The pervading spirit here is undoubtedly on social music making; opportunities for smaller ensembles to perform, practical 'hands-on' workshops, and the GFA guitar orchestra experience. In addition, participants have the opportunity to play solo pieces and have feedback from the GFA's invited pedagogues. The age range of participants is impressive - from the under 10s to those already studying at University and Conservatoire level - really illustrating the route of progression through the education system.
Particularly interesting for me was to meet members of the St Louis Classical Guitar Society who were there supporting one of their public school guitar programs. In July 2010 they launched their "Guitar Horizons" program into schools in the St Louis area, and since then they have raised funds to supply over 450 classical guitars, with similar numbers of supporting items and equipment such as footstools and music stands, into local schools. The evidence of the impact they are having was plain to see and hear in the St Louis Schools Guitar Ensemble who performed in a showcase concert. These children aged 10 and under, really had achieved something. They were focused, engaged, technically well set-up and most importantly, having fun celebrating their skills. Speaking to the guitar society representatives, I understood that many of these children came from socially deprived areas, and many children are at-risk. This seems to be reinforced as I look further into the demographics; approximately 21% of St Louis children do not complete high school, and the average test scores for schools there are 49% lower than the national average.
What was unexpected for me however, was that these schools are already using the Austin Guitar Society's whole-class curriculum which I will be researching in more depth when I visit them later on in my Fellowship. It's so encouraging to see these networks expanding and the impact of what Austin is doing being actively felt over 800 miles away; putting that into context in the UK, it's an equivalent distance from Lands End to John O'Groats .... and we all know how long that is!
In the spirit of my premise of creating a network of guitarists who exchange ideas and support one-another, it was my absolute pleasure to give a workshop for participants and conduct the GFA guitar orchestra at the symposium. Being actively involved and working with the students really gave me further insight into guitar education in the USA.
(My "Finger-aerobics" session with some of the Symposium participants)
(Children from the St Louis Schools Guitar Ensemble)