:


Share this: