(Photo by Neely M. Benn)
Recently, Rafferty's work ethic paid off, as he was awarded a prize by the Artist Presentation Society of St. Louis.
The competition -- open to musicians younger than 35 residing within 200 miles of St. Louis -- is stiff. In its 47 years of awards, Rafferty is only the third guitarist to receive an award, which typically honor pianists, violinists and vocalists.
Rafferty came to Southeast Missouri State University in 2009 as adjunct professor of guitar.
The Artist Presentation Society awards a monetary prize, but for Rafferty, the reward is the solo recital he will play at the Ethical Society in Brentwood, Mo., next spring.
Rafferty is well-versed in classical styles, and for the performance he chose a diverse selection of pieces, including virtuoso masterworks by Mauro Giuliani and Dionisio Aguado as well as transcriptions of two Renaissance fantasies by John Dowland and an arrangement of Baroque dances by Gaspar Sanz.
The contemporary component of the program included Spanish works by Eduardo Sainz de la Maiza and a pairing of a work by Heitor Villa Lobos and a recent work by Roberto Sierra, dedicated to Villa Lobos.
Rafferty's performance in the competition required 75 minutes of memorized music.
"They just pick 20 minutes, and tell me to start things, stop things," Rafferty said. "I had no idea what was coming; I gave them a reference sheet, and they just started picking tunes."
Rafferty said he prepared for the competition for nearly a year.
Rafferty has a local concert scheduled in October, but over the last couple of months, his focus has been getting into the St. Louis scene.
"There's so much more opportunity for a classical musician in St. Louis than there is here," he said. "It's worked out really well."
He has a concert at East Central Community College in September, and will play at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis in November as part of the church's concert series. He said he's hoping the award will help him get more gigs in St. Louis.
Rafferty said he wants to stay as active as possible in Southeast Missouri venues, despite his growing St. Louis showing. He recently played a faculty recital with Paul Thompson, who teaches flute at Southeast.
"There's been a lot of music written over the centuries for flute and guitar, and so it was kind of a natural combination, in terms of music," Thompson said. "We've already talked about doing it again."
Thompson said Rafferty's ability to adapt to different musical styles, from classic to contemporary, impressed him.
"As terrific musicians tend to have to be these days, he's really eclectic, actually," Thompson said. "He can play anything, but I got the impression that he likes to play contemporary music most of all. I feel that's his real calling card."
From an early age, Rafferty has played and practiced intensely, and after graduating from Southeast Missouri State University in 2004 with a bachelor of music in guitar performance he continued his studies at the Peabody Institute of Music at Johns Hopkins University, earning the master of music degree in 2006 and the graduate performance diploma in 2008.
Rafferty now teaches guitar at Southeast and has been busy reaching out to area schools to spark students' interest in music.
"I've been at [Cape Girardeau Central] Junior High, Saxony Lutheran; Paul Thompson and I did a concert at St. Paul Lutheran back in the spring," Rafferty said. "It's been great for me because I get to run my stuff in front of an audience that usually [is] really attentive and asks great questions."
Rafferty said the children will ask questions others might not.
"They'll ask, 'Why do you hold the guitar that way,' or 'How do you play so many notes at the same time,' and I have to tell them about playing with your fingernails and how I have to file my nails and take care of them all the time like a girl or something," Rafferty said.
Rafferty also stays busy with the guitar ensemble at Southeast, which often plays in the community and schools.
As packed as his schedule is, Rafferty does have plans to record soon.
"I'm working with a guy who is a pro, and we're going to start within the next couple of weeks," Rafferty said.
He reinforces a strong practice ethic with his students and feels this win will inspire them.
"I think it has. A lot of them have expressed excitement over it," Rafferty said. "In a lot of ways, they have helped me prepare for this. We have this weekly class where everybody plays for each other. They've seen me prepare for this throughout the whole school year, and what has gone into it, and I hope they take inspiration from it."