Roy James Guenther

Dr. Roy James Guenther

Faculty: Emeriti

Professor Emeritus of Music

Roy Guenther grew up in Kansas and lived there for the first 10 years of his life. He explains his life as the child of a semi-itinerant Lutheran country pastor by noting, “I was around farms and farm animals a lot.”  Guenther’s family moved to Oklahoma when he was entering middle school, and though he began piano at the age of six, he explains, “it was in Oklahoma where you could say that my musical life blossomed…when I got to Oklahoma, there were a lot of opportunities for being in band.” Guenther recalls that he initially wanted to play trumpet, but the band director took note of his long arms and convinced him to play trombone instead. “And so I played trombone, and that became a very important thing in my life for many many decades after that.”

"I always knew music would be a part of my life - actually, my goals were set in sixth or seventh grade on being a band director,” Guenther remembers. This dream took a big step forward when Guenther began to play in contests in high school. He recalls, “one of the judges judged me at these contests several times, and the second or third time he heard me he started doing his recruiting routine.” The judge, who was from the University of Kansas, was ultimately successful. Guenther explains, “He was instrumental in getting me some scholarships, got me into some summer programs while I was still in high school, got me acquainted with the place…As they say, the rest is history.” Guenther went on to acquire two bachelor’s degrees. He earned his bachelor’s in education in the normal four years, but decided to continue on to get a second degree because, “By then I had actually changed my education dreams to graduate school and faculty dreams and musicology - musical theory specifically."

After six years at the University of Kansas, Guenther decided to become a graduate student in music theory and was asked to fill a faculty position teaching trombone. However, in 1968 Guenther lost his graduate school deferment and “was…prepared to be drafted, but came back to Washington and auditioned for several service bands, and received some offers and chose the US Marine band and spent four years here…That's what got me to DC and I've never left." Guenther describes playing in the US Marine Band as a “mixture of experiences." Though he was able to play frequently with “a group of amazing musicians” at venues such as the White House, he rememers, “I spent many a day at Fort Meyer, and it was a very sobering experience."

In his free time while working with the US Marine Band, Guenther renewed his ambitions to go to graduate school. Two out of the three and a half years he was in the band he was also in classes - he pursued his masters at Catholic University while simultaneously taking two Russian language classes at GWU in support of his interest in Russian Music. After completing his masters, he continued on to earn his Ph.D. He describes his dissertation as "a translation and commentary of a Russian treatise that proposed an analytical system for the piano music of Skryabin."

At Catholic University, Guenther had a teaching assistantship in music theory and music analysis. There, he developed contacts at the George Washington University, and when a professor went on Sabbatical in the fall of 1975, Guenther took over his classes and then adjuncted for the department for the next three years. “And then there was an opening in the department in 1978, and I applied with I don't know how many other people....but they gave me a job, and I've been full time since 1978 and been here ever since."

At GWU, Guenther continued his research which was at the vanguard of a renewed interest in Russian musicology in academia, publishing an article on Skryabin in Russian Theoretical Thought in Music in 1983 which has recently been reprinted. He also edited and translated Musorgsky's Days and Works:  A Biography in Documents by Alexandra Orlova, which is still published on demand frequently cited by scholars of Russian music studies. Guenther also kept up a career as a freelance trombonist during the early years at GW, performing at venues such as Wolftrap, Arena Stage, and around Europe with his wife, an organist.

Guenther enjoyed being in the classroom and explains, “In my teaching, I always tried to find ways of explaining what you hear in music… and how it relates to the structure of the music and what you feel about the music and how it may be actually caused by something the composer does in the structure of the music when he or she structures the music.” Guenther’s favorite classes included graduate seminars on the quartets of Beethoven and the symphonies of Mahler, and course called "Concert Life in Washington" which required students to take advantage of the rich musical scene in DC.  He describes it as a “sort of a standard music appreciation course,” but one that required students to attend six different concerts in the city and relate their experiences to the class. Guenther speculates that many of the students in this class had never been to a concert before, and says "I really had the feeling that I was helping them broaden themselves - and there's nothing better than that.”

In addition to teaching, Guenther was the chair of his department from 1983-2005 and has been the Executive Associate Dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences since 2008. He says of being an administrator, “I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of decades of my association with GW when I was a department chair and then later on when I was working in the Dean’s office - I’ve enjoyed getting acquainted with faculty and administrators from a very broad spectrum of disciplines and interests and capabilities…that’s been, I think, for me personally, one of the most broadening experiences of my life at GW.” Guenther received the GW Service Excellence award in 2012.

As to his plans for the future, Guenther says, "As an administrator, I haven't had a lot of time to follow my curiosities, my dreams, my goals as a researcher and a writer.” He plans to not only research and publish scholarship, but also notes, "I’ve also got some composing and arranging I'd like to get published.” 


B.Mus.Ed., University of Kansas, 1966
B.M., University of Kansas, 1968
M.A., The Catholic University of America, 1974
Ph.D., The Catholic University of America, 1979


Audio Clip from Interview