I’m a huge fan of the work that Matt Hinsley has been doing in Austin with Guitarcurriculum.com. He’s been finding new ways of bringing the guitar into the classroom for kids in innovative ways. So when he told me that he was interviewing the people who have inspired him with their teaching I was very interested in hearing what they had to say. Here’s his interview with John Truitt from New Mexico.
Reaching Out – John Truitt
Love the music you bring to your students, and they will love it too. Don’t forget that for all the knowledge you may have about the music you teach, the thing that the kids want to have is real, sincere connection with you…that you will teach them humanely and engage them in an authentic relationship with the music that will be theirs to keep.
– John Truitt
There are few people in the world of class guitar education as inspiring as John Truitt. Mr. Truitt is the driving force behind All State Guitar in New Mexico – the first state in the US to have All State Guitar – and has dedicated his life to our wonderful instrument and to positively affecting the lives of his students, and all of us lucky enough to come under his influence.
When we were first developing our school curriculum in Austin 8 years ago, Mr. Truitt’s work, and the work of his amazing colleagues at the Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico, was our shining inspiration, and one of the first stops of many on our tour of class guitar programs.
I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did making it!
Matthew Hinsley: Tell me about John Truitt the guitarist?
John Truitt: I began my life with the guitar when I was 18, (1968). I was a music major at UNM, majoring in oboe, and I was also playing in the New Mexico Symphony. I had loved the guitar since I heard Hector Garcia play at a summer band-camp assembly some years before. I fooled around with a friend’s for a few weeks, and then bought one for myself and began to take lessons with a life-long mentor and friend, Jim Dell. He put me to work teaching beginners at his studio, so I began teaching very quickly in my career.
There was a fine flamenco player teaching at the studio, and I fell in love with everything about flamenco. I learned how to accompany the routines of a local troupe, and I have still maintained those contacts. I studied with a fabulous teacher named Julio De Los Reyes who was a patient and very inspiring teacher. He had worked many years with Jose Greco, who I would get to accompany many years later. I got to go to Spain to study with the not so famous but very significant David Serva in 1974. His influence was pretty profound, as I began to be a regular staff accompanist at the famous “Amor de Dios” flamenco school in Madrid. As an American I could not work in clubs, but I could work in the dance studios. I got to know many artists through my work with them as a rehearsal guitarist. I spent about 8 months in Spain and then returned to Albuquerque where I resumed my duties at Albuquerque Academy.
The flamenco scene in New Mexico really took off, and I was in a great position to meet and play with lots of people here; La Tati, Jose Greco, Talegon de Cordoba, La Conja, Pedro Cortes, Mercedes Amaya and many others. These were artists at the Festival Flamenco Internacional that happened each summer at UNM. I played in the first 20 of those festivals. When I became more focused on my teaching career, I devoted less time to accompanying. I have always loved the classical guitar, but the lion’s share of my work has been in flamenco.
MH: Tell us about Albuquerque Academy?
JT: I began to teach at Albuquerque Academy in 1972, and though I had not ever taught guitar in a classroom setting before, I just loved doing it and became very interested in the use of guitar in schools. I left the Academy in 1976 to devote more time to my freelance career, but returned to the classroom in 1985, at Albuquerque High School. I jumped into a very big program, one that had been oriented toward pop music and retention of at-risk students. The kids could do little except project a very intimidating attitude, so my first semester was a tough one!
They responded quickly to a regimen of technique, basic classical literature, and flamenco, so much so that kids who were not terribly invested in anything, became very devoted to guitar – and better students in general. They played with a passion for the guitar that I have not seen but a few times since…I still hear from them occasionally, and quite a few of them still play. I was not so systematic about what I taught then, but the experience with them convinced me to begin to carefully examine the sequence of things I taught, as well as to write material appropriate for students. I returned to Albuquerque Academy in 1992, and re-started the guitar program there. The Academy program has been the love of my professional life. The way that community has embraced the guitar has been unbelievable! Guitar at the Academy has really reached a zenith with Mickey Jones and Jeremy Mayne teaching the program. The last ten years there were simply incredible.
MH: Could you tell us a bit about New Mexico All State Guitar?
JT: The development of our All-State Initiative began with conversations between the guitar instructors of our district in 2004. We were given the chance to have a discussion at one of the workshops offered at All-State that year, and the idea was hatched to try to have a guitar all-state group by 2010. From the group that had that initial discussion, a basic framework was fashioned, and a plan was set in place. Our work was initially under the auspices of the Orchestra Division of NMMEA, and our plan was presented to the NMMEA Board of Directors the following summer. We would have at least three pilot “Honor Groups” to learn everything we could about large guitar groups that could pertain to the All-State experience.
My colleagues Mickey Jones and Jeremy Mayne were partners in locating clinicians, material, audition issues, setting the schedule, noting the problem spots, and helping me to communicate with all the teachers we could reach who had guitar programs. We managed to assemble a core of 12 programs and teachers who were very faithful to the project, and ready to see it through its birth pangs. After two years of our pilot groups, the Executive Board of NMMEA was sufficiently convinced that we should be given the chance to put a guitar ensemble in the New Mexico All State Music Festival. That happened in January 2010, the first in the history of the nation. Carlos Rafael Rivera was the director, and I can tell you that I still get goose bumps when I think of the sight and sound of that group on stage! I will never forget it!
MH: What is your advice to someone who would like to see All State in their home state?
JT: Plan and get input from a lot of people. It is a big endeavor, and it will take the work of many to get the task done. Guitarists are often thought of as solitary folks, but in my experience, they are some of the most helpful, thoughtful and insightful people in education. Don’t try to get an All-State group to answer every need that there may be in guitar education in your area, but be sure that requirements set forth are developmentally appropriate for high-schoolers.
The All-State experience should be a teaching instrument for motivated youngsters, and a challenge…selecting material for auditions and performance really sets the tone for so much in all the programs around the state. In the three years we have been doing this, I have seen incredible growth and enthusiasm for the guitar in places that I would have never guessed before. Don’t forget to tell the kids (and teachers) how hard they are going to have to work!
MH: Do you have any advice for teachers beginning in the classroom?
JT: Love the music you bring to your students, and they will love it too. Don’t forget that for all the knowledge you may have about the music you teach, the thing that the kids want to have is real, sincere connection with you…that you will teach them humanely and engage them in an authentic relationship with the music that will be theirs to keep. Be able to articulate your expectations clearly and frequently to them, and be genuinely delighted with them when they show progress toward that goal. Have high expectations, but remember stress will not get you a better sounding group, only high blood pressure and hemorrhoids. Guitar in the classroom is still in its infancy, so remember that you are in the vanguard of guitar teachers in the country! Remember everything that you do that is successful, and forget the stuff that is not.
MH: That’s amazing, John! What excites you most about the world of guitar pedagogy today?
JT: I am so excited to see the progress some programs are showing around the country and how other music educators are taking notice. Because of the internet, the successes of these groups are setting the bar higher for everyone almost every day. Have you seen the group from Maryvale High School in Phoenix? They are simply wonderful!
I am also so gratified to see that some young players who have been a part of our efforts have resolved to become guitar teachers and are pursuing degrees in music education to do so. I am also amazed daily at the amount of quality material that has become available through the internet for classroom guitar teachers. The work you have done at guitarcurriculum.com is truly amazing and so welcome in our effort to support teachers around the country!
MH: Thank you so much, John. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
JT: In the 1920’s the former members of John Philip Sousa’s band, the Edwin Franko Goldman band, and other famous groups became the teachers for the emerging band-in-the-schools movement that swept the country then. We are at just such a moment today with the guitar.
There are, however, no large guitar groups disbanding and sending out members to spread the joy of playing guitar today. We are in desperate need of more colleges to initiate programs in music education with a guitar emphasis to fill this need. The tremendous enthusiasm for guitar in the schools means that this certainly is the subject that will be the big growth area in music education.
Just some food for thought, and, by the way, I wish I was 18 again!
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