by Mike Telin

Lincoln-West-HOBNortheast Ohio is home to a vibrant classical guitar community and the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society (CCGS) plays a vital role in bringing that community together through its International Series, Local Artist and Rising Stars series, Open Recitals and master classes. The area is also home to many of the finest classical guitar teachers in North America and on Sunday, September 22 beginning at 3:00 pm in Plymouth Church, CCGS presents its annual Showcase Concert.

The afternoon will include performances by Duo Amaral: Baldwin Wallace professor Jorge Amaral and Mia Pomerantz-Amaral; Duo Allant: Kathryn Thomas Umble, flute and François Fowler, guitar, professors at Youngstown State University; AronBerkner Duo: Jane Berkner, flute, and Stephen Aron, guitar, professors at the University of Akron and Oberlin Conservatory; and Jason Vieaux, professor at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. (see our concert listings page for further details)

CCGS is also committed to education by providing free classical guitar instruction to students of Lincoln West High School in Cleveland and Buchtel CLC in Akron. But, as CCGS executive director Erik Mann points out, they have been faced with some challenges in creating a program that serves the needs of a diverse student body. “Because the students at Lincoln-West come from about 30 different countries, and about 50% are Hispanic, this curriculum has a large focus on world music, and especially Hispanic music,” Mann says. “We are creating our own curriculum and have hired composer/arranger Jesse Limbacher to provide most of the repertoire. This is a response to the needs of the students, 40% of whom have no experience playing an instrument at all. The curriculum makes it very easy to learn to read music, and has students performing 3-part guitar orchestra music by the end of the first semester.”

Mike McNamara, who is now in his third year of teaching classical guitar at Lincoln West, concurs about the need to revise the curriculum. “Previously the students began by playing only open strings and while that is a valid method, we realized that it was extremely lacking in melody. And we felt the music would be more engaging if we could advance to melodic music quicker.”

Leeda Shokalook, Buchtel music teacher and overseer of the CCGS program, says the students want to have musical experiences and they have grown through being able to study classical guitar. Shokalook, who is in her thirteenth year of teaching and third year teaching in Akron, credits her school for being so receptive to the idea of offering classical guitar lessons to the students. “I love teaching here, I have had so many opportunities to develop the music curriculum. I have a wonderful support system — the principals and the staff — and I am blessed to be in a school district that is so committed to music programs.”

Shokalook first heard about the program from her father, who is a classical guitar player and who regularly attends CCGS concerts, “He found out about the work that CCGS is doing in the schools and he thought that Buchtel would be a perfect fit for the program. So he put me in touch with Erik Mann. We started talking and it took off from there. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it has made in the school. Last year we had around twenty-five students. This year we will double that number.”

But developing a curriculum that is engaging and relevant is an ongoing process. Through a grant from the Cleveland Foundation‘s Minority Art’s and Education Fund, Mann says that CCGS will be able to bring technology into the classroom. “Our plans are to buy an audio recorder, video recorder, and iPads and teach the students to record themselves, edit the recordings, and create their own YouTube channel.”

The program also receives funding from the D’Addario Foundation and the International House of Blues Foundation. And one of last years highlights was the opportunity for the students to present a concert at the House of Blues in Cleveland. “It was such an honor and I think the opportunity to perform there was life changing for some of the students” Shokalook said. “I want the students to open their eyes to the fact that all things are possible. I want them to know that through a little hard work and discipline they can become a part of something. I want them to know what it feels like to finish something, and the House of Blues concert proved that everybody can make beautiful music when given the opportunity.”

Mike McNamara, who has been involved with the International House of Blues Foundation since 2005, agrees, adding, “It was great for the students from both schools to be able to meet and hear each other. There were about forty-five students from Lincoln West — they took up the entire stage. I would really like to see the program expand into other schools but I am still very excited about the program’s potential for collaboration with other organizations.”

Published on September 17, 2013

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