A passion for playing
By Times Staff
Santa Maria Times
updated 3/29/2011 5:47:11 AM ET
A passion for playing and some help from a youth music program has taken Joe Parra from guitar student to teacher and transformed his life.
The 19-year-old senior at Lopez High School, an alternative school in Arroyo Grande, cultivated his love of the guitar through Guitars not Guns, a South San Luis Obispo County music program for high-risk and underprivileged youth.
He has been involved with the nonprofit group's South County chapter since around the time the chapter started in 2006.
Guitars not Guns focuses on youth ages 8 to 18 who are in foster care, at-risk or financially in need, according to Dale Andersen, the president of the local chapter and a sheriff's deputy who is a school resource officer at a number of South San Luis Obispo County campuses.
"We want to give them a positive alternative to drugs and violence," Andersen said. "They need confidence, self-esteem and discipline in their lives," he added.
Parra said that before he began taking classes with the nonprofit group, he had limited knowledge of the guitar.
"I did some chords, but I didn't know the names and stuff," he said.
Parra said Guitars not Guns helped him refine his skills and fill in the gaps in his music knowledge.
"It was really simple with the class," he added.
Parra went on to attend the Modern Music Academy, a guitar school in San Luis Obispo. He said finding his love for the guitar through Guitars not Guns has taken him from common childhood career goals like being a firefighter to a desire to pursue music.
"It's probably changed a lot about me," Parra said. "Now I just want to play music and that's all."
Parra teaches an advanced guitar class with the program and hopes to major in music in college and eventually become a professional guitar player.
"Professional performance would be my ultimate goal," he said.
Andersen praised Parra for rising above difficult life circumstances to find success.
"He grabs onto the guitar to keep his wits about him, and that guy is phenomenal now," Andersen said.
Andersen said he started the South County chapter of Guitars not Guns after stumbling into information on the program while searching online for guitar music as he was learning to play the instrument.
Through his job as a school resource officer, Andersen recruits candidates for the guitar classes, which are held at the Exploration Station in Grover Beach and taught by volunteer instructors.
Guitars not Guns provides each student with a guitar, gig bag and lesson book for the eight-week stretch of once-weekly classes.
At the end of the eight-week program, graduates are able to keep the guitar and other items given to them and are invited to move on to a more advanced class.
Students who successfully complete the level 2 class become candidates for a scholarship to the Modern Music Academy in San Luis Obispo. Andersen said that so far, Guitars not Guns has been able to send every student to the academy who wanted to go and was qualified to attend.
Modern Music Academy supplies half the tuition for students from Guitars not Guns, and Guitars not Guns provides the other half.
Other help comes from Lightning Joe's Guitar Heaven in Arroyo Grande, which supplies Guitars not Guns with guitars and bags at cost and donates additional supplies such as picks and strings.
Guitars not Guns also receives financial support from area community groups.
Joe Daoust, owner of Lightning Joe's, said he was approached by Guitars not Guns and agreed to provide the group with the "deepest discount I could" on guitars, which he would set up to his high standards before giving to participants.
"It's hopeful," Daoust said of the program, noting that the store is eager to do anything it can to help it.
"This was just another way to reach one part of the community that might never walk in here," he said.
Classes are held about three times a year, Andersen said, and typically involve about eight to 12 students each. The different-level classes take place simultaneously at the Exploration Station, in different rooms.
On a recent weekday morning, Andersen gathered with Parra and two Guitars not Guns students to talk about the program. Andersen offered encouragement along with good-natured teasing to Makenna Mitchell and Sendi Manzano as the girls took turns practicing with a guitar.
Then Parra took the guitar and effortlessly played a Spanish-style tune, his long hair hanging in his face as it spilled out of his sweatshirt hood. Next, he launched into a song by the band Sublime. He recently started teaching a level 3 class for advanced students.
Mitchell, a 17-year-old junior at nearby Mesa View Community School in Arroyo Grande, said Andersen introduced her to the program at school one day. Her father wanted her to get take up an extracurricular activity anyway, she said.
"A lot of people in my family play guitar," she added.
Mitchell has finished the level 1 class and plans to move on to the next one.
"It was fun," she said. "There was a lot of little kids, though. I was like the oldest one."
Playing guitar was difficult at first, Mitchell said, but "once I started learning songs, it started getting easier."
Manzano, a 16-year-old junior at Mesa View Community School, said she had acquired a guitar before she started lessons but didn't know how to play it. She had always been more interested in sports than music. However, a teacher recommended she try Andersen's guitar program, and she did.
She has completed the level 2 class, which she might take again for more experience.
Manzano said she practices her guitar playing when she finds the time.
"Lately, I've been busy. But when I'm not doing anything, sometimes I grab it," she added.
The next class session starts April 14. For more information, call Andersen at 305-7185.
March 29, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
A Passion For Playing
Published by msnbc Santa Maria, CA: