Local teen guitarist rising to the top

guitar pic

Reilly Martin, 17, has played the guitar for 12 years and attends the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Photo by Pablo Roa.

POTOMAC, MD. — When Reilly Martin was 3 years old, he would spend his time watching Raffi videos on TV while strumming along with his plastic guitar. Fourteen years later, Martin has become a well-known guitarist in the D.C. area and regularly performs in front of hundreds of people, oftentimes with some of today’s most talented musicians.

Martin, a 17-year-old from Potomac, Maryland, has come a long way since his days of imitating Raffi. He has performed at premier venues, such as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and is regularly asked to perform at restaurants and events throughout the metropolitan area. But Martin’s rise did not happen overnight, he said, as his first few years with the guitar were filled with frustration.

“I used to hate it,” Martin said. “I didn’t start to like it until third grade, when I started getting good. My parents wouldn’t let me quit, which was pretty smart of them.”

Although he also plays the piano, bass, drums and other instruments, Martin’s true passion is the guitar. After nearly abandoning it years ago, playing the guitar has become second nature for Martin, who just completed his junior year at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Martin is known by many as one of the most talented young guitarists in the area and his skills have given him the opportunity to share the stage with several giants of the music industry, including Patti LaBelle, Ledisi, Paul Simon and Sting.

“My most memorable experience was opening for Sting,” he said. “It was just me in front of 3,000 people at Strathmore. It was incredible.”

People often ask Martin how he went from being on the verge of giving up on the guitar as a kid to sharing the stage with some of today’s most famous musicians.

Martin grew up idolizing Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix, two musicians that played a pivotal role in his decision to dedicate his life to music. But it was his competitive mindset that allowed him to persevere and become who he is today. Martin knows that the music industry is extremely competitive and that, especially at his school, where many students are some of the most talented artists in the area, it is critical to take advantage of every opportunity he gets to stand out and be the best he can be.

“Going to Duke Ellington, I knew I had to prove myself from the very first day of freshman year,” he said. “No matter where I went, I was determined to be the best one there. It’s really easy to be good at something that you love doing.”

Attending Duke Ellington not only motivates Martin to work hard and to challenge himself, but it also provides him with many unique opportunities that he may not have at other schools. Martin cherishes the things he has learned from his teachers there, many of whom are directly involved in the music industry, as well as the connections that they have which have given him the opportunity to meet and perform with celebrities.

Although many people have influenced and inspired Martin to pursue a career as a guitarist, perhaps none has had a greater impact on him than his guitar teacher, Glenn Flaherty, from the School of Music in Rockville, Maryland.

“I owe him everything,” Martin said. “He’s been with me the whole time. He’s taught me everything I know. He’s an amazing teacher.”

Flaherty has been teaching Martin for over a decade and has seen him evolve from a little kid with a big guitar to an up and coming superstar. What sets Martin apart from other musicians, Flaherty said, is his rare combination of world-class talent and vision. 

I couldn’t be more delighted with his success and progress,” Flaherty said. “He really took the idea of getting better to heart and persues it with passion. I’ve never really viewed Reilly as a student, but as a fellow music lover, with whom I share whatever I can offer. He’s a great listener, observer, practitioner and buddy.”

Along with his performances for his school, Martin performs with several local bands throughout the Washington, D.C. area.

“One of the coolest things is playing with my own band,” he said. “You make friends that way. It’s always good to go out and play music with other people while getting feedback and, hopefully, getting fans, too. Right now, I’m in four different bands.”

Martin’s passion for music has not only led him to perform with some of the biggest names in the industry and with his own bands, but it has also inspired him to give his own guitar lessons, with the hope that others can enjoy music and playing the guitar as much as he does.

It has only been 12 years since Martin strapped on his first guitar and began living his dream, but the young guitarist has already made a splash in the local music scene and continues to grow as a musician. His teachers, friends and family have all helped him along the way, but it is Martin’s perseverance, passion and determination that have made him the guitarist he is today.

Despite everything that he has already accomplished, Martin knows he still has a long way to go to reach his goals and that things are not going to get any easier for him. But at just 17 years old, Martin is prepared for whatever challenges await him and is determined to live out his dream.

“My favorite part about playing the guitar is having the ability to create and be unique,” Martin said. “It’s cool to be able to play something that you hear in your head and to have other people enjoy it. That’s something I want to continue to do in the future. I hope to go to a college with a good music scene. I’ll study hard, get out playing, and find a way to be successful with my instrument.”