Midpeninsula Post

Trophies and teaching: How a Gunn sibling duo is transforming the classical guitar world

Elle and Jack Davisson in March 2023. (Yoochan An)

In many ways, Henry M. Gunn High School students Jack and Elle Davisson are just ordinary siblings. They both play soccer. They like to read. Unlike most siblings, though, at just 17 and 15 years old, they’ve already released a full-length classical guitar album.

The siblings, known professionally as the Davisson Duo, have over 40,000 followers on Instagram and over 130,000 views on YouTube. They’ve also received top prizes at prestigious classical guitar competitions around the world, most recently at the Guitar Foundation of America International Youth Competition.

On their Instagram, Jack and Elle frequently engage with their followers by participating in musical challenges; every week, they post an instructional video of themselves playing technical exercises.

“[Since October], we’ve participated in weekly challenges such as the arpeggio challenge,” Jack said. “[These videos] are not just for us to remember, but dedicated solely to helping others learn and get better at music.”

Jack and Elle are sponsored by D’Addario, one of the largest musical instrument string producers in the world. As D’Addario artists, they join a community of world-class musicians, which include country singer Keith Urban and violinist Lindsey Sterling, that serve as ambassadors for the beloved brand.

But what Jack and Elle said they are most proud of is their community work. As strong believers in music education and resource equity, they teach guitar through two music education nonprofit programs: one provides free, in-person group guitar lessons to veterans, and the other, Guitar Outreach And Leadership Skills, does the same for underprivileged students in East Palo Alto.

“We wanted to make a meaningful impact in our community besides just performing and competing for personal gain,” Jack Davisson said.

Every Friday evening, the siblings lead guitar lessons at the Menlo Park Veterans Affairs Hospital to patients, many of whom struggle with serious issues such as substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. For many veterans, these lessons serve as a therapeutic break.

Through the GOALS program, which was created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Live in Peace, Jack and Elle teach a group of 5-10 East Palo Alto students each week. Students in the program have the opportunity to perform at nursing homes and benefit concerts.

In partnership with local music shop Gerson Strings, the duo was able to provide more than 30 guitars for all their students. The students have the option to keep the guitars when they graduate from the music programs.

The duo released their debut album, “La Vida Breve” on Feb. 17, which contains covers of works by classical composers such as Joaquín Rodrigo, Manuel de Falla, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Astor Piazzolla.

Jack said that the album is the “pinnacle of their careers as guitarists,” capturing a timeline of their musical career as a duo so far.

The two began creating the album two years ago as a project during the COVID-19 pandemic. The siblings built the tracklist based on works they thought would represent them well as musicians, ranging from Spanish pieces to classical warhorses.

“[The album] has a lot of songs that we’ve played throughout our lives as musicians,” Elle said. “There are pieces that we started learning when we just began to play as a duo. There are recent songs that we’ve mastered in the past couple of years.”

From there, the recordings underwent a major editing process. Each piece required multiple recordings of both snippets and full-length recordings to be mixed together to produce the final track.

Both siblings study under Christopher Mallet at the California Conservatory of Music in Sunnyvale, who said that the Davissons’ work ethic and dedication are what propelled them to success.

“They’ve had this dedication since the beginning, [along with] their nice and warm personalities,” Mallet said. “Jack and Elle are just amazing role models for everybody.”

In addition to classical works, movie and TV show soundtracks have inspired the duo’s phrasing and lyricism in instrumental music, Elle said. Inspired by how the animated show “Arcane” used contrasting styles of music to create one eclectic soundtrack, they combined different genres of music — such as rock, jazz, pop and lofi — into what they played. They recently commissioned a track modeled after five vignettes of the Adventures of Odysseus in The Odyssey.

“We would have one piece that would be [Odysseus’s] battle with the sea monster, or one piece that models his adventures on an island,” Jack said. “Each piece has a different tone, but is unified by this overall adventure.”

Although Jack, a senior, is graduating high school in June, the duo said they’re definitely not done creating and releasing music.

“I see [the first album] as kind of a stepping stone,” Jack said.

The two are now working with professional composers and looking to perform full concerts, Elle said. The duo sees music as an integral part of their lives, and don’t plan on stopping guitar anytime soon.

“I think music inherently is about sharing music,” Jack said. “No one hates music, right? I mean, you can hate a band or a style of music, but music is universal. So when we’re able to [share] that out to people, that’s what brings us together.”

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