Slam dunks to symphonies: Gavin Hardy’s path to musical stardom

In eighth grade, Gavin Hardy was Clemmons Middle School’s star basketball player. But while he had played sports his entire life, he’d also maintained a second passion: classical music. When he opened one of his basketball games by playing the national anthem on double bass in his jersey, his passions converged and the crowd went wild. A video of the performance quickly made the rounds on local news, catching the attention of UNCSA Double Bass faculty member Paul Sharpe

Now, Hardy is graduating from the UNCSA High School Music program with a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music — one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the world, with an acceptance rate of only 5%. He’s been selected multiple times for the National Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, has won notable music competitions, has been named a Jack Kent Cooke Artist, and so much more. 

Gavin Hardy, Double Bass

Gavin Hardy poses with his double bass at UNCSA.

So, how did Hardy go from dreaming of the NBA to becoming one of the top emerging talents in double bass? It all started with a piano. 

A life-changing performance  

Hardy started taking piano lessons when he was four and fell in love with classical music. He continued playing until switching to strings in middle school. His instruments grew incrementally larger: he tried the violin, then switched to cello before hearing the warm, resonant and powerful sound of the double bass — Hardy had found his instrument. From the age of 12, he played in his school’s orchestra and taught himself as much as he could through YouTube. Just like with sports, he approached music with hard work, focus and dedication.

Clemmons’ orchestra teacher, Barbara Bell, quickly recognized his ability. “Whatever Gavin puts his mind to, he can do,” she told WFMY. “His playing is beyond exceptional for his age.” As word of Hardy’s talent spread around the classical music scene in Winston-Salem, Sharpe began hearing about him everywhere. “Virtually every orchestra teacher in the Winston-Salem school district had spoken to me about him,” he remembers. 

Meanwhile, in basketball, Hardy was recognized as the team’s “best player and hardest worker,” and had goals of playing at a Division 1 school. But he always believed in making space for both his talents. Then, in February 2020, Hardy went viral. “I decided to play the national anthem on the court in uniform before one of my games,” he says. “The video of it kind of blew up around the city and even the nation.”

An easy choice 

After the basketball court performance, Sharpe began giving Hardy private lessons just days before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered doors. “We took that lesson, and then a few days later, everything shut down,” Hardy remembers. “But in that first lesson, I heard Victor Stahoviak play, who was one of the students. I left inspired and my focus just pivoted completely.” 

Hardy continued taking lessons with Sharpe over Zoom. With basketball games canceled for the foreseeable future, he was able to practice constantly. After just four lessons, Sharpe was beyond impressed. “Gavin is a phenomenon,” he says. “I had given him five George Vance tunes to learn trying to determine his level, and he returned having learned the whole book.”

Gavin Hardy with Double Bass faculty member Paul Sharpe

Gavin Hardy with UNCSA Double Bass faculty member Paul Sharpe.

At the time, Hardy had started his freshman year of high school at West Forsyth. But he was watching UNCSA’s performances online and took a tour of campus. “It looked like the place to be,” he says. “It was an easy choice to come here.” He auditioned for the High School Music program and started at UNCSA his sophomore year. 

Opportunities like nowhere else

As a high schooler at UNCSA, Hardy gained experience he knew he couldn’t get anywhere else. “You get a lot of performance opportunities, orchestra cycles, masterclasses — when most people would get that in college, I’ve had the privilege of getting it as a high school sophomore. It’s been a great experience,” he says. 

He also touts the caliber of the School of Music faculty. “Pretty much all of the faculty here are world-class artists,” he says. “They’re all recognized in the music space, all still active in performing — their feedback is current and relevant.” And when Hardy has a question, he says the faculty are always just around the corner. “UNCSA faculty are more present than at other schools. You can just walk a little, knock on a door and ask a question; they’re always available.”

Outside of classes, Hardy has built a strong community with his classmates. As a peer leader, he’s been active in hosting events like flag football, basketball and dodgeball games. While some of his favorite memories are from big events like the waterslide at Beaux Arts, he has also just loved walking around campus, going to the gym with friends, and watching the sunset from that perfect spot near the School of Design & Production

To come to UNCSA as a high school student is a big decision. In a way, you block out a lot to focus on what you came here for, but it’s also really rewarding. There’s a great community around you and great professors.

Gavin Hardy

But he’s also aware of the inherent trade-off in choosing the conservatory route for high school. “To come to UNCSA as a high school student is a big decision,” he says. “In a way, you block out a lot to focus on what you came here for, but it’s also really rewarding. There’s a great community around you and great professors.”

Mastering the craft 

Hardy embraced his training at UNCSA. He’s had an incredible breadth of performance opportunities, from full-orchestra performances to performing solo with a piano accompaniment. He’s had the unique experience of playing for dance performances such as the “Nutcracker” and “Firebird,” and utilized resources like the School of Music’s weekly performance hour, where he was able to practice his craft in front of a more intimate audience. 

Gavin Hardy playing double bass in the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra

Gavin Hardy playing double bass in the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra.

In masterclasses, he’s gained crucial insights into his craft from professors and peers. “In pretty much every masterclass, I’ve gotten a piece of information that’s carried me,” he says. “Whether it’s a different fingering for a movement, a different stylistic choice or certain interpretation, or feedback on how to project out into a certain hall — it’s all stuck with me.”

And he’s also learned about failure. “UNCSA has taught me that failure is one hundred percent necessary to succeed,” he says. He’s learned how to look at failure differently and use it as a means to improve. “There’s been performances where I’ve felt like I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to or expected to. I’ve just had to think about why that happened.”

But Hardy’s favorite part of training at UNCSA remains his lessons with Sharpe, where the two continue to work one-on-one. Sharpe's impact on Hardy has been enormous: “Even when I was an eighth grader, before I came to UNCSA, my family couldn’t afford a good bass, so he created a GoFundMe to get me a bass,” says Hardy. “I’m still playing on that bass today.” 

Making his mark 

In his three years at UNCSA, Hardy has amassed so many awards, recognitions and honors that it’s hard to list them all. He’s won local competitions like the Peter Perret Solo Competition. He’s been recognized internationally, like when he was one of only 10 finalists from around the world at the International Society of Bassists Solo Competition. And he’s been selected for multiple prominent youth orchestras, like the National Youth Orchestra’s NYO-USA program. 

Meanwhile, Hardy has been awarded numerous scholarships to make it all possible, including the Jill Lane Endowed Scholarship and the Elizabeth Harriet Weaver Endowed Memorial Award. Additional support was also provided by the Thomas S. Kenan Institute of the Arts.

And, of course, Hardy has been accepted to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. As he prepares to graduate, he’s well on his way to achieving his goal of becoming a principal double bassist of a major symphony in the United States. While he still enjoys playing basketball, his future is on the stage where his virtuoso talent continues to shine. 

By Sasha Hartzell

Get the best news, performance and alumni stories from UNCSA.

May 10, 2024