Boston GuitarFest’s Youth Guitar Workshop
Today I’d like to share a recent newsletter story from Boston, because I think it’s inspiring on a number of levels. I interviewed several remarkable individuals who just added a youth workshop component to a well known festival, and I thought their story would be of interest.
Before I share the interview, though, I’d like to provide a bit of context about the Austin Classical Guitar Society, its education program and its curriculum project, because the interview will make more sense that way!
Things are moving quickly these days at the Austin Classical Guitar Society’s Education program. We’ll be providing service in over 30 Austin schools this coming year, the most ever! Most of our local service is in AISD middle and high schools, but we also have thriving programs at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Gardner Betts of the Travis County Juvenile Justice System (a full lock-down juvenile correctional facility). In fact, there was an amazing radio story on the Gardner Betts program that I strongly encourage you to listen to if you haven’t heard it already, it will brighten your day!
The main part of the story to know is that back in 2004, about three years after we got involved in education, we realized a great need to develop a full-scale curriculum for classroom guitar teaching. By 2008 we had done it, and it was launched online at GuitarCurriculum.com! GuitarCurriculum.com has since flourished. It not only supports all of our efforts here, but also has its own newsletter, and users all around the world. We have a whole team of educators working every day right now to build it, and enhance it.
It’s in that context that I wanted to share this past week’s GuitarCurriculum.com newsletter describing a recent youth festival in Boston. I hope you enjoy it!
For years Eliot Fisk has directed an extraordinary guitar festival in Boston. Boston GuitarFest reflects the remarkable scholarship and artistic insight of its director perhaps most clearly in each year’s chosen, stated theme, which the festival seeks to explore and share with rare bold, daring and interdisciplinary programming. This year’s festival theme was “Back to Bach”. The festival also hosts a prestigious international guitar competition.
It was significant, then, when the festival added this year’s Young Guitarists’ Workshop. International touring and recording artist Zaira Meneses initiated the workshop, which was run alongside of virtuoso Adam Levin and Daniel Acsadi who, in addition to his playing and teaching, is well-known outside of Boston as Director of the Boston Classical Guitar Society.
After the workshop, we were thrilled to learn that GuitarCurriculum.com had played a role in helping all the participants play together. We asked the three dynamic leaders to share with us a bit about the festival, and asked if they had any advice for others seeking to do something similar.
GC.com to Daniel Acsadi: Dan, you run one of the oldest, best-known guitar societies in the country: the Boston Classical Guitar Society. From your perspective, what is the role of this new youth guitar workshop in the larger context of the Boston community and of Boston GuitarFest?
DA: Boston has thriving youth classical guitar education in preparatory/conservatory, community school, and private lesson settings. Much of it, however, is quite decentralized, with undeveloped channels of interaction among students, teachers, and professionals. The private lesson may be the core of guitar education, but chamber music, guitar ensembles, applied theory/history, and opportunities for experiencing world-class artists (guitar and music heroes) are absolutely essential for the development of future generations of guitarists and guitar-supporters.
I believe YGW is an important first step toward this goal. We were blessed with a fantastic group of students who were very skilled on the guitar, but most had never played in an orchestra and lacked significant music history exposure (especially about the Baroque, our festival focus this year). Throughout the 3-day YGW, students improved at understanding the role of a conductor, playing in time, recognizing the defining characteristics of a musical style, and taking responsibility for shaping a final product that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Additionally, one of my students and her parents were absolutely blown away after hearing Eliot Fisk and Oscar Ghiglia for the very first time. I hope that YGW can serve as a launching pad for uniting and enriching the musical experience of young guitarists the way GuitarFest and the BCGS have been doing for Boston-area adult guitarists for years.
GC.com to Zaira Meneses: Zaira, we have talked for years about your passion for guitar, for guitar education, and for community involvement. Could you tell us a bit about what has led you to develop these interests and this workshop?
ZM: As you know, I’m a founding member of the well-known Guitar Orchestra of Xalapa (Mexico), inaugurated in 1995. Alfonso Moreno was the creator and the one who made all the Guitar Orchestra arrangements from the original orchestral works. 25 or more professional teachers and guitar students receive an income and scholarship to attend rehearsals that conclude with outreach concerts and performances during the year all over the province of Veracruz. All of this is supported and sponsored by the Government of Veracruz!
When I moved to USA I was shocked to discover that the American government’s agenda did not include the arts as a priority. It took me a while to understand the new system… I was curious to know if there were any music programs in public schools that could survive without government support. And I wondered about those talented students who could not afford after school programs.
GC.com to Zaira Meneses: You’re involved in a number of things both inside your home town of Boston and beyond. Could you fill us in a bit on your other activities and how you do what you do?
ZM: While performing with, and doing administrative work for Guitar & Friends and Boston Guitar Fest, I was invited to be Artist in Residence with Syracuse University where I connected with the Say Yes program. I’m blessed to have been able to create the Zaira Meneses Classical Guitar program, through which I teach students in the Frazer School Guitar Ensemble. For the instruction, I combine different guitar methods such Kinder guitar, Sagreras, GuitarCurriculum.com, and my own technique handbook.
As soon as we knew about the existence of GuitarCurriculum.com it was for me (and I’m sure for many other teachers) like emergency oxygen while swimming in a deep dark sea without a tank! The classical guitar in United States has a new face of hope. It’s a well-organized professional program ideal for teachers to use as a new survival tool. Students will have the ability to understand music in ensemble, and to master technical challenges as well as sight reading. This program allows everyone to learn how to play guitar and feel confident about it.
GC.com to Adam Levin: Adam, we talked about getting players of different levels making music together. How’d you do that, in terms of rehearsals and assignments and assessment of level initially?
AL: We were immediately attracted to GuitarCurriculum.com because there were major works offered on the website that allowed kids from all levels to perform together. Initially, we asked parents to write us or call us regarding their son or daughter’s level and what repertoire they were playing. Based on this information we assigned parts. The difficulty with children playing guitar is that they have had little experience playing alongside other instrumentalists, so even if they are at a high level as soloists, once placed among other musicians, their level may drop significantly. Some students commented that the music was too easy, however, once they were asked to perform together with their peers, we discovered that they could not play rhythmically.
Once we began rehearsals, we typically had each part play separately to ensure that each part was performing together and then slowly we assembled all the parts. Dan and I divided the conducting equally between the two of us, so when either of us was free, we played alongside those groups that needed assistance.
GC.com to Adam Levin: What advice do you have to others who might like to do something similar?
AL: My advice to others hoping to put guitarists of varying levels together is to assess each students level prior to the first rehearsal and assign parts appropriately. Then, emphasize to the students that playing together as an ensemble is more important than the actual technical level of each part. I also recommend that the directors engage the students with lots of energy and encourage them to be very expressive and confident in their playing regardless any errors that may occur. This is a lesson in cooperating with a group, exuding confidence, and having fun playing music together with community members.
GC.com to Dan Acsadi: Dan, from your administrative perspective, do you have any advice for others who may be thinking of starting something similar in their areas?
DA: Some quick advice for anyone thinking of starting a youth workshop: plan ahead as much as possible, clarify division of labor among staff, develop clear and efficient channels of communication, be positive and persistent during recruitment, speak early and often with registrants and parents, be efficient and quick on your feet during the workshop, and of course, have fun and share your musical passion!
I enjoyed teaching the Young Guitarists’ Workshop (YGW) at GuitarFest – it was an excellent experience overall. There are so many unknowns when one organizes a workshop from scratch, including scheduling, registration, recruitment, advertising, student backgrounds, and parental involvement. GuitarCurriculum.com greatly helped us by taking away at least one unknown from the equation: GuitarCurriculum.com showed us that the music we provide can be flexible, fun, and educational for a diverse group of students. It was all of the above, helping us direct a fantastic final recital in front of a large audience of music professionals and student families.
GC.com to Adam Levin: Adam, are there any other specific lessons from this experience that you’d like to share?
AL: This workshop offered not only the students an opportunity to work with like-minded community members, but gave us (the directors) an opportunity to expand our repertoire of pedagogical methods. This workshop helped all three of us improve our conducting, our repertoire instruction in a short period of time, required us to organize mini-seminars on various topics pertaining to the festival theme, and, most importantly, helped us engage students and their families. Even though our workshop is centered around the student participation, it is imperative to educate the parents as well, and encourage them to continue offering their children a well-rounded music education.
GC.com to Zaira Meneses: Zaira, thank you for being the driving force behind this and other great initiatives. What is your vision for yourself and for your work in education?
ZM: My vision for myself is to be a cultural ambassador for my country and its rich cultural heritage. The vision I have for young people, especially young women, is to help them to become fulfilled and successful. I want them to have an easier path to fulfillment than I did.
Dr. Matthew Hinsley is the Executive Director of the Austin Classical Guitar Society. A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Texas at Austin, Hinsley has published two books: Classical Guitar for Young People, and, Creativity to Community: Arts Nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time.
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