A new sound in music: Guitars at Confluence Academy-Old North

When someone is learning to play the guitar, you expect to hear the ‘pluck pluck pluck’ of the strings.

But in a few weeks, the ‘strum strum strum’ of the guitar will fill the music classroom at Confluence Academy-Old North.

With support from the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, local singer Brian Owens and Sterling Bank, the music program at Old North has 30 new classical guitars and accessories such as music stands, foot stands, tuners and guitar racks. The retail value is approximately $5,000.

James Young is the music teacher at Old North. After reading an article in a community newspaper about guitar programs in the area hosted by the society, Young contacted the organization. From there, he attended meetings to discuss curriculum and professional development to establish a program at Old North. But there was also a need to find matching funds. Young contacted Owens for help, and “the vision of bringing classical guitar instruction to Old North became a reality,” he said.

Young, who has nine years of experience as a general music and band teacher, has been with Old North since the start of the 2015-2016 school year. Adding the guitar to the music curriculum “will have a tremendous influence on academics,” he said, citing current research that explains “students’ increased exposure to music equates to increased academic achievement.”

Fourth grade and seventh grade students will be the first to experience the guitar program.

“I believe this is an opportunity for students to build character through the effort and focus it takes to play the guitar, as well as self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment that can carry into other classroom settings,” said Young.

So, what is a classical guitar? The instrument is acoustic, with a hollow body. The sound is created without being amplified or plugged in. A classical guitar, sometimes called a Spanish guitar, has nylon strings, not the metal strings of an electric guitar.

William Ash, executive director of the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, delivered the instruments to Old North with a team of volunteers, including Owens. The students, Young and school leaders were thrilled to see the new instruments. The society works with 19 schools, including Grand Center Arts Academy, a Confluence Charter School. The guitar society began its work at GCAA in 2013.

Not only does Old North have new guitars, but they have an opportunity for a residency program sponsored by the society and funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The residency will bring guitar duo Kirk Hanser and John McClellan to the school. Hanser-McClellan has an international reputation, and is based locally. The residency begins January 20 and will continue through the end of February.

The expected outcomes for the guitar and residency program are high.

“Students will receive first-class instruction and exposure to music that they may not otherwise have an opportunity for,” said Young.

“We expect that the students will learn to play as a group, and perform as a group,” said Ash. “In addition to learning to play classical guitar, students will learn cooperation and accountability to their classmates, and gain the self-confidence that comes from performing in front of people.”

“I would love to see students empowered to use the guitar as an avenue of holistic expression,” said Owens. “It’s such a great instrument to both write and perform music with, and it’s portable and reasonably accessible to just about anyone.”

Yes, the students will get a chance to perform their new skills.

On March 6, a guitar ensemble concert will be held at the Sun Theater at Grand Center Arts Academy.

“We are very excited to bring such an enriching opportunity to our students,” said Young.